12 March 2010

Aquam Vivam

In today’s Gospel from the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is the familiar story of the Samaritan woman speaking with Jesus near Jacob’s well.

Saint Augustine preached that the woman of Samaria symbolizes the Church which was not yet justified, but was about to be justified. Saint Augustine continues: ‘She comes in ignorance, she finds Him, and He converses with her. We must see what this woman of Samaria was and why she had come to draw water. The Samaritans did not belong to the Jewish nation, but were foreigners. It is part of the symbolism that this woman, who is a type of the Church, came from a foreign nation, because the Church was to come from the Gentiles and so be of a different race. Because she provided a symbol, she became the reality too. For she came to believe in Jesus Who was putting her before us as a symbol. She was surprised that a Jew was quite uncharacteristically requesting a drink from her. Although Jesus asked for a drink, His real thirst was for this woman’s faith’.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church shares something beautiful about Jesus’ thirst: ‘The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is He Who first seeks us and asks for a drink. Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him’ (CCC 2560).

Continuing with Saint Augustine's homily, he says: ‘Jesus asks her for a drink. He is in need as One Who will accept, He abounds as One Who will satisfy. Jesus said, If you knew the gift of God. God’s gift is the Holy Spirit but He still speaks to her in a veiled language, and gradually He enters into her heart. The water which He was about to give to her is surely the water referred to in the words, With You is the fountain of life. Jesus was promising her plentiful nourishment and the abundant fullness of the Holy Spirit. The woman said to Him, Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst nor come here to draw. Need drove her to this labour, while her frailty recoiled from it. How wonderful if she heard the invitation, Come to Me, all you that labour and are burdened, and I will refresh you. That was what Jesus’ words to her meant -- an end to her labour; but she did not yet understand their meaning’.

The Samaritan woman uses the term, ‘patre nostro Iacob -- our father Jacob’ because the Samaritans claimed lineage from Abraham, therefore, they called Jacob their father because he was Abraham's grandson. The Venerable Bede explains that they also called Jacob their father because they lived under the Law of Moses and were in possession of the land that Jacob had bequeathed to his son Joseph.

When Jesus tells her to go call her husband, He begins to show her that He knows all about her life. The Samaritan woman says: ‘Patres nostri in monte hoc adoraverunt -- Our fathers adored on this mountain’, meaning Jacob and the ancient patriarchs, whom the Samaritans called their fathers. The mountain is Gerizim, where the Samaritans had built a temple; and it was there that the Samaritans would come to worship instead of at Jerusalem. The Samaritans believed that the patriarchs had exercised their religious rituals on this mountain.

Jesus tells the woman that salvation is of the Jews. Saint John Chrysostom explains the meaning of our Saviour’s words: ‘The Israelites, on account of their innumerable sins, had been delivered by the Almighty into the hands of the king of Assyria, who led them all away as captives into Babylon and sent other nations whom He had collected from different parts, to inhabit Samaria. But the Almighty, to show to all nations that He delivered up His people solely on account of their transgressions, sent lions [aggressive men] into the land to persecute these strangers. The Assyrian king upon hearing this, sent them a priest to teach them the Law of God; but they did not depart wholly from their impiety, for many of them returned again to their idols, while at the same time worshipping the true God. It was on this account that Christ preferred the Jews before them saying, Salvation is of the Jews, whom it was the chief principle to acknowledge the true God and hold every denomination of idols in detestation. The Samaritans, by mixing the worship of one with the other, plainly showed that they held the God of the universe in no greater esteem than their idols’.

Jesus tells her: ‘Venit hora, et nunc est, quando veri adoratores adorabunt Patrem in spiritu et veritate -- The hour is coming, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in Spirit and in truth’. The Catechism explains that worship in spirit and truth of the New Covenant is not tied exclusively to any one place. What matters above all is that, when the faithful assemble in the same place, they are the living stones gathered to be built into a spiritual house. For the Body of the risen Christ is the spiritual Temple from which the source of living water springs forth: incorporated into Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are the temple of the living God (cf. CCC 1179). Jesus was not in any way suggesting that Christian worship should have no use of external signs towards God, for that would take away all sacrifice, sacraments and prayers.

The Samaritan woman tells Jesus: ‘Scio, quia Messias venit, qui dicitur Christus; cum ergo venerit ille, nobis annuntiabit omnia -- I know that the Messiah is coming, Who is called Christ; therefore when He comes, He will tell us all things’. Even the Samaritans, at that time, expected the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said to her, ‘Ego sum -- I am He’, which He proclaimed to the Samaritan woman, first by His words, but perhaps even more by His grace, which would have convinced her heart that He was indeed the Messiah.

The disciples were amazed that He was talking to her, and experiencing this may have taught them something about the humility of Jesus. The Samaritans looked for the Messiah because they had the books of Moses, in which Jacob foretold of the world's Redeemer: ‘Non auferetur sceptrum de Juda, et dux de femore ejus, donec veniat qui mittendus est -- The sceptre shall not be taken away from Judah, nor a ruler from his thigh, till He comes that is to be sent’ (Genesis 49:10).

Jesus tells His disciples to look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The harvest of souls was approaching when Christ came to teach the way of salvation and to send His apostles to convert all nations. ‘Ego misi vos metere quod vos non laborastis -- I have sent you to reap that in which you did not labour’; by these words Jesus testifies to His apostles that the prophets had sown the seed in order to bring all to believe in Christ. This was the end of the Law, the fruit which the prophets looked for to reward their labours. Jesus, likewise, shows them that as it is He Himself Who sends the apostles; it is also He Who sent the prophets before them, and that the Old and New Testament are of the same Origin. Finally, through the grace of God, we see that many of the Samaritans came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Saviour sent to redeem the world.