Jesus talks longer to the woman at the well than he does to anyone else in all the Gospels – this conversation is longer than any Jesus has with his disciples . . . or his adversaries . . . or his own family.
The woman at the well is the first person in the Gospel of John to discover who Jesus really is. She’s the first one to tell others about it – and that makes her the first evangelist.
This all is very curious because she’s actually about the last person you might think Jesus would choose to engage in conversation –
First of all, she’s a Samaritan – and in Jesus day Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along well. Samaria was enemy territory for any Jew passing through, as Jesus and his disciples were on this trip.
And of course she was a woman – and women in those days were not spoken to in public, even by their husbands.
Not only was she a woman, but there’s a hint in the scripture reading that she was perhaps not accepted by other woman who would have visited the well together in the morning hours – not at noon when this meeting up with Jesus at the well took place. Although we don’t know the details and shouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions, we do learn that she has been married five times and is living with a man who is not her husband.
So from Jesus’ point of view, she was an outsider – a triple outsider: a Samaritan, a woman, and a fallen woman. What a surprise it must have been for her to find Jesus at the well, to enter into conversation with him, and then to find out that he already knew all about her!
And that’s precisely how the miracle transpires: By telling the woman who she is, Jesus shows her who he is. – and that’s how it still works for us. It’s in Jesus presence that we come to know who we are – the bad as well as the good. And it’s Jesus’ who accepts us, loves us – forgiving where forgiveness is needed – and opens the channels to new light and life, new hope, new joy . . .
The woman at the well? Her name isn’t given to us in the scripture – although in the Eastern Christian Church she’s venerated as a saint. For the Greek Orthodox Church she is St. Photina – Photina coming from the Greek word phos which means light. Photina is the one whom Jesus enlightens when she encounters him at the well – when he offers her living water. She was enlightened . . . She was transformed . . .
But this living water – what is it?
It’s symbolic language – the words living water. Jesus is making an analogy between physical water and spiritual water. Water is a very powerful spiritual symbol: it has cleansing power – redemptive power . . .
There are several ways of interpreting who or what this living water actually is:
Some say the Living Water is the Holy Spirit – the advocate and guide that Jesus sends us when he — physically and meta-physically — returns to the Father . . .
Some say that Jesus himself is the living water.
Actually both these interpretations can be true at the same time. It’s part of the mystery of transformation . . . when a symbol becomes a sacrament . . . “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace” . . .
Sacramentally we receive this living water in baptism. We’re immersed in living water when we’re “buried with Christ in his death” and then share in his resurrection. Through living water we are reborn by the Holy Spirit . . . We are transformed . . .
Later on in the story of the woman at the well, the disciples come back to the well — and the woman runs off. Jesus takes this opportunity, being alone with his disciples, to teach them about spiritual food and drink.
Jesus makes an analogy between physical food and drink, and spiritual food and drink. Physical food and drink are transformed into spiritual food and drink. This is the transformation that happens in the Eucharist . . .
Just as Jesus changed the water into wine at the wedding in Cana, the Holy Spirit transforms the wine into the blood of Christ in the Eucharist – and the bread is transformed into the body of Christ.
Jesus was offering himself to the Samaritan woman at the well when he offered her living water . . . and Jesus offers himself to each of us at the Eucharistic table.
You know the saying – “You are what you eat”?? . . . When we eat the spiritual body and blood of Jesus Christ at the Eucharist, we are being transformed into Christ himself. . .
So come to the table – we are all invited . . .
Let us pray . . .
Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the breaking of bread; who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.