I had the pleasure of going to Jacob’s Well along with two young priests and my son deep into Samaria near Nablus. We rode in a properly marked Taxi Cab, with Iyad (the right Cab Driver) and left from Jerusalem before sunrise. In the back of my mind was the thought that if something happened to those priests, my Bishop would have my head.
We had a great visit at the Orthodox Church built over the well. We tasted water from the very well that Jacob had dug some 3800 years ago and beheld the only known relic of the Samaritan woman.
A well was a common place for women to gather and draw water. In many cultures, wells were associated with courtship and marriage. A well was often the place where a man would meet the woman who would become his bride. In fact, Jacob the patriarch first met Rachel at a well.
Jesus engaged in a conversation with a Samaritan woman. A Jew, much less a rabbi, would not have spoken to a woman of a different culture. Samaritans worshiped at Mt Gerazim and no longer acknowledged worship at Mt Zion. Jews considered Samaritans as half-breeds and idolaters – descendants in part from the 10 Northern tribes, but intermarried with pagan gentiles.
Our Lord looks past barriers of ethnicity and gender. He offers her living water. The Greek in John’s Gospel uses a variant of Zoe (living, flowing) rather than Bios (biological). Zoe is spiritual life. Living water is a metaphor for the eternal life He will offer through the waters of baptism.
A Marriage Proposal
The offer of living water at a well, is also rich with the underlying suggestion that the woman become His spiritual bride. “Go call your husband.” She has had five husbands and the One she is with, Jesus, is not her husband. Jesus knows about her relationships and yet still offers His love and acceptance.
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is often interpreted as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and His church, with Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as His bride.
A Call to Conversion
The rendezvous is also an invitation to abandon pagan practices. Immediately following the discussion of her marital status, Jesus speaks about true and false worship, expressly referring to the Samaritan temple at Mt Gerazim. The context of this false worship and five husbands (five Baals – same word for Lord and Husband) is best understood by the allusion to the five pagan peoples mentioned in 2 Ki 17:24 – that the king of Assyria after the Northern Tribes were dispersed in 722 BC, relocated from Babylon, Kuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim to be settled in the towns of Samaria among the remaining Israelites.
Jesus is asking the Samaritans to abandon their five pagan lord heritage, and accept the prophesied Messianic reunification of Israel. He wants to be their Lord. It is then she recognizes Jesus as The Prophet foretold through Moses (Dt 18:18). “Sir, I can see you are a prophet.” And then a bit later, “I know that Messiah is coming…”.
“I, the one speaking to you, I am He.”
The woman understood and believed.
The Gospel records that many Samaritans believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, and later after meeting Him, came to believe further that Jesus is the Savior of the world.
The Good News
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a powerful story. It challenges us to break down boundaries that separate us from one another, and to embrace the transformative power of an encounter with Our Lord. Once that happens, we can’t keep it to yourselves, and like the Samaritan woman, we have to tell others.
I’ve always appreciated the spousal theme of the well from this story of the Samaritan woman, so thank you for bringing this to light. Enjoyed this reflection. Interesting, too, that there were five pagan peoples that were living in Samaria, what a fitting parallel to the woman’s five husbands.