A number of biblical scholars have suggested that the Samaritan woman is a symbol of her people with whom Jesus wishes to enter into a relationship as Bridegroom and Messiah. Seen from this perspective, a marvelous dialogue unfolds between Jesus and his potential bride-to-be. And it is appropriate that he would speak of a “gift” to show the seriousness of his intent. Jesus’ gift is not gold or silver but “living water” that wells up to eternal life.
The Samaritan woman asks Jesus to give her this living water. But before Jesus can give her this gift, she must be ready to receive it. So Jesus tells her to go and bring before him the main obstacle, her husband. She must bring before him her principal sin. Jesus wants us to bring him the big things, in which the contradiction between sin and grace is seen by us in all clarity.
The woman hesitantly accepts the Lord’s challenge by confessing a partial truth: “I have no husband.” She has nevertheless taken a new step. Jesus accepts her half-confession. But being Jesus, he looks right through her, sees her whole previous life and tells her so. He wants candor on both sides; he needs a full confession.
“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet”, she says; meaning, you look right through me; you see what I am and what I was. Jesus has not given her the least reproach. He does not ask for anything more. Freed now from sin, she goes immediately to the essential and asks about worship. How am I to pray? She looks for guidance, she says to Jesus “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes he will tell us everything.” With this open, straightforward confession of faith, the woman creates a space for the Lord to disclose himself to her with a fullness and clarity not yet given to anyone up to this point in John’s Gospel: “I who speak to you am he.”
With this she is prepared for mission, to go forth and bear spiritual children for the Lord. But the Wedding Day as well as the handing over the promised gift is yet to come. We will celebrate it in a few weeks in the events of Holy Week, when Jesus will make the ultimate sacrifice in undergoing the humiliation of the Cross, that from his pierced side living water may flow, slaking the thirst of all who believe in him and washing away all their sins. Here on the Cross Jesus will be united to his Bride, with whom he will dwell in all eternity.
Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319), , 1310-1311, tempera and gold on poplar panel, 17 x 18 1/8 in., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Third Sunday of Lent.