My Dear People,
In the Gospel, Jesus goes against the generally accepted ethnic and religious standards by speaking not only to a woman, but to a Samaritan woman. The northern tribes, when they became one kingdom, were called Israel, meanwhile the southern tribes, when they combined into one kingdom, were called Judah. The people of Israel continued to worship pagan gods, so God allowed Assyria to conquer them and be exiled to Assyria, and people from other areas populated the land where the kingdom of Israel stood. They did not listen to what the prophet Amos said, and they did not repent of their wrongdoing. When Jonah went to preach to the city of Nineveh, the people repented, so nothing happened to them, and they were not even Hebrews or Jewish. Most people from the kingdom of Israel were exiled to Assyria, and they eventually intermixed in marriage with the local people who were not the chosen people. At the time of Jesus, they were called Samaritans. They were considered inferior by the Jewish and they looked down on them. When the Jews from the southern kingdom were exiled to Babylon they did not intermarry with anyone; they kept their faith. Judah’s return from exile began in year 538BC. The Samaritans then forcefully combatted rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans were not impressed with the existence of Mount Moriah’s temple. They built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, which the Jewish priest destroyed in 128 BC.
With that background, the attitude of the Samaritan woman at the beginning of today’s Gospel is understandable. She first refers to Jesus as a “Jew” (John 4:9), not a complimentary title in her mind. Later she uses the more respectful “Sir” (4:11). The Greek text of her question in verse 12 makes it clear that she does not consider Jesus greater than Jacob. However, when he shows knowledge of her moral life, she accepts him as a prophet (4:9). She raises the question of the proper place of worship—Mount Zion (in Jerusalem) or Mount Gerizim. Jesus points out that true worship in the future will be based on the Spirit of truth given by God. The woman then mentions the Messiah. Jesus assures her that he is the Messiah: “I am he” (4:26), using “ego eimi,” The Greek translation of Yahweh (I Am Who Am). The dialogue between the woman and Jesus shows the progress and change of her attitude toward Jesus. At first she was antagonistic; she told Jesus: “How can you give me water, this well is deep and you do not have a bucket.” She called him a Jew, and then she was more respectful and called him “Sir” when she referred to wanting some living water. When Jesus told her about her moral life, she then accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
Finally, the woman shares her growing faith with the people of her town, leading them to accept Jesus by his word as a “savior of the world” (4:42). “The concentration upon characters beyond the world of Judaism indicates that no one, of whatever race, culture, or religion, is to be excluded in the Johannine theology of re elation and salvation” (Francis Ja. Moloney, S.D.B., The Gospel of John).
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Vincent Clemente