"Spiritual Food" – Reflection & Lectio Divina for 3rd Sunday of Lent

Sunday Reflection – “Spiritual Food” by Bro Artur Chejnowski


Third Sunday of Lent, Year A                                                 Lectio divina on John 4,5-42

Chapter four of St John’s Gospel is a very complex narrative and at the same time very inspiring. It is midday. Jesus is tired from his journey. He engages in a one-to-one conversation with a semi-pagan woman, in a place that recalls the patriarch Jacob, revered by Jews and Samaritans alike (4,6-12). The woman, and the three ‘confessions’ she makes in response to Jesus (4,19: Prophet; 4,29: Christ; 4,42: Saviour of the world), together with the disciples’ arrival (4,27.31) and that of the local inhabitants (4,30.39) suggest three different scenes (4,5-26. 27-38. 39-42). In the first of these, at Jacob’s well, the conversation is about water (4, Worship is the theme of the second (4, When other people arrive, the topic changes and the situation becomes complicated. Their presence seems to cause the change of topic. The disciples had gone to get something to eat (4,8.31). They were surprised when Jesus declared that his food was doing the will of the Father (4,31-38). When the Samaritans saw Jesus for themselves, they no longer had need of the woman’s testimony in order to believe in him. (4,39-40).

Just as Jesus guided the Samaritan woman, the evangelist guides us, the readers, to go back over our personal faith journey, to discover that the one who is thirsty is the one who can satisfy our thirst, and that the stranger we did not recognise, knows us intimately.  We need patience to allow ourselves to be guided, and courage to admit our most hidden needs.  If we do allow ourselves to be guided,  like the Samaritan woman, we will come to know Jesus better and to recognise him immediately. While the disciples are concerned about giving Jesus something to eat, he is  busy bringing the people to faith.

At that time: 5 Jesus came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. 10   Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, `Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, `I have no husband'; 18 for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27 Just then his disciples came. They marvelled that he was talking with a woman, but none said, “What do you wish?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the city and were coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples besought him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has any one brought him food?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, `There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. 36 He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, `One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour; others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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 Saviour of the world.”

I. Read: understand what the text is saying and how it says it.

The episode begins with the description of Jesus’ meeting with a Samaritan woman. This sets the scene (4,5-6). There are two long conversations  (4,7-26.31-38) in which Jesus reveals himself gradually to the woman until, finally, the Samaritans en masse accept Jesus as Saviour of the world (4,42). It is worth noting that the conversation with the woman began at the request of Jesus, but the exchange with the disciples was begun by them. The first was motivated by Jesus’ thirst, the second by the desire of the disciples to give Jesus something to eat. The first leads to the woman’s journey of faith, but the disciples did not know what Jesus really hungered for.

The principal character is undoubtedly Jesus. He never leaves the scene and he revels himself progressively (4, The ways in which the woman addresses Jesus: Jew (4,9), greater than Jacob (4,12),  prophet(4,19), messiah (4,29), Saviour of the world (4,42)  indicate the basic stages in his revelation of his personal identity and in her journey of faith. It is very significant that in the dialogue with the disciples they address him only by the bland title ‘master’. In the biblical tradition, Savour of the world, the title with which this faith journey concludes, is a divine title. Coming from the Samaritans it is particularly significant. In a world in which there were many saviours, gods and emperors, Jesus is proclaimed universal Saviour. It was the highest confession of faith possible for pagans. In this personal encounter Jesus inaugurated the mission ad gentes, and he stayed two days among them.

There is another important detail. The woman remained with Jesus long enough for the disciples to be ‘scandalized’. Jesus remained with the Samaritans two days, In both cases this ‘remaining with Jesus’ led to faith. The disciples had gone away from Jesus, admittedly for a good reason, but they were the only ones in the episode who did not make a profession of faith!

II. Meditate: apply what the text says to your life

Jesus, though he was lonely, tired and thirsty, came to be recognised in the end as Saviour of the world. Where Jesus is present, a state of necessity, and poor beginnings, can lead to a marvellous profession of faith. His human weakness does not prevent us from coming to faith in him. Why am I not so happy to be alone with Jesus when he is weak and powerless? Does the fact that Jesus felt the need of rest, just as I do, make it harder for me to trust him? Jesus was not pretending. He was worn out, and hungry – why else did the disciples go to get food for him?

The Samaritan woman found Jesus near the well, because she also needed water. Her need, which was quite normal, led to the unexpected encounter. It was unusual for a woman to come to the well at midday – they usually came in the early morning. The meeting was purely by chance, but guided also by the woman’s ordinary daily need. How can I change my ordinary daily needs into moments of encounter with Jesus? What are the normal needs that could lead me to him?

The woman’s journey begins with a request from Jesus – a perfectly normal request were it not for the fact that he was a Jew – and her faith journey continues through the ensuing dialogue.  Jesus asks because he wants to be asked, he desires because he wants to be desired. His real thirst is to save the woman from her deepest needs.  “If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you…” To make contact with the woman, Jesus comes to her level of need. But this “detail” of the loving Saviour is not understood until the woman discovers her own poverty. She would be satisfied with receiving the gift, and recognising him as the giver.  Even if my poverty is the reason for Jesus’ coming to me, he is always gift, not of water from the well but of water that changes the one who drinks it into a source for others. It is not enough, then, to be aware of my own necessities. I must also recognise Jesus as a gift freely given by the Father to quench my thirst and satisfy my deepest needs.

The second stage begins when the woman desires the gift offered by Jesus, a better water than that of Jacob’s well, the patriarch’s gift to his descendants. She asked for it because she wanted never to be thirsty again, and never to have to come again to draw water. Jesus discovers in her a deeper, more personal need – the need to be loved. Before she was ‘unveiled’ by Jesus, she wanted water to satisfy her thirst. But Jesus does not limit himself to meeting ‘normal’ needs. He leads us to our deeper needs, ones we have not recognised or admitted. We are not always ready to allow our deepest, most intimate needs to be laid bare, and so we are often afraid to be alone with him and we are reluctant to see him as gift.

When her deepest secrets were revealed, the woman believed.  Her profession of faith was still imperfect, but she has begin to trust Jesus as a prophet and she confides in him one of her main concerns, which is also that of her people – where and how to adore the true God. All who want to adore God in spirit and in truth must first acknowledge their own condition, without mask or self-deception, and accept themselves as they really are.  The God of Jesus does not want to be adored where his worshippers think he is. God is spirit and truth, and his worshippers must be like him.

The last stage in the Samaritan woman’s journey of faith – its conclusion and proof – is her testimony. “He has told me everything I ever did,” she said.  Before she could believe, she had to discover – it was the personal encounter and conversation with Jesus that led her to faith. And the believer becomes a witness – anyone who has faith must proclaim it.   Later the Samaritans will come to believe, after they have spent two days with him. Staying with Jesus, even it is only for two days, can make a whole people become believers. Why is it that the many years we have spent following Jesus have not made us believe in him? Is it, perhaps, that like the disciples, we are too concerned about our material needs, food and drink, and we forget the thirst for him that is within us?

III. Pray the text. Desire God’s will. What do I say to God?

Wait for us, Lord, at the well of meeting, at the most unusual hour,  that providential hour that strikes at the right time for each one.  Introduce yourself, Lord, and be the first to speak, you who long for us and are worn out for us. Wean us, gradually, from the many attractions and fleeting desires which still have hold of us. Melt our indifference, our prejudices, doubts and fears, and free our faith. Excavate the empty space in which we live and fill it with an inextinguishable desire for you. Make us thirst for you. Draw us with your gift.  Help us identify that thirst which is burning inside us,  even though we are still not able to call it by its true name.  Bring us back to ourselves, to that most secret centre where no one else reaches, but you are there.