In the first reading from the book of Exodus, (Ex 17:3-7), the people of Israel made a complaint against Moses and God because they were dying of thirst at Horeb, in the desert. They wondered why Moses had brought them out from Egypt, only to die of thirst in the desert. They seemed to have forgotten all their plights in Egypt because they were thirsty. In Egypt, their male children were killed, their women were forced to marry the Egyptians and they were slaves working under taskmasters. Due to their thirst, they became oblivious of the presence of God among them.  The Lord ordered Moses to strike a designated rock with his staff so that water would gush out for the people to drink. Moses struck the rock and water gushed out, and the people and their livestock drank to their satisfaction. It is a common experience that when we feel thirsty, we just want to quench the thirst. While I am aware that severe thirst can lead to dehydration which is a health hazard, however, the people of Israel ought to have been patient with the Lord because the Lord will always provide. They should have remembered all the marvels the Lord worked for them in Egypt, (the plagues), and all the wonders he had continued to do for them in the desert. The water the Lord provided for the people of Israel in the desert satiated their physical thirst, but not their spiritual thirst. Psalm 42: 1-2 stated that, just as the deer longs for running stream so are our souls longing for God. Hence, our souls are restless, said St Augustine, until they rest in the Lord.

The Gospel of today, (Jon 4:5-42), started with the dialogue between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at Patriarch Jacob’s well. The woman had come to draw water and Jesus had asked her to give him some water to drink. She was stunned that a Jew, (due to Jesus’ attire or accent), should even talk to a Samaritan, let alone ask for a drink from a Samaritan woman. Moreover, this woman was not of good repute in her community due to her multiple marriages and concubinages, hence, she came to draw water at midday when there was more likelihood that she would meet no one at the well.

Feel her astonishment when she responded to Jesus’ request, “’What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a   Samaritan, for a drink?’” It meant that Jesus was willing to drink from a utensil already used by a Samaritan, which most Jews would despise. The Jews were at loggerheads with the Samaritans; they looked down on them as second-class citizens. The history of their enmity goes back to the conquest of the Northern Israel with Samaria as the capital by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The Assyrians spread a good   number of the people of Israel across the empire never to return to Israel again and populated the land of Israel with people from other nationalities; unlike the captivity of the Southern Israel by the Babylonians in 537 BC, where the Israelites were camped as a block in Babylon and    returned en masse at the end of their captivity. Hence, for the Southern Israelites, the Northern Israel had become a mix race, no longer Jews.

Though Jesus’ initial dialogue with the Samaritan woman was about physical water, he gradually drew her to a spiritual encounter with God when he said to her that, “if you only knew what God is offering, and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.” Jesus went on to clarify that anyone who drank the water from Jacob’s well would get thirsty again because it quenches only physical thirst like the water from the rock in the first reading. However, the spiritual water that    Jesus was offering turns into a spring in people’s lives and leads to eternal life. This is the baptismal water through which we are grafted into Christ as part of his body and members of the church.

Again, Jesus by revealing to the Samaritan woman that he was aware of her lifestyle, led her to faith that he (Jesus) was the messiah. When the Samaritan woman accepted Jesus as her personal Lord and saviour, she ran into her village to invite more people to come and meet Jesus. The Samaritans that listened to Jesus because of the testimony of the Samaritan woman, also came to faith that Jesus was really “the saviour of the world.” In reaching out to the Samaritans, Jesus showed that salvation was for everyone, and that everyone who worships God “in spirit and truth” is acceptable to God. Everyone including the Jews needs this salvation.

We too, participate in this salvation brought to us by Jesus through our Baptism and we as the Samaritans profess him as our messiah and “the saviour of the world.”

Fr Chinua Okeke CSSp



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