JESUS RETURNS TOWARD GALILEE _ SICHAR IN SAMARIA AND JACOB'S WELL _ CONVERSATION WITH A WOMAN _ THE GIFT OF GOD _ THE LIVING WATER _ AN UNEXPECTED REVELATION _ THE CONTROVERTED QUESTION _ THE MESSIAH IS JESUS _ THE LESSON GIVEN TO THE DISCIPLES CONCERNING THE HARVEST AND THE REAPERS _ THE FAITH OF THE SAMARITANS. (St. John iv, 142.)
THE hostile attitude which was assumed by the disciples of John and which was never completely changed even by the most explicit testimony of their master, might have become a serious obstacle to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom. Hence Jesus, who wished not to endanger by means of irritating discussions the good that the Baptist's followers were to accomplish in the holy cause, resolved to yield to them and to put an end to all jealousy by His sudden retirement. The Pharisees, who sought to draw some profit from this delicate situation by representing to John's disciples their inferiority to the disciples of Jesus (who were baptizing more than even the Baptist himself), must have been greatly disappointed at this unexpected retreat. The two parties they wished to destroy, separated without an encounter and formed two redoubtable armies, that of John, guarding the southern portion of Palestine, and that of Jesus, which set out to occupy the north.
The Savior proposed to return toward Galilee, and He must, indeed, have been eager to return into this the first field of His labors to cultivate the seed He had already sown there.
The most direct road from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria. However, through fear of foul treatment at the hands of the inhabitants of that country, the majority of travelers of Jewish nationality avoided this route, and chose, in preference, that which led through Perea. Jesus was not deterred by any such apprehensions, and the Good Tidings which He bore being for all men, with no distinction of race, He entered Samaria. When He arrived in the neighborhood of a city called Sichar near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph, He made a halt in His journey, it was in the summer season and about midday. The heat was drying up the country, and the Master, wearied by His journey, sought the coolness of the shade. Near by was a well, the origin of which dated from the time of Jacob, and about it must have been a grove of trees. Jesus seated Himself upon the brink of the well, while the Apostles went on into the city to procure some food, eggs, fruits, or vegetables, which the Rabbis permitted them to accept from the Samaritans.
While he was resting there, a woman of that country came to draw water. As He looked at her, Jesus, full of merciful kindness, said to her, "Give me to drink," with amiable familiarity. Often a soul is gained by the request of a favor. Flattered at having to oblige, it lends itself without distrust and listens with profit. Yet, it may be, that Jesus was really thirsty; but, in addressing the woman of Samaria in this way, He afforded her a mark of consideration that was quite astonishing on the part of a Judean. With one word, in fact, the traveler overturned the time-honored wall that separated two nations that were neighbors and almost brothers. The woman was amazed. By His costume and by His accent she immediately knew His nationality. "How dost thou," she said, with a provoking air quite in harmony with her character, "being a Judean, ask of me to drink, who am a Samaritan woman?" We must remember what has been said elsewhere of the hostility that divided these two peoples. The woman maliciously brought into relief this deep division, although, being frivolous and skeptical by nature, she cared but little about it. Jesus does not repeat His request; material thirst is an incident that annoys Him not at all. To speak to a soul and enlighten it, is His true object. With dignity, then, in a mildly reproachful tone, He says: "If thou didst know the gift of God, and who He is that saith to thee, `Give me to drink,' thou, perhaps, would have asked of Him and He would have given thee living water." Such a declaration coming from the holiest and tenderest soul immediately transforms the picture before our eyes. It is no longer a man and a woman conversing in the depth of a solitary landscape; it is an apostle and one whom he is instructing, a priest, and a sinner who is about to hear judgment passed upon her and to be converted. Unfortunate woman! Would thou didst know the gift of God, that is, the mercy the Father has shown to the world in giving it His Son, a mercy the effect of which thou thyself shalt feel! Would thou didst know how carefully divine favor has prepared thy salvation! Why art thou come at this hour, no earlier, no later, to draw water at the patriarchal well? Assuredly it is not thou alone that hast chosen this moment; it is, too, the favor of heaven that has guided thee, and if the Messiah rests here to wait for thee, if He is thirsty in order to speak to thee, this again is the gift of God.
The woman, indeed, begins to perceive in herself the divine grace with which this traveler's penetrating word is laden. She does not clearly comprehend what He is saying, but she dimly sees the superior morality of Him Who speaks, and more respectful now than at first, she responds, "Sir, thou hast nothing wherein to draw and the well is deep; from whence then hast thou living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself and his children and his cattle?" Jesus, Whose custom is gradually to lead up the soul to which He speaks through ideas of sensible things to conceptions of the most sublime spirituality, pursues His pictured and symbolical exposition. "Whosoever drinketh of this water, shall thirst again: but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst forever. But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water springing up into life everlasting." The woman does not yet understand, but, thinking that He speaks of something very desirable, she manifests a desire to profit by it. Was it possible by some chance to be freed henceforth from the necessity of coming to draw water from this well and to find in herself and at will a refreshment that would be perpetual? This would be most fortunate. "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw." There is something amusing in this seeking after ease in life, which she manifests here so naively. Still it is clear that the woman takes Jesus for a man capable of doing wonders. He will reward this germ of faith by manifesting to her that He has knowledge not only of the creation of life, but also of the secrets of all lives and of hers in particular. "Go call thy husband and come hither," He says to her. Not that Jesus hopes to find in the husband a nature more open to the reception of His teaching; no, He wishes to let this woman see that He knows her, in the most secret details of her life, with a knowledge more than human; and in this way He will render His words more acceptable.
Surprised at such an invitation, yet not daring to confess that anything was wrong in her conjugal relations, she replies evasively: "I have no husband." Jesus said to her: "Thou hast said well, `I have no husband.' For thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband. This thou hast said truly." This lightningstroke was as terrible as it was unexpected. It must have cast a saving light amid the darkness of that poor soul. Jesus, therefore, knows her sufficiently well to complete the details of her life which she had left unmentioned; He pertinently discloses them; but in plunging the sword again into this diseased heart, He acts with a desire to save it by humiliation. Her pretense that she has no husband, when in reality she has had five from whom she has been separated, probably for misconduct and by divorce, is somewhat strange, and yet it is true, for the man with whom she is at present living is the husband of another. She, therefore, is an adulteress. The unhappy woman does not deny it, nor does she even offer an excuse. A sincere avowal is the beginning of the resurrection of a dying soul. In a voice of profound sadness, the humiliated woman confesses her crime and does homage to her accuser. "Sir," she says, "I perceive that thou art a prophet." Then immediately, as if unable to bear longer the weight of her shame, with the adroit inconstancy ever employed by woman as a last resource, she checks by a bold diversion any further revelations on the part of Jesus. "Our fathers adored on this mountain (pointing out with a gesture Garizim, at whose foot they were), and you say that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore." Thus, to prevent humiliation, she enters into a controversy; and with admirable gentleness Jesus is willing to follow her upon this new ground and to reveal to her an unlookedfor horizon. "Woman, believe that the hour cometh when you shall neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem adore the Father." Yes, the national religions shall come to an end. For God is the Father of all humanity. After the Redemption man may speak to Him in all places. But, if it be absolutely necessary to compare the religion of Samaria with that of Jerusalem, there is no doubt that the Samaritans are farther from the truth than the Judeans. "You adore that which you know not; we adore that which we know, for salvation is of the Judeans." They alone possess both the complete revelation and the Temple to which the Kingdom of God is bound. The Samaritans have accepted only the books of Moses, and they have thus withheld themselves from the full development of the religious idea which must be sought in the Prophetic and Sapiential Books. Their first notions of the true worship, derived from the Pentateuch, had themselves been strongly tainted by an intermixture of Assyrian theogonies. So that their inferiority, in comparison with the theocratic people, was most astoundingly in evidence.
However, the superiority of the latter shall itself soon reach its end, and its ancient privileges shall cease. "The hour cometh and now is," continues Jesus, "when the true adorer shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore Him. God is a spirit, and they that adore Him, must adore Him in spirit and in truth." This, therefore, is the fundamental character of the new religion; it will be above all a religion of souls. Not that the exterior worship will be proscribed; there will still be material temples, ceremonies, a priesthood; but all this will be solely for the development of that adoration in spirit which is the very basis of the religious life. Israel believes that God can be found only in the Temple; henceforth man shall know that to meet Him and to honor Him in his heart, he has only to enter into himself. There, too, shall immolations and sacrifices be offered; there, like incense from the altar, shall prayers ascend; there shall we sacrifice our pride, our egotism, our passions; there shall we make the offering of our charity and our virtues. That is all God wants. A spirit, He needs not the blood of victims; He calls for spiritual holocausts. In truth, man can make no greater immolation to God than the immolation of his own soul.
So pure and so sublime a doctrine bore away the woman's thoughts to the happy days of the Messiah impatiently awaited in the desires of all. Might not this very man, who speaks with such authority and with such charm, be the Expected of all nations? She does not ask it directly; but with as much simplicity as address, she chances a word and seems to hope that Jesus may take it to Himself. "I know," she says, "that the Messiah cometh (who is called the Christ); therefore, when He is come He will tell us all things." Hers was a willing soul, and in spite of her weaknesses, she deserved to hear the truth. Jesus then replied: "I am He, Who am speaking with thee." This was an explicit declaration. In the presence of the Judeans, who hoped for a temporal Messiah, He would have clothed it in other terms, in order not to excite their dangerous envy and ruin His own authority by failing to furnish what they looked for. But to this woman of Samaria, who salutes in the Messiah the representative of religious truth, He willingly reveals Himself.
We shall frequently have to notice that in these poor women whose weakness has been the cause of their hearts' long wanderings, there is a wonderful religious flight. One might say that in them love, suddenly led back to its proper center, finds in what is good all the warmth it had known in evil. Nicodemus, after he had heard Jesus, went away without noise and without enthusiasm. This Samaritan woman, transported with happiness, hastens away, preaches, and stirs up the whole town. It is a detail, quite natural and truthful, that she had left her pitcher at the well, as a guarantee that she would soon come back and in order that she might reach the city sooner. "Come," she cried, with no fear of rousing publicly the memory of her disorderly life, "come and see a man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done. Is not he the Christ?" The woman's story ran swiftly from mouth to mouth, and the excitement became general.
In the meantime, while Jesus was conversing with the woman, the disciples had returned. It was an ancient rabbinical prejudice that woman was absolutely beyond all deep religious refinement. "Burn the words of the law rather than lose time in teaching them to a woman."
The disciples, educated in the severe and entirely Jewish school of John the Baptist, shared this sentiment. They were astonished to see their Master talking with a woman; yet not one of them said: "What seekest thou or why talkest thou with her?" He was silent and meditative. He was contemplating the truth as it came forth out of Judaism to take its flight toward the nations to transform them. When the repast was ready the disciples sought to take Him out of His reverie. They besought Him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." And He replied to them: "I have meat to eat, which you know not." Duty to fulfill, victory to attain, good to do are nourishment that no great soul disdains. The disciples, far from divining this, said to each other: "Hath any man brought Him to eat?" It was certainly so, for the woman, with whom He had conversed, had prepared Him one of the sweetest consolations of His ministry. "My meat," He says, "is to do the will of Him that sent me, that I may perfect His work." The apostle, who has fulfilled his mission and has been successful, feels himself replete with happiness; his nourishment is joy.
At the same moment, from the town, hastening toward Jesus, there came a crowd of Samaritans, and their heads, moving hither and thither amid the fields of ripened wheat, looked like a second harvest; and so it was, a living, allspiritual harvest, the first to be gathered into the storehouses of the Father. It sprang up and ripened promptly, like all that are cared for and enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The disciples had no suspicion of this.
To awaken their enthusiasm, Jesus describes the joyful surprises of the apostolate: "Do you not say," He cries to them, "there are yet four months and then the harvest cometh? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and see the countries, for they are white already to harvest. And he that reapeth receiveth wages and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting, that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together."
How speedily all moves for the Gospelworker, when grace has prepared the way! All at once, the harvest is ripened, reaped, and stored. In one instant, while they were going to the city, the work has been accomplished. Jesus, the reaper, is already enjoying His reward, as if He had completed His day's labor. In His joy, it seems to Him that this living harvest is gathered into His Father's house, and He joins His exultation to that of God; He experiences all at once the satisfaction of the sower, of the reaper, and of the landlord.
It shall not be so, in truth, with the disciples; for they shall not sow the seed; that is the privilege of the Word Incarnate; but theirs shall be the pleasure of gathering in the harvest. The two functions of sower and reaper, though quite distinct, have a common object, the satisfaction of the householder. The latter has a greater consolation than the former, since it consists in reaping the work of others. This will be the consolation of the Apostles. "For in this is the saying true," Jesus continues, "that it is one man that soweth and it is another that reapeth. I have sent you to reap that in which you did not labor, others have labored and you have entered into their labors."
The disciples had not long to wait for their first experience of the abundant harvest reserved for the apostolate. The Samaritans, who had come in crowds on the testimony of the sinful woman, beheld near at hand Him of Whom she had spoken. They besought Him to remain with them, and He consented for the space of two days. In this well-disposed multitude His discourses bore fruit, and it became evident that the GoodTidings of the Redemption of the world would find an echo more prompt in the hearts of the Gentiles than in the cloyed souls of the Jews. A vast multitude believed in Him, not only for what had been related by the woman, but for what they had heard themselves. "We . . . know that this is indeed the Savior of the world," they cried. The terms of this profession of faith show us that Jesus, in His preaching, had insisted on two points, namely: the expiatory character of the Messiah and the universality of His work. That is why they no longer look upon Him as a teacher Who is instructing, but as a Savior Who is rescuing, and Whose saving action will embrace the human race entire. In Him they saw without a doubt the fulfillment of the promise God gave to Abraham, which was written down in one of the books of Moses, the only ones they had preserved: "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed."
It is difficult to say with accuracy what became of these germs of faith thus laid in a soil of such apparent fertility. It is probable, however, that the religious movement, which occurred in Samaria a few years later, was connected with this first preaching of the Word. Yet this unfortunate people, impatient in their hopes, became the dupe of false prophets who assigned themselves most ridiculous missions. They were led into illstarred adventures and fell a victim of their own credulity and imprudence.
Under Vespasian, Sichem became a Roman colony, Flavia Neapolis. Justin the Philosopher was born there. We know with what eloquence this illustrious Christian apologist defended the faith which he sealed with his blood.
Today the old Samaritan race still lives, but in its ancient errors. It is said that the traveler who wanders in the fields of ancient Sichem, may come across more than one aged man with trembling hands prostrate before the holy mountain, to which be lovingly turns his eyes. The Samaritan always offers the paschal sacrifice on lonely Garizim; his lips mumble prayers and his heart awaits a better future. He sadly asks of the passerby who speaks to him, if he knows of the whereabouts of his exiled brethren; and he begs him to summon them to hasten their return, since the last representatives of his race are disappearing day by day, and the tombs of the patriarchs shall no longer have their guardians; Jacob's terebinth shall lose its glory, and the holy mountain its adorers.
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