2.C.2 From the Gospel of John, Chapter 4, presented by Piotr Sikora

— Hindu response by Shrivatsa Goswami
— Hindu response by Anant Rambachan
— Buddhist response by Ruben Habito
— Jewish response by Alon Goshen-Gottstein

Text

3 [Jesus] left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (Joh 4:3-26 NRS)

Commentary

The Samaritan woman described in the cited passage is aware of the religious heritage of her people (symbolized here by Jacob – one of the biblical Patriarchs) and of the rules of cultic/ritual chastity both of which makes Samaritans distinct and helps them to retain their Samaritan identity. Nevertheless she is preoccupied primarily with “earthly” affairs (she wants even Jesus’ offer of the ‘living water’ to improve the material conditions of her daily life). She completely does not understand the spiritual dimension of religious engagement. This woman represents every person who regards religious tradition she/he belongs to as a important factor of their socio-ethnic identity and as a tool for attaining some “this-worldly” goals. “The Samaritan woman story” is not only a critique, even less just a description, of such superficial, ethno-socio-political understanding of religious traditions. It shows us how it is possible to shift from such a level of religious belonging to the discovery of spiritual dimension of human life.

The woman’s “journey” begins with Jesus interference in her well established socio-religious world. Asking her for a drink he violates some important religious rules. However, as a spiritual person he pretends to have the rights to such a violation. This is why while the woman misunderstands his words and deeds, nevertheless she begins to realize insufficiency of her particular tradition and/or her way of belonging to it. The crucial moment comes when Jesus confronts her with the truth of her personal existential situation. It is only Jesus’ awareness of that intimate dimension of her life that gives him in her eyes the authority for judging propriety of a particular cultic behavior. However, it is not the question of authority only. What is more important is that the event of entering spiritual life demands realization of insufficiency of the religious tradition conceived as a mean for preserving one’s ethnic, social and political identity and enabling to cope with the difficulties of daily life. The crucial point consists in confrontation with one’s most intimate and profound predicaments and with clear realization of one’s actual condition.

Given the whole context, Jesus’ answer for woman’s question concerning the place of worship indicates that there is a very close bond between proper relationship with God and an adequate awareness of the condition of one’s own spiritual nature in which one partakes in the Spirit (it is worth noticing that another passage of John’s Gospel (John 7:38) identifies the living water pouring out of believer’s heart with the Divine spirit). The adequate acknowledgment of one’s own condition (the truth) can open human person to the realization that in her/his spiritual dimension she/he participates in the Divine Spirit that transform her/him in Her/His/Its likeness.

Jesus role in the narrative shows one more important truth: It is very unlikely that human person can enter the spiritual life without meeting a spiritual person, someone who is already filled with the Divine presence and can be the guide that shows the path – where it starts and how it proceeds. From the Christian point of view, the unsurpassable model of such a Master is Jesus of Nazareth, whom Christians believe to be the Logos Incarnate. Nevertheless, the Divine Spirit blows where it wants, and sometimes she/he/it is the only, albeit mysterious, invisible, and inner, Master and Guide.