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Denha Fourth Sunday

Season of Denha

Fourth Sunday: JOHN 4:1-26
JESUS IS THE PROMISED MESSIAH

INTRODUCTION

Because of the negativity of the Pharisees, Jesus left Judea. On his way to Galilee, he traveled through Samaria and halted at noon at Shechem. While alone, he had a long discourse with a sinful Samaritan woman who came at Jacob’s well to fetch water. Starting with his request for a drink, Jesus assured her he could provide living water, the Holy Spirit, to resolve her spiritual thirst for ever. The woman was taken up by the unusual behavior of Jesus and his intuition to comprehend her sinful secret life. From that interaction, she acknowledged Jesus as a prophet. Jesus revealed to her the imminent changes that would happen in worshipping God the Father in Spirit and truth. When the woman professed her faith in a forthcoming Messiah, Jesus revealed himself as I AM, the God incarnate.

BIBLE TEXT

(Jn 4:1) Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (2) (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples), (3) he left Judea and returned to Galilee.

The Samaritan Woman

(4) He had to pass through Samaria. (5) So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. (6) Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. (7) A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (8) His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. (9) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) (10) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who 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 do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water? (12) Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” (13) Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; (14) but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (15) The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not 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 and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a 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 can see that you are a prophet. (20) Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” (21) Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. (22) You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. (23) But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people 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 the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” (26) Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

INTERPRETATION

Background

After baptizing Jesus and introducing him to his listeners, John the Baptist continued baptizing in Aenon near Salim (Jn 3:23) until King Herod arrested him. Jesus, through his disciples, baptized those who came to him in the Judean region of River Jordan. John gave his last witness to Jesus when John’s disciples complained Jesus was also baptizing people. John confirmed Jesus as the Messiah and compared him as the best man of Jesus, the groom (Jn 3:29). John concluded, saying, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (Jn 3:36).

(Jn 4:1) Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John

The evangelist gives here the reason for Jesus moving from Judea to Galilee. Even from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus faced challenges from the Pharisees, who were highly influential Jews. The popularity boost of Jesus alarmed them because they disagreed with his teachings and practices.

Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard

The Pharisees did not directly observe what Jesus did or listen to his “deviant” teachings. They learned them from others. Probably, they had sent emissaries to study the situation. Jesus came to know their negativity by his divine intuition. Or someone could have reported to him that the Pharisees were plotting against him.

Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John  

The Pharisees were apprehensive about John’s baptism of repentance. The Sanhedrin was the custodian of the Jewish ceremonies and rituals. John was baptizing without their approval. Only Elijah, a prophet, or the Messiah were supposed to do it. So, the Pharisees questioned John through their representatives, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?” (Jn 1:25). Besides John, there came Jesus, who was par excellent than John in popularity because of his miraculous healings. So, more people came to Jesus for baptism of repentance based on his message. That also bothered the Pharisees.

Another issue of the Pharisees was the number of disciples John and Jesus were gaining. However, they tolerated John because he disclaimed himself being the Messiah; he was not against the Law; but only asking people for a spiritual renewal. The heightening reputation of Jesus, his “deviant” teachings against their practices, the immense number of people gathering around him, the high number of people becoming his disciples, and their transformation of life through the baptism Jesus performed through his disciples bothered the Pharisees. Since John publicly introduced Jesus as the Messiah, his listeners and disciples were turning to Jesus. This movement acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah would become a threat to the Sanhedrin and the Jewish aristocracy. So, they wanted to get rid of him before the situation would get worse.

(2) (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples),

The evangelist specifies, Jesus was baptizing people through his disciples. Probably, Jesus had baptized the disciples and then let them take over as a part of their training. He delegated the apostles to baptize in his name for several reasons: (1) He did not want to baptize in his name by himself. (2) He wanted to train his disciples with hands-on experience for their future ministry. (3) He did not want a division in the church in the future by some people claiming they received baptism directly from Jesus (1Cor 1:10-16). (4) To teach us that the reception of baptism is important regardless of who conferred it.

During his public ministry, Jesus concentrated on preaching and helping people with their ailments. After his resurrection only, baptism was conferred with Holy Spirit and fire (Jn 7:39) as John the Baptist had foretold (Mt 3:11). Before his ascension, Jesus authorized the apostles to go to all the nations, teach them all his commandments, make them his disciples, and baptize them in the Trinitarian formula. (Mt 28:18-20). Though Jesus declared baptism as a requirement for salvation (Mk 16:16), the priority for him and the early church was the preaching of the gospel (1Cor 1:17).

(3) he left Judea and returned to Galilee.

Though Jesus came to the world to rescue humanity from the bondage of Satan and sin through his self-sacrifice in Jerusalem, he had several accomplishments to be achieved including the preaching, revealing himself to the world who he was, to select and train his apostles to continue his ministry all over the nations until his second coming, and to institute the sacraments for his followers’ spiritual nourishment. Hence, Jesus avoided an early confrontation with the Pharisees in Judea. He moved to Galilee, the northern section of Palestine via the middle territory of Samaria. Galilee was more receptive to innovative preaching than Judea, because Galilee was amid the Gentiles and there was a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles living there. Judea was a conservative Jewish concentration with the presence of the Temple and Sanhedrin. According to the calculation of the Bible scholars, Jesus was in Judea for about eight months before he moved to Galilee.

The Samaritan Woman

(4) He had to pass through Samaria.

Palestine, during the earthly life of Christ, was divided into three divisions. Galilee in the north, Judea, including Jerusalem in the south, and Samaria in between. The quick route from Galilee to Jerusalem was through Samaria, which some people used. However, most Jews avoided passing through Samaria because of the centuries-old rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans. So, they journeyed double distance by traveling on the eastern side of River Jordan. If they had moved through Samaria, that could cause confrontation between the two factions. Considering this sensitivity, Jesus had instructed his 12 apostles, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town” (Mt 10:5). During his last journey to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through Samaria. On the way, a Samaritan village did not welcome him because his destination was Jerusalem (Lk 9:52-53).

A sequence of historical events caused the hostility between the Jews and Samaritans. The Samaritans were the occupants of the territory formerly assigned to the tribes of Ephraim and the half-tribe, Manasseh. King Omri bought a mountain from Shemer and built the city and named it Samaria after the previous owner, Shemer (1Kings 16:23-24). He made it the capital of Northern Israel. Later that region also got the name Samaria. When the Assyrians deported and scattered in captivity, the ten tribes of Northern Israel, “The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites. They took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities.” (2 Kings 17:24). They intermarried the remaining Israelites in the newly occupied area. The pagans who inhabited Samaria continued worship of their idols. So, God dispatched lions among them that killed some people. The Assyrian king sent them an Israelite priest from exile to teach them the worship of the God of the land. They learned the books of Moses and worshipped the God of Israel but continued their idolatry as well. “They were both venerating the LORD and serving their own gods.” (2 Kings 17:33). Because of these blended races and mixed worship, the Jews considered Samaritans as “half-breeds” and hated them.

The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans intensified because of several reasons: (1) When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile and started rebuilding the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, the Samaritans opposed it and halted it for some time (Nehemiah 6:1-14). (2) The Samaritans perpetuated their idolatrous worship by building a temple for them on Mount Gerizim. (3) The Samaritans offered refuge for the outlaws of Judea (Joshua 20:6-7; 21:21). (4) While accepting the Torah, the Samaritans disregarded other Jewish scriptures and traditions. Hence, the Jews hated Samaritans and blocked contact with them (John 4:9. 8:48).

Then why did Jesus travel through Samaria? He might have used the shortcut to Galilee to reach there fast while fleeing from Judea. Jesus wanted to teach his disciples that animosity with the Samaritans would not help both factions. He wanted to approach the Samaritans with love and compassion because the salvation is not just for Jews, but for all, including Samaritans. Jesus might have the divine vision of making use of the Samaritan woman as an entry into the hearts of Samaritans. Hence, Jesus went through Samaria as a necessity to proclaim the gospel even to the enemies of Jews.

(5) So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

The original name of Sychar was Shechem, between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, eight miles southeast of the city of Samaria and 30 miles (48 km.) north of Jerusalem. It was en route the northern and southern Israel. The Jews, out of their contempt of Samaritans, later nicknamed it Sychar, which means drunkards (Isaiah 28:1) or liars.

The town is historically important and associated with Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.

1. When Abram came from Haran to Canaan, the LORD appeared to him at “the sacred place at Shechem” and said, “To your descendants I will give this land. So Abram built an altar there to the LORD” (Gen 12:6-7).

2. Patriarch Jacob encamped here on his way from Paddanaram, and bought it “from descendants of Hamor, the father of Shechem” (Gen 33:19).

3. Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, defiled Jacob’s daughter Dinah. Her brothers retaliated against the men of the city here (Gen 34:1-31).

4. Jacob buried here all the foreign gods and earrings his people were holding (Gen 35:1-4) and committed himself to the God of his forefathers.

5. Joseph came in search of his brothers here when they were pastoring flock. They sold him to Ishmaelites, who took him into slavery in Egypt (Gen 37:12-28).

6. The Israelites brought the bones of Joseph from Egypt and buried in Shechem (Joshua 24:32).

7. After the conquest of Canaan, Joshua brought Israelites here and arranged half of the tribes facing Mount Gerizim and the others Mount Ebal. Then he “read aloud all the words of the law, the blessings and the curses, exactly as written in the book of the law” (Joshua 8: 33-34).

8. The tribe of Ephraim settled in Shechem (Joshua 21:21).

9. At the end of Joshua’s life, he gathered together all the tribes of Israel at Shechem (Joshua 24:1) and renewed their covenant with God promising, “We will serve the LORD, our God, and will listen to his voice.” Joshua also made statutes and ordinances for Israel there (Joshua 24:25).

10. Gideon’s son “Abimelech fought against the city. He captured it, killed the people who were in it, and demolished the city itself, sowing it with salt” (Judges 9:45).

11. The division of Israel as north (Israel) and south (Judah) took place at Shechem. Jeroboam reigned over the northern section (1Kings 12:1-20), started idolatrous worship at Bethel and Dan (1Kings 12:29), and fortified Shechem (1Kings 12:25).

12. Later, Samaritans made Shechem their central city and built their temple on Mt. Gerizim.

Jesus might have purposefully selected this historically prominent city to start evangelizing the Samaritans.

(6) Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.

Jacob’s well was there.

On his way from Padanaram, Jacob and his family encamped at Shechem and bought that land “for a hundred pieces of money from the descendants of Hamor, the father of Shechem” (Gen 33:18-19). He might have dug a well there and the availability of water might have been a reason for that purchase. Since Jacob was a great patriarch of Israel who owned the property and dug the well, it was known in his name. Hence, the Samaritan woman asked Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” (Jn 4:12).

This well was at the foot of Mount Gerizim dug in solid rock of limestone with about 9 feet in diameter and 100 feet deep. It contained several feet of water fed by abundant springs (Deu 8:7). That well is now dry, may be because of natural reasons like deviation of the springs because of earthquake.

During the Biblical times, well was an informal gathering place for people because many came there to fetch water. According to the Bible, some historical turning points happened at the well. Abraham’s senior servant met Rebekah at a well and chose her as wife for Isaac because she provided water for him and his camels (Gen 24:10-51). Rachel met Jacob, her future husband, when she went to water her father’s flock (Gen 29:1-14). Joseph’s brothers, who planned to kill him, changed their mind, threw him into a dried well and later sold to Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt (Gen 37:19-28). Moses met his future wife at a well in Midian (Ex 2:15-21). According to the Protoevangelium of St. James, Mary was at a well with her pitcher when Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Because water is a life sustainer and well is a source for it, the well is a symbol of new life events.

Jesus, tired from his journey

Jesus, though God incarnate, was also a human like us. Thus, he shared our weaknesses, except sin, is clear from this exhaustion of Jesus. He was always walking on foot even for a long distance journey, except his triumphant entry into the Temple for his last Passover observance.

sat down there at the well

Jesus was so weak after waking from Judea that the disciples let him rest while they went to purchase food. There must have been seating facilities for passengers at the well, may be under the shade of trees for rest, so they can also get water to drink from the well.

It was about noon.

The evangelist specifies the noon time to let the readers know that Jesus had a half day walk that day. The heat was high by noon. So, he must be exhausted, hungry, and thirsty by that time. Since it was the time for meal, the disciples had gone to buy food for them and Jesus.

(7) A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

A woman of Samaria came to draw water

Why did the Samaritan woman come alone from a long distance to fetch water at noon? The women in Samaria would not allow her to get water from their wells because of her terrible reputation (Jn 4:18). Though the usual time to approach the well was in the morning or evening, she could reach there only by noon because of the long distance she had to walk. Another view is that she was not from the city of Samaria but a Samaritan living in the locality. Since other women refused her coming with them to the well in the morning or evening, she might have selected noon time to be alone to fetch water without the nuisance from others.

Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”

Jesus asking for a drink to the Samaritan woman opened up a window for significant discussion and revelation of his mission. That also led to the entry of Jesus to Samaria, where the Jews detested and dreaded to enter. 

If Jesus was thirsty, he could perform a miracle for himself. He had turned water into wine and had multiplied loaves of bread and fish. However, he did not misuse his power for himself and depended on others expressing his need for help as a fellow human. He who said, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4), quenched his thirst not by drinking water from the woman but by sharing the Word of God to her. Another documented occasion when Jesus expressed his thirst was at his crucifixion. From the cross he cried aloud, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28).

(8) His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.

This clarifies why Jesus was alone, and why he asked for a drink from the Samaritan woman. Jesus, who multiplied food for his listeners, avoided doing so even for his disciples. That was also a lesson for the disciples that they must not misuse their power for themselves.

(9) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)

“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

Three concerns are implied in this question. “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan. Since Jews hate the Samaritans, how come you are so nice to talk to me, a Samaritan?” The woman could recognize Jesus from his dress and his dialect

Another implied meaning is, “How come you a man, talk to a strange woman?” The Rabbis avoided talking to women in public because that could affect their reputation.

The third implication is, “You are asking for a drink from a Samaritan woman? Don’t you know that the Jews won’t receive any food items from the Samaritans?” The Jews considered Samaritan women as impure and so they did not drink from any vessel they handled.

Though it was natural that travelers ask for drinking water at the well, the woman was excited at the humble request of a Jewish Rabbi. She did not deny the help to the stranger but was thrilled that an unusual request came from this foreigner. So, while giving water to the Rabbi, the Samaritan woman was bold enough to clarify her curiosity. Her openness led to the salvation of herself and of the Samaritans in her locality.

(For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)

This is an explanatory note from the evangelist to the readers who do not know the rivalry between the Jews and Samaritans. The reason for the disparity was the difference in faith, especially for erecting the pagan temple at Mount Gerizim as a rival to the Temple of Jerusalem. God had instructed the Israelites not to mingle with idolatrous worshippers to protect their loyalty to God. Even Jesus spoke of Samaritan as a foreigner (Lk 17:16-18). However, Jesus appreciated their compassion for others and presented them with high esteem as in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:29-37).

(10) Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

If you knew the gift of God

Though vague for the Samaritan woman and even to the readers of the gospel, the gift of God can be Jesus himself or the Holy Spirit, because both are gifts of God to humanity. In his conversation with Nicodemus Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). St. Paul presents Jesus as an incredible gift of God (2Cor 9:15, Rom 5:15-17).

Jesus Christ promised another gift of God, the Holy Spirit. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always” (Jn 14:16). “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that told you” (Jn 14:26). The Acts of the Apostles presents Holy Spirit as the gift of God (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17). In the present context, Jesus could mean the Holy Spirit as the gift of God as he expressed in the following statements.

and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him

Jesus reversed the role of the giver and receiver. What Jesus wanted was water for temporal thirst. Jesus has the spiritual drink that is essential for eternal life. While Jesus was thirsting for drinking water as a human, the Samaritan woman had the spiritual thirst that could be rectified by the living water that only Jesus could offer.

What did Jesus mean by the living water? On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus proclaimed in the Temple, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’ He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive” (Jn 7:37-39). So, when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman of the living water that he would give, he meant the Holy Spirit. However, the woman could not understand the figurative sense Jesus used. She understood that in an earthly sense. She might have thought of flowing water from a stream that was better than the stagnant water in the well. Such misunderstanding for further dialogue was a style Jesus used in his discussion with Nicodemus also (Jn 3:1-21).

(11) [The woman] said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the well is deep; where then can you get this living water?

By addressing Jesus “sir” instead of “you,” the Samaritan woman started showing him respect. She was thinking of Jesus giving flowing water to her from a deep spring there. So, she raised a practical question of how he could do it without a bucket when the pit where the water dropped was deep. Her curious interrogation led to further clarification on his living water.

(12) Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?

The Samaritans were a mixed race of Jews and migrants from Chaldea (2Kings 17:24) after the Assyrian conquest. So, they worshipped Yahweh and the idols. Since Patriarch Jacob had purchased the land they occupied “for a hundred pieces of money from the descendants of Hamor, the father of Shechem” (Gen 33:19) and gave it to Joseph and his descendants, they honored Jacob as their father with high esteem.

This disdainful question implies a negative answer: ‘You cannot be greater than our father Jacob. Jacob bought this land, dug this well, used it for years, and handed over to Joseph (Gen 48:22). His son Ephraim and his descendants inherited this. We are now occupying it. Can you find a location and well like this? Are you wiser than him?’ The well was valuable as an excellent source of water and because of its historical prominence. Patriarch Jacob and his descendants had drunk from it, along with their domestic animals.

(13) Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; (14) but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus did not give a direct answer to the Samaritan woman’s question about who was great. He did not claim his superiority over Jacob. Jesus continued teaching in the figurative sense on the need for the Holy Spirit for the soul, in contrast to the water needed for the body. The earthly water can satisfy the body only for a while. The person who drinks it will thirst again. The spiritual water that Jesus provides is the Holy Spirit that can quench the spiritual vacuum forever. It will provide a spring of grace that would lead to eternal life.

(15) The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

The woman could not understand what Jesus meant because of his figurative presentation. She misunderstood Jesus and took his discourse in a physical sense. With that understanding, she asked for the special water from Jesus. Thus, instead of Jesus asking for drinking water from the woman, she turned out to be the requester of living and better water from Jesus.

(16) Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”

When the woman asked for the living water Jesus offered, he did not give a direct answer. Instead, he made an unexpected demand of bringing her husband. By this, he disclosed, he was aware of her sinful life. This became an entry point for Jesus to awaken her conscience and make her aware of the need to be spiritually clean to receive his living water. Thus, he revealed his divinity to her step by step so she could understand him as the Messiah.

(17) The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ (18) For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

When Jesus asked the woman to bring her husband, she was puzzled. Why this Rabbi who met her first time, wanted to bring her husband? He knew she had no legal husband. Probably he might know her sinful life. So, she did not want to take the risk of bringing her illegal partner and get into trouble. Since Jesus was a foreigner, she believed she could deceive him in a literal sense. She bantered him by saying she had no husband, which was legally true.

Jesus replied with her ironic style and agreed that she was literally right. Through his divine knowledge, Jesus knew the status of her life. So, he unveiled the truth of her living together with a man who was not her husband. Since Jesus said of her previous five husbands, they might be legitimate ones. But they might have died, or she might have divorced them one after another. And then she might be living with a sixth man whom she had not married.

(19) The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.

The woman was shocked at the understanding of Jesus about her sinful private life. That is why she told the people in her town, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.” (Jn 4:29). She realized she could hide nothing from Jesus and acknowledged him as a prophet. Instead of denying what Jesus told of her scandalous life, she perceived Jesus as a prophet and professed that openly. She considered Jesus as Prophet Samuel, who told Saul, “I will tell you everything on your mind” (1Samuel 9:19).

(20) Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

The Samaritan woman brought up a controversy between the Samaritans and Jews on the location for worship. The Samaritans worshipped at a temple they built at Mount Gerizim in opposition to the Temple in Jerusalem. Mount Gerizim was a place of worship of the ancestors, like Abraham (Gen 12:6-7), Jacob (Gen 33:18-20) and Joshua (Deu 27:1-8). According to the Samaritan tradition, Abraham sacrificed Isaac, and met Melchizedek there, which, according to Jews, was at Jerusalem. So, Samaritans had justification in worshipping at Shechem by erecting a temple similar to the Temple in Jerusalem. “The Samaritans believe that, since more than 3600 years ago, they came to live on Mount Gerizim because Moses, in his tenth commandment, ordered them to protect it as a sacred mountain and worship on it by making pilgrimages to it three times a year. These beliefs and traditions have been kept alive by Samaritans since then” (https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5706/). Instead, the Jews considered Jerusalem as the sacred mountain and worshipped at the Temple there, making three pilgrimages a year.

The Samaritan woman mentions how the Jews objected to this worship on Mount Gerizim. King David moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:12) and King Solomon built the Temple there according to the direction of God (2 Chronicles 3:1). God had prohibited offering sacrifices to God in multiple places like the pagans (Deu 12:4-5). Based on God’s commands, the Jews objected to the temple at Gerizim built in opposition to the Temple in Jerusalem.

(21) Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

Jesus predicts to the Samaritan woman that the two traditional sites of worship would become history and they would replace with a third one. John Hyrcanus had destroyed the temple at Mount Gerizim during the Hellenistic period in 128 BC (https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5706/). However, the Samaritans continued to consider it as a holy place of worship. Jesus foresaw the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (Mk 13:1-3) that happened in 70 AD. For Jesus, the dispute on the place of worship would be irrelevant because it would not be confined to one or another location. Jesus revealed a great mystery of his mission to this sinful woman. He did not justify Jerusalem to the woman, though as a Jew, he selected Jerusalem for his worship and self-sacrifice.

Jesus used the expression, “the hour is coming” on other occasions, also in the sense of the imminence of a change. “The hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (Jn 5:25). “The hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voices” (Jn 5:28). “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (Jn 12:23). “The hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God” (Jn 16:2). “The hour is coming and has arrived when each of you will be scattered to his own home and you will leave me alone” (Jn 16:32).

Jesus used the term Father for God. The Jews and the Samaritans were not accustomed to call God the Father, though God had considered Israel as His son (Exodus 4:22). Jesus could use it because he was the Son of God. He taught his disciples the Lord’s prayer, addressing, “Our Father who art in heaven.” So, he gave the privilege to address God as the Father, as he himself did. According to Jesus, the dispute on the place of worship would end soon and God, as the Father, will continue as the object of worship.

(22) You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.

You people worship what you do not understand

The Samaritans followed only the Pentateuch, whereas the Jews follow the other books of the Old Testament, including the Prophets that have additional revelations from God. So, the Samaritans were ignorant of the later divine interventions and the prophetic teachings. They negate the salvation God promised through the Jews just as they negate Jerusalem as the genuine place of worship.

The king of Assyria settled Gentiles from five foreign regions to the cities of Samaria. Since they did not venerate the LORD, God sent lions among them and killed some people. “So one of the priests who had been deported from Samaria returned and settled in Bethel, and began to teach them how to venerate the LORD. Thus each of these nations continued to make its own gods, setting them up in the shrines of the high places the Samarians had made: each nation in the cities in which they dwelt” (2 Kings 17:28-29). Being a fusion of Jews and Gentiles, “They were both venerating the LORD and serving their own gods. They followed the custom of the nations from among whom they had been deported” (2 Kings 17:33). They disobeyed God by worshipping the idols.

Here, the importance Jesus gave was for the object of worship. The Samaritans had mixed the worship of the LORD with pagan worship. They did not know their mistake. Jesus called it as their ignorance of the true God and genuine worship.

we worship what we understand

By using “we,” Jesus identified with the Jews. Though born as a Jew, his salvation is for all as God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Jews understood the mind of God through the revelations they had received from God through the prophets. They worshipped the true God in Jerusalem that God revealed as the place for the Temple. So, they knew what God wanted from the divine revelations that Samaritans rejected.

salvation is from the Jews

Jesus affirmed that salvation of humanity would come through the Jews as God revealed through the patriarchs and prophets throughout the centuries. The Samaritans also would receive the message of salvation soon from the Jewish Christians.

(23) But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.

But the hour is coming, and is now here

Jesus spoke about a time of transition from the past to the new. That started on the same day when the Samaritans, hearing from the woman, invited Jesus to their village. After their experience with Jesus for two days, they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (Jn 4:42). The worship on Gerizim and Jerusalem would not last long. An alternative form of worship would replace them, resulting in the disappearance of rivalry between the Jews and Samaritans.

when true worshipers will worship the Father

The true worship was lacking at Mount Gerizim and Jerusalem. Both required purifications. The Samaritans had a worship of true God and of the idols. They needed more understanding of the true worship. The Jewish religious leaders had become ritualistic and corrupt. They had sacrifice, but without mercy to the fellow humans. So, correction was necessary for both groups.

in Spirit and truth

Worship in spirit and truth involves two important aspects of genuine worship. The worship in spirit means devotion according to the spirit behind the religious observances. God said through Hosea, “For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). Jesus replaced animal sacrifice with his life. He wants his followers to offer their lives to God with the true spirit that evolves from their heart. The Holy Spirit will guide us in this. “The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Romans 8:26). God wants a worship in truth, that is, a sincere sacrifice of oneself, just as Jesus who said, “I am the Truth” (Jn 14:6) did in his earthly life. These would be a modification of the corrupted worship of the time. Thus, a superior form of worship would replace the worship at the mountain and at the Temple of Jerusalem.

indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.

God the Father was seeking people with true spirit and truth to worship Him. They are the true worshippers who adore him from their heart than lip service and meaningless rituals. He was revealing a new form of worship that Jesus exemplified through his earthly ministry.

(24) God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”

Since the nature of God is Spirit and not limited to space and time, he can be worshipped anywhere in Spirit and truth. The early church realized this, is clear from the discourse of Stephen in his address to the Sanhedrin during his trial, “the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands” (Acts 7:48). The Sanhedrin took it as a speech against the Temple. St. Paul addressed almost the same to the Athenians, “The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25).

(25) The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”

The Samaritan woman could not comprehend the Theological discourse of Jesus like the Father, Spirit, and Truth. However, she was aware of the messianic expectations. The Messiah would be the anointed one of God, and he would reveal every truth. Besides the Jews, the Samaritans and Gentiles also were expecting a Messiah from the Jews. When the Magi arrived in Jerusalem, their question to King Herod was, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” (Mt 2:2).

Though the Samaritans accepted only the Pentateuch in the Bible, it also gives references to the coming of the Messiah. God promised a redeemer through Adam (Gen 3:15), Abraham (Gen 12:3), Jacob (Gen 49:10), Balaam (Num 24:17) and Moses, (Dt 18:15) in the first five books of the Bible. The Samaritans must have heard of the Messianic predictions by the prophets of Israel. Their expectation of the Messiah was not a king from the lineage of David but a prophet like Moses (Dt 18:15). According to the woman, the Anointed one will correct their misunderstandings and defective religious practices. She was willing to wait for that to happen, as Jesus informed her.

(26) Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”.

Jesus gradually unveiled his identity as I AM, means God, to the Samaritan woman. “I AM” is the name of God that God revealed to Moses when he asked for God’s name at Mount Sinai (Exodus 3:13-14). When Jesus used “I am” for himself, he was identifying himself as the God incarnate. He started with a human need of water for his thirst and ended in revealing his identity directly to a sinful Samaritan woman even before he did that to the Jews. She got the privilege to hear from Jesus his identity as the Messiah. Her belief in this is clear from her revelation of the same to her people (Jn 4:29) and thus she became a herald of Jesus to the Samaritans.

MESSAGE

1. Though John the Baptist and Jesus were converting people, gaining disciples, and baptizing them, there was no competition between them. John’s motto was, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). John prepared the way for Jesus, introduced him as the Messiah to the public, forwarded his disciples to Jesus, and receded from the scene by becoming a martyr for his moral teaching. Like John and Jesus, let us work as a team for evangelization with no jealousy or competition.

2. Though Jews avoided direct road between Judea and Galilee, Jesus used it to meet the Samaritans without prejudice and intending to save their souls. Keeping up hatred or hostility to anyone is against Christian morals. Do we behave with disgust or prejudice towards anyone?

3. “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple - amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42). Like the Samaritan woman, let us also gain the grace of God by offering any help we can provide to those in need.

4. Jesus used a poor, unpopular Samaritan woman as an instrument for reaching out the Samaritans for salvation. Jesus selected apostles also from the illiterate and low-status people to become pillars of his church. Even if we are simple and limited in resources, God can empower us to continue his ministry in the present times.

5. Jesus questioned illegal marriage or living together of the Samaritan woman with a man. Are we fostering such relationships?

6. Jesus offered Holy Spirit to his disciples and the privilege to call God our Father. We have gained these through baptism. Let us we conscious that we are the temple of God and keep up our personal prayer besides our church-centered practices.