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The Woman at the Well

by Brant Pitre April 17, 2020 0 Comments



 

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Transcript:

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”  So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.  And many more believed because of his word.  They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

This is a very long Gospel text and that's how it ends.  What do we draw from that?  What are the principal points that we can make from that?  I want to highlight one major theme here for us, and that's the image of Jesus as not just the Messiah, not just savior of the world, but of Jesus as the bridegroom, as Jesus as the divine bridegroom.  I talk about this at length — I can’t go into all the detail now — if you want more on this in my book Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.  I have a whole chapter in it just on the woman at the well.  And what I show in the book is that the reason John is highlighting the well and the woman here so much is because this is a kind of nuptial scene that's revealing Jesus as not an ordinary bridegroom who is going to take an ordinary bride, but as the divine bridegroom who has come in person in order to wed, to marry, all of humanity through the new covenant in his blood.  The Jews had a tradition that God wasn't just the creator, wasn’t just the Lord, but that he was the divine bridegroom and that Israel, his chosen people, was his bride, and that the relationship between them was so intimate and so sacrificial and so permanent that it could only be described as a marriage, and that one day God would come and make a new covenant with his people who'd been unfaithful to him and that this new covenant would be a new marriage, the new and everlasting marriage covenant between God and humanity. 

The reason John tells this story is because he recognizes that in it the woman at the well is like a bride and that Jesus is the divine bridegroom and that he has come into the world not to marry this individual woman in a natural marriage, but to enter into a supernatural marriage, a relationship as Savior between himself, and not just her as an individual, but with all the people of the world.  So this woman, the Samaritan woman, is a kind of image of the Church, St. Augustine said, because she's not just Israelite, she's also pagan, so she kind of represents all of humanity in herself, both the Jews and the Gentiles, both the Israelites and the pagans, who are waiting for a savior to come and to save them.  From what?  To save them from their sin.  To save them from their brokenness.  To save them from their past.  To save them from their adultery, because what did Israel do?   They took all these false gods, they entered into relationships of spiritual adultery with all the false gods of the Canaanites and of the other peoples of the land. 

So Jesus the bridegroom meets this woman at a well and enters into this relationship with her, and what does he offer her?  Living water.   Well I didn't tell you this earlier, but the other meaning that living water had was the water that a woman would use in her bridal bath.  So before a wedding, Jewish tradition both in Numbers 19, describes the ritual water of cleansing as living water, and in Jewish tradition — like the books outside the Bible — it talks about the fact that when a bride would be prepared for her wedding day, she would wash in living water, a ritual bath, kind of like a baptism basically, an immersion in water, and then she would come up from the water prepared for the wedding.  So when Jesus promises to give this woman the living water, he is in a sense inviting her to become a bride.  Not an ordinary bride but an extraordinary bride, a spiritual bride of him as the bridegroom Messiah come in person, as the Messiah. 

So what does all that mean for us?  Well I think what it shows us here is that Jesus is going to give this living water, the supernatural water, in a few key ways.  First, when he goes to the cross.  Because on the cross in the Gospel of John he is going to be pierced and what is going to flow from his side?  Not just his life that he is going to give for his bride the Church, but the blood and the water, the life giving blood and the life-giving water that will flow from his side.  Second, John’s gospel actually tells us in Chapter 7 that when Jesus talks about the living water, he's referring to the Holy Spirit which will be given after his death when he breathes on the Apostles in the resurrection and says “receive the spirit” and which we begin in the Church in a full way at Pentecost.  And then finally and I think most importantly for us, when do we each individually receive that living water of the Holy Spirit?  When do the waters that flowed from the side of Christ wash us clean of our sins?  Well above all in our baptism, when we were immersed in water and through the power of the water and the Holy Spirit we were cleansed of all of our sins.  Not just Original Sin, but any actual sins, any venial sins, mortal sins; any sins that we committed, all of that is washed away through the power of baptism.

I think that sometimes people don’t realize this because so many of us are baptized as infants.  We just focus on Original Sin, but in the waters of baptism, like if you're an adult and you are going through RCIA and you are about to enter in to the sacrament of Baptism at Easter; and when you are baptized at Easter, you don't have to go to confession before that baptism, because that baptism is so powerful it not only washes away your original sin, it not only washes away your venial sin, it washes away any mortal sins you have ever committed, no matter what they were, as well as all of the effects of those mortal sin, all the temporal punishment of those mortal sins.  So that if you died at that moment, you would not have to go to purgatory.  You are completely made clean at that moment of baptism.  So that's the power of the living water and so the reason the Church gives us this gospel for the Third Sunday in Lent is because it's preparing catechumens to get ready to receive the power of the living water in baptism at the great feast of the Easter vigil.  So this is so critical for us to taste that and to really see it. 

And I'm not making this up by the way either.  If you look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1617, it actually says — not that you thought I was making it up, but just in case some of you were wondering and have never heard this before, “where is Dr. Pitre getting this, is is some kind of newfangled idea of his?”  Nope, it's just the teaching of the Church.  Paragraph 1617 of the Catechism says this:

The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery [in other words a marital mystery, a bridal mystery]; it is so to speak the nuptial bath. which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist.

So if you are preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation this Easter, you receive the bridal bath of living water that will make you clean in order to receive the wedding feast of the Eucharistic banquet.  That's all that is going on.  The whole thing is a wedding between Christ and his bride, the Church, and then each individual member of the Church is becoming part of the bride through the living waters of Baptism.  And that's what Jesus is promising to give to this woman at the well, because she really is, in a sense, a bride of Christ who who he's betrothing himself to so that he can make her clean through the waters.  Which, by the way, now you know why he brings up her past sins, because one of the things that he wants to do is call to mind the sins of her past that are keeping her from loving him.  Her sin is not an impediment to him seeking her out, to him loving her.  He goes to the well and meets her and asks her for a drink.  He's the bridegroom who is extending his hand in an invitation to her. 

So her sins aren't an impediment to his love, but they are an impediment to her being able to love him back.  She has to deal with her sin first, and in a sense come clean, so that he can wash her and make her into his bride.   And she doesn't deny it when he brings up that past.  She recognizes that he's told the truth and she doesn't try to get away from it.  All she says is “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.”  She admits it and then that's all he needs, that is the doorway that opens up so that he can then give her the gift of salvation in the living water of eternal life.  And the fact that she gets it is shown to you by the fact that John tells you that once Jesus said he was the Messiah, she left her water jar there and then goes back to her people.  So she's no longer looking for just earthly water because she's found the water of eternal life in him as her Messiah, as her Savior, as her bridegroom.

 



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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