"Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” … Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him."
John 4:1-10, 28-30
Often we hear the question: where is the church in the context of socio-economic inequalities and injustices, negative ethnicity and so on?
Jesus stops at the well of Jaco at Sychar in Galilee, where he speaks to a woman first of water and eternal life, and then of true worship, and the woman becomes a messenger to the men of her village, who eventually learn that Jesus is “the Saviour of the world.”
Let us for a moment think about this woman and look at her through the possible socio-cultural lens of the time. Most likely this woman is suffering under the load of rejection and stigmatisation; and in her words we hear elements of stereotyping of the others and ethnic pride. She cannot imagine any other well that can be more satisfying that the well which “our father Jacob” left for his Samaritan children. She is quick to amplify the differences between Jews and Samaritans: “The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9)
“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:20)
She is doing this to emphasize the ‘otherness’ of Jesus and why it is odd for Jesus to be asking her for water.
But something good happens. Irrespective of her attitudes and perceptions, the woman agreed to have dialogue with Jesus – a Samaritan speaking to a Jew. In his dialogue, Jesus exposes her ignorance of “the gift of God,” and of who Jesus was. In addition, Jesus illuminates her life with God’s transformative love. Renewal takes place in the life of the Samaritan women. The chains that had enslaved her were broken.
Jesus brings the woman ‘the living water’ as opposed to the water of Jacob’s well.
“Living” water means “life-giving” water. The living water brings healing and transformation. There is a paradigm shift that transforms her self-concept, her perception of others and her mission. Instead of fearing the interaction with the Jesus who is a Jew, she invites others to interact with Jesus so that they too may drink the living water and experience the transformation.
This transformation turned the woman from a preoccupation with herself to a concern for her neighbours. She could have kept it to herself - bragged to the world how she met the Messiah, built a big monument as a reminder of the great encounter. But she didn't.
In the new transformed status, she was no longer preoccupied with getting water for her own use but for a moment her mission became that of setting free the other Samaritans from the socio-cultural bondages that enslaved them. She had encountered the loving Christ and could not help but become an agent of moving the world towards reconciliation and unity.
I see similarity between the Samaritan woman and the church today. For the church to participate fully in the mission of God; for the church to be the salt and the light; it must undergo the well of Jacob experience. The church must encounter Christ as fresh and allow Christ to transform and liberate us from injustices, prejudices, corruption and any form of hypocrisy.
The good news is, the woman did nothing except to allow herself to honestly speak with Christ. Transformation is not our work but it’s the work of God. All we need to do is to listen to Christ’s invitation towards a transformative encounter with God.
Let us pray that the church in Africa will be transformed from being inward-looking to be a church that Christ can us to bring societal transformation in the context characterised by ethnic hostilities, gender and economic inequalities, ecological injustices. Let us pray that the church worldwide will also actively participate in making the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven.