1. Jesus in Samaria and the pedagogy of gift (Jn 4:35)
The reading of the Gospel’s passage describing Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, helps us to grasp the gift who is Jesus himself, and the same gifts that he offers us, through a process exceeding any misunderstanding: the Samaritan woman does not understand what water Jesus can give her, the disciples do not understand what kind of food Jesus speaks about.
The word becomes an because of Jesus who leads the woman to tell the truth, to open up to a new dimension, to grasp what was unexpected. Jesus helps us to find out which thirst suits our life: thirst as material needs, thirst as need of love and relationship, thirst as a search for the living God.
In this journey a twofold revelation is achieved: the woman is forced to “open up to herself”; Jesus reveals himself to the woman, and then to the villagers. The Samaritans accept the gift that is Jesus, but Jesus continues to go further, because the gift should be brought to all. The narration ends with the joy of the discipleship, a discipleship to which Jesus is educating and preparing those he has chosen.
Therefore a very concrete example of Jesus pedagogue and teacher, who knows how to turn every situation, from any starting point, during growth and maturation.
if you want to deepen...
“Lift up your eyes” (Jn 4:35)
Jesus in Samaria and the pedagogy of gift
The diptych in John: male and female he created them
Chapter 4 of John is a diptych together with chapter 3. The two cc. contain the plan for the internal restoration that Christ wants to accomplish in the Israel of God, hurt by the split between the north (Samaria) and the south (Judea). He came to seek and to save that which is lost, came to unify that which is divided. Indeed, how could never stand a kingdom divided against himself (cf. Mt 12:25-26)? The desire of Jesus that the fourth Gospel clearly highlights at the connection point between its two large sections (book of signs and book of glory) – and that is represented by cc. 11 and 12 – is to gather into one the dispersed children of God (cf. Jn 11:52).
The manifestation of the glory of Jesus points to “cure” the wounds in the hearts of men and in the midst of the peoples. Yes to the Law (like the Jews)? No to the Law (like the Samaritans)? Between the strict observance of the laws and life without rules there is an alternative: life in the Spirit, which is not doing things! If so, we too would be in the presumption that it is enough to do things… Life in the Spirit is a style, a mindset, a thought, a process of maturity that makes possible for us discernment and wise choices. It is a life without masks and without crutches, breathing deeply, allying our freedom to God’s heart-beat that the Holy Spirit enables us to auscultate.
A diptych, were we saying… In Chapter 3 a man, a woman in chapter 4; first a Jew, then a Samaritan; night background, day background; a character whose name is known, an unnamed person; a qualified figure, a not esteemed one; Nicodemus seeks Jesus (or so it would seem! However, if it is, is a hesitant research), the Samaritan woman instead is sought by Jesus!
After the first introductory verses (1-7a) chapter 4 presents three pictures:
a. The meeting and dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (7b-26)
b. The dialogue of Jesus with his disciples (27-38)
c. The stay at the Samaritans of Jesus (39-42)
Themes (and semantic fields) recurring in the first part: water / gift / to worship
Themes (and semantic fields) recurring in the second: food / to sow / to reap and to send
Themes (and semantic fields) recurring in the third: to believe
In order to become meeting words must win misunderstanding and irony, as it happens in the passage. The Samaritan woman does not understand what the water and the mysterious “gift” of which Jesus speaks is. The disciples do not understand what the food of which Jesus speaks is. The woman thinking that Jesus is a simple wanderer jokes about his way of behaving as if he was superior to Jacob… How many “attacks” To dialogue!
1 When Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John,, 2 (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples), 3 he left Judea and returned to Galilee.
Jesus does not like conflict and gossip that instead the Pharisees usually loved to fuel. He leaves Judea and all the quarrels of the Pharisees.
4 He had to pass through Samaria.
“He had”: not because of for spatial, geographical grounds, but in deference to the desire of the Father, in obedience to the will of the Father.
After the fall of the kingdom of Israel in Samaria the Assyrians had settled people of Mesopotamian origin (cf. 2 Kings 17). The population then was mixed and while adhering to monotheism and the Mosaic Law, practiced a certain syncretism. The Samaritans did not recognize as sacred the Prophets and the Writings. They built a temple on Mount Gerizim to rival that of Jerusalem. Central to them was the figure of Moses. He, or a prophet like him, would return at the end of time: he is the Ta’ev, the one who turns, who comes back.
The land of joseph: the “gift” of the father jacob
5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near to the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there.
The city of Samaria that Jesus is visiting is a place that preserves the memory of the fathers. The history of no man in fact begins abruptly and you do not ever enter in medias res without a worthy behind the scenes. Moreover, there is nothing human, even what we think is irreversibly lost, that is not sacred. The text speaks of the sacredness of every page of the story and wants to remind us that God “promised to our fathers” (Lk 1:55, Canticle of Mary), the mercy granted to our fathers (Lk 1:72, canticle of Zechariah), the ancient oath made to Abraham, the beginning of the history of the patriarchs “to grant us that, rescued from the hands of enemies, without fear we might worship him in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Lk 1,73-75).
In Samaria it is placed even the well of the father Jacob, which is on the land given to Joseph, his favourite son. The predilection is never far from us, despite our errors and falls.
The place where Jesus is laying speaks of sacred history, recalls the legacy of a father which goes to his son. It recalls the story of the sufferings of that son, envied, sold, exiled, and yet loved by God, exalted and made “oasis” for his brothers during the time of famine (see cycle of Joseph in Genesis).
The “gift” made by Jacob to Joseph, the favourite son, the man carrying all the bruises of fraternity, releases its fragrance free and that land – though wounded by syncretism which would seem to erase all traces of the sacred and throw in indistinctness even the most significant gestures and the highest values – absorbs the “gift” and becomes a place of appointment with the Giver.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
The evangelist sketches the portrait of the Word made flesh. If the word has a flesh, this weighs, is subject to fatigue and gets tired. As all the sons of Adam, Jesus takes up the fatigue that increases at noon because of the heat. The well in these cases is life. But a well is not just water, it is also an image of the Torah, the wisdom… it is also the setting for pleasant encounters between the patriarchs and their wives (cf. Gen 24; 29; Ex 2:16-21). Finally, it is the image that Jeremiah uses to talk about the betrayal committed by Israel against God: “Two evils my people have done: they have forsaken me, the source of living waters; they have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer 2:13).
The meeting with the “gift of God”: dialogue of Jesus with the Samaritan woman and mutual unveiling
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
Here comes the interlocutor of Jesus in search of water. The time is surprising. Usually at noon you do not go out nor do you go to the well. There is too much heat that then is amplified due to the weight of the full pitcher. Maybe the woman does not want to meet anyone and is certain that at that time the other women will be at home and she will be the only one to draw water?
But Jesus is not amazed by time and turns to her to ask her for a drink. Jesus is alone, because the evangelist informs us that his disciples are not with him, but went to buy food. Jesus asks for water. It is the trick for striking up a conversation.
9 The Samaritan woman said to him: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)
The woman is surprised by the request of Jesus. She does not find it strange that he has asked for water, but the fact that a Jew has turned just to a Samaritan woman. How it is that while there is a dividing line between Jews and Samaritans this man does not see it and passes it without getting any problems? The Samaritan woman does not know the language of familiarity or she knows other confidential languages, however smeared by the shadow of ambiguity; that is why she is secretive and suspicious.
10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
There now follows the invitation of Jesus to come out of the (sclerotic) traditions of men, to cross the barriers of appearance… Jesus is sitting on the plot of land that Joseph received as a gift from the Father. And there he speaks of the gift, not a gift of men, but the “gift of God.” He invites to know the gift and the one who is talking and making a request. The woman does not know Jesus. Sure she is meeting him for the first time. But she does not know him because she shows resistance and because she does not yet know that he who stands before her is not an enemy or a seducer, but a gift. His appearance is not under the sign of dispute or “capture”, but with the vocabulary of giving. He wants to give her “living water,” that is the water of life (expression very dear to John who speaks of the bread of life in the c. 6, the light of life in 8:12). Then water different from that of the well. There’s more than the merely material sphere…
11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?“
The woman is not able to know the language of what is new, the vocabulary of surprise that bursts into her life on the run… She shows herself ironic with Jesus: where do you get the water without the bucket? Also you who want to do the gifts, do you have perhaps a greatest gift than the well itself that Jacob gave to his son as a gift?
13 Jesus answered and said to her: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.“
Jesus now explains that he does not refer to the water of the well. That water does not quench the thirst. He wants to DONATE incredible water that quenches the thirst and is inexhaustible! Jesus therefore leads the woman from the material to the spiritual level, from earthly needs to eternal life, from the image of enemy or predator to the image of someone who gives free, without asking anything in return.
THIRST AS MATERIAL NEED
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
The woman understands that it is no longer the well but does not yet understand. This is why Jesus begins gently to “discover” her life… to tear her out from the surface (and superficiality!) and bring her in the “depth” of her life.
THIRST AS AFFECTIVE AND RELATIONAL NEED
16 Jesus said to her, “’Go call your husband and come back.” 17 The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” 18 Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.“
We talked about stone wells, now we speak about wells of flesh. Your husband, that is the one who should give you water, where is he? The woman discovers her collection of love stories and disappointments: for her man’s love is a cracked tank, leaking water and she always has to go get it elsewhere. History of dispersion… Jesus came to gather and… collect.
Six husbands, a story that from that symbolic number so eloquently speaks of incompleteness… Six like the jars of Cana, very large and spacious but with no wine. Hers would seem to be love, but it lacks the substance and therefore she cannot quench her thirst…
THIRST AS SEARCH FOR THE LIVING GOD
19 The woman said to him “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.“
She now acknowledges that Jesus is neither an enemy nor a predator, or a charlatan. He is one who knows, has wisdom and talks touching the “heart” of the problems.
The prophecy of Jesus “triggers” in her the thought of cult, the relationship with God. The words of Jesus – which have eyes and read beyond appearances – bring her longing for God; a shudder passes through her spirit: where you can meet God for real? Who is right: the Jews or the Samaritans?
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him .24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and truth.“
Jesus says to the woman that a new time is rising, having nothing to do with the old quarrels. It is the time when the “appearances” does not stand the test of fire. The time where the primacy of place and things is replaced by the primacy of being and relationships. Worshipping in Spirit and truth (hendiadys) means opening oneself up to the revelation of the Father in Christ and accepting the divine force that makes man capable of the filial meeting with the Father. Worshipping in Spirit and truth means to get out of the false idea that God can be relegated to a place made by human hands, and enter in the awareness that God wants true worshippers more than just places of worship!
25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.“
The woman associates the words of Jesus with the coming of the Messiah. There is a hope in her heart; she knows she has a gift to receive and new things to learn. Jesus at this point removes the veil and reveals his identity:
26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”
From a common Jew to Israel’s Messiah. He is the Ta’ev, the one who turns, the one who reveals his face to this woman helping her to see also his reflection in that water of consolation, in a meeting that brings hope and puts again wings.
The mission: the disciples and the challenge of becoming gift
27 At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What are you looking for?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, 29 “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah? “ 30 They went out of the town and came to him.
However surprises are not finished… The disciples are amazed at finding Jesus talking with a woman.
The woman instead leaves the well without having drawn water and even without jar. The woman on the run goes to the others, first travelling evangelizer of the Messiah.
Jesus has set up in her the awareness of all levels of relationships: with herself (thirst as material need); with the neighbour (thirst as affective and relational need) and with God (thirst as search for the living God).
He deals with the Samaritan woman, then the Samaritans effecting reconciliation within the people of God, which was marked by an atavistic fracture. But before taking care of the group of Samaritans, Jesus takes care of his disciples, who are Jews, who are with him, but cannot read the events and lack discernment.
31 Meanwhile, the disciples urged, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?”. 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.
The disciples too are concerned about material needs: the woman was obsessed by water, they by food. Jesus speaks to them of another food, of a spiritual nature, the will of the Father that is to accomplish his work. And what is the work of the Father but to save everyone?
35 Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.“
The disciples are not able to look up: they do not see the Father’s work, lack discernment, do not yet allow themselves to be kindled by the fire of the Spirit. They are still cold and unable to feel the urgent need to proclaim salvation to those far away… They have not yet discovered that the secret of their joy in harvesting, which is not so much synonymous with judging, but with gathering, uniting, reconciling…
The disciples still have to learn that to evangelize is to go beyond all that is limited: There is neither Jew nor Greek (and we could add “Samaritan”), there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female (Gal 3:28).
They must learn that mission is a delivery that gives joy: “21 When a woman is in labour, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. 22 So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. 23 On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. 24 Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete“ (Jn 16:21-24). The mission is apprenticeship of the gift that fills one’s heart!
The samaritans: welcoming the gift-Jesus
39 Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” 40 When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more began to believe in him because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the saviour of the world.“
The Samaritans are so touched by Jesus that they want him to stay with them. This association allows them to experience the joy of discipleship: to know that Jesus is the saviour of the world, not of a portion of mankind, but of all. This is the good Christian news that must start from our communities! We must desire the salvation of all those whom we meet. Even of the brother whose room is next to mine. I really want the lives of my brothers being saved, i.e. full, filled up and fulfilled?
For the Samaritans in Jesus there is the gift of God. In him “the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age “(Titus 2:11-12). He, establishing a personal dialogue with people, calls by name, invites to follow him and reads the heart inviting to give birth to the deepest truths of oneself, exerting an out-and-out maieutic art.
The Samaritans learn that the word of God does not break with violence in human life, but enters on tiptoe, in the weekday dimension. The Samaritans welcoming with an open heart Jesus’ visit recognize him not only as “possession” of Israel (the Messiah of Israel), but as “treasure” (cf. Mt 6:21) of all (as the “saviour of the World “).
To reflect… in front of the Beloved
a. Where is your heart at this moment in your life? What feelings are living into it?
b. What are the “prejudices” that isolate you? What qualities have your relationships with others? What “pitcher” to leave?
c. What image of God you feel closer? From what he is far? At which well you can find him?
d. What does it mean for you “to reap”?
Matters of the heart…
* “… Joy and sorrow flow from a single source, the heart of the heart. The heart is nothing more than a row of rooms, smaller and smaller, one enters into another through a closed door and stairs going down. In all, seven rooms. The heart of the heart is the seventh, the most difficult to reach, but the brightest because the walls are of glass. Joy and sorrow come from that room and are the key to enter into it. Joy and sorrow are crying the same tears, are the mother-of-pearl of life, and what matters in life is to keep intact that small piece of heart, so hard to reach, so hard to listen to, so hard to give, because there everything is true” ( A. D’AVENIA, Things that no one knows, p. 221).
* “He who loves must therefore cross the border that closed him in his own limitations. That is why it is said of love that it melts the heart: what is melted is no longer confined into its limits “(THOMAS AQUINAS, Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard III XXV, I, I, 4 m).
* “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” (C.S. LEWIS, The Four Loves, HarperCollins, 2002, p. 153).
* “The only solution to the mystery of suffering and death is trust in his love… Do you know what does the pelican when her children are hungry and has no food to offer them? She hurts her chest with her long beak and makes it gushing blood nourishing the little ones, which drink from his wound as from a spring. As Christ did with us… he defeated our death of little ones hungry for life, giving his blood… his gift is stronger than death… only this love overcomes death. Who gets it and gives it does not die, he is born twice… Even God wastes his blood: an endless rain of blood-red love bathes the world every day in an attempt to make us alive…” (A. D’AVENIA, White as Milk, Red as Blood, p. 228).
* “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be. The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.” (Mt 6:19-23).