The “Water of Life”

17 May 2020

In the Gospel reading for tomorrow (4, 5-42), Saint John the Evangelist transports us to a well in Samaria, one hot noontide. Christ had sent His disciples to the nearby town of Sychar to fetch supplies and a local woman came to  the well to draw water. Jesus asked her to give Him some water, and then began one of the most revealing dialogues in Scripture.


In this dialogue, Christ reveals the truly divine provenance of His word. It is a discourse that can, indeed, be adapted to human measures of understanding,  but it also clearly transcends the criteria with which people judge things. It is a discourse which reinvigorates human life because it offers precisely a new vision of the things concerned with living in this world·, of the values which define the course of mortal life and the usual perceptions of the meaning of human existence.

To begin with, Christ is talking to a woman on equal terms – which would have been almost unheard of in the social conditions of the time. A woman’s role was restricted and subordinate, but that did not prevent the Lord of all from revealing to her the great truths on account of which He Himself had assumed human flesh. And, apart from that, let’s not forget that the woman came from a nation which His fellow-countrymen heartily despised. Jews and Samaritans displayed deep and mutual hostility towards each other. But Christ- who  continually preached love and had, at another time, chosen the  parable of the Good Samaritan to teach that love transcends national and racial distinctions- was not affected by human aversions and addressed her in the most natural manner. She was also one of God’s creatures and had the same right to learn the truth.

Christ went on to explain the nature of the tidings that He had brought to humankind: the “water of life”, the message that met all human needs. It’s the joyful message of salvation, the great treasure given to people by God. It’s the pearl of great price, and, if people can only realize its value, they will understand that they need nothing else in their lives. Another great truth, which has been confirmed by a whole host of martyrs, saints and confessors who have dedicated and offered their lives to God.

Jesus then went on to tell the Samaritan woman details about her personal life. She became convinced that He was an exceptional person and asked Him what the proper way of worshipping God was. The Lord, Who is both God and Man, took  the opportunity to tell her- and, through her, us- that God isn’t an idol, He’s Spirit and it’s as Spirit that people should worship Him. And this is something that those who want to live close to God should keep in the forefront of their minds, without dashing their offerings against the trappings of worship.

Jesus’ final revelation was directed towards His disciples and all those who want Him as their Master. The task of salvation is long and tiring. Humanity is waiting. It’s thirsting for the truth and awaiting redemption. If we want to be close to Him, we should learn from His words: we should set aside our aversions, overcome our petty concerns and labour to raise up our neighbour. This can be achieved by a common petition to the God Who is worshipped in truth and in Spirit, in the Trinity.

· The original Greek text has “a new vision of life (ζωή)” and “the things of life (βίος). Βίος has to do with our length of days on earth and is the word used for the Life of a saint. Ζωή is true living. On Good Friday, at the Lamentations, we sing Η ζωή εν τάφω (Life in the grave). It would make no sense to talk about Ο βίος εν τάφω or about a saint’s πνευματικός βίος.