Read John 4:5-42
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Read More…
Meet Sister Mary Ann Cook
Sister Mary Ann entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 1954 at Ilchester, Maryland. Read More…
Teresa of Avila insists that prayer isn’t a matter of thinking about God by drumming up “a lot of concepts” or “long and subtle reflections with your intellect.” Prayer is an encounter with the Lord – a mutual presence that engages the very heart of our being. Teresa uses the image of two people looking at one another. “... Your Spouse never takes His eyes off you…. Is it too much to ask you to turn your eyes from... exterior things in order to look at Him sometimes?” (The Way of Perfection, Chapter 26, #3)
Today’s gospel brings Teresa’s image to mind. Jesus, in the heat of the day and “tired from his journey,” sits alongside Jacob’s well. Here, in the peripheries (Samaria), a local Samaritan woman is approaching to draw water. Through much of the story, she is intent, as Teresa would say, on “exterior things” – initially, on water jars and buckets. But Jesus’s words “Give me a drink” gradually lead her to shift to more “intellectual” concepts and “subtle reflections.”
First, the woman admonishes Jesus, it is “irregular” for a Jew to ask a Samaritan woman for a drink from her “Samaritan” water jar. Next, who does this stranger think he is, to claim that his “living water” is superior to what comes from Jacob’s well? Then, sensing that Jesus is a prophet, she launches into the fine points of Samaritans’ and Jews’ different liturgical practices.
Through it all, Jesus “never takes His eyes off her.” And he invites her to “turn her eyes from exterior things” to the heart of their encounter:
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Believe me, woman ... God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman persists in her theological speculation: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
But Jesus’ response -- “I am he, the one speaking with you,” – sends her running back into town, her water jar put down at last, to tell everyone about this remarkable stranger, capable of reading everything in her heart. “Could he possibly be the Christ?”
This passage from John’s Gospel has many layers of meaning. Here, we look at just one, putting it together with Teresa’s insights into prayer. Our crucified and risen Lord thirsts for us, never takes his eyes off us, knows everything there is to know about us, and loves us unconditionally. We need not pretend, or take refuge in “lots of concepts” and “long and subtle” intellectual reflections at prayer. With God’s grace, we can go straight to the heart of the matter: encounter. We can stand before God stripped of all our defenses, just as we are, and let God look at us, into our very hearts. We can drink deeply of the living water that only God can give.
Then, like the Samaritan woman, we can go out to the peripheries, refreshed and renewed by this “gift of God.” Our crucified and risen Christ will be out there, too, in all sorts of guises, asking over and over again: “Give me a drink.” Whatever the external appearances, may we know who is asking us!