Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: John 4:5-42

There are two reasons why I want to draw your attention to the end of this gospel reading. First, the end is usually what is most fresh in our minds. Second, it is the end, specifically the last four words that hold the entire reading together.

Now what are these last words? They are words confessed by the Samaritans of Sychar which proclaim Jesus as the "Savior of the world" (Jn.4:42). This title, given to Jesus by the Samaritans, does not appear anywhere else in the fourth Gospel. What is especially significant about this title is that, during the time of Jesus' public ministry, it had a very strong association with the emperor. Thus, within the broad spectrum of Roman citizens, it is Caesar who is savior. In part, this is so because Caesar is the builder of aqueducts bringing water and therefore life to the Romans. It is also Caesar who builds roads, which help bind together citizens both near and far. And it is Caesar who, by his army and navy, protects and maintains the peace and prosperity of the empire.

That the Samaritans acknowledge Jesus as "the Savior" helps to heighten the tension between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. On the other hand, the title "Savior" points to the time when Jews, Samaritans and the Gentiles will be formed into one new nation under the headship of Jesus.

To claim that Jesus is the exclusive Savior places Caesar himself beneath the authority of the Lord - a position no Roman emperor before St. Constantine would ever conceive of accepting. As for the union of Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles, it is Jesus who reveals that he is the one who draws all people to himself so that all can worship the Father in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23).

Here we need to keep in mind that this true worship will take place neither on Mount Gerizim -- the center of Samaritan worship -- nor in Jerusalem (Jn,4:22) - the center of Jewish worship. Jesus speaks of worshipping the Father in "spirit and truth" to the woman at the well, not only to remind her of the spiritual collapse of the Samaritans who had alienated themselves from Israel and whose worship had been corrupted by the idolatry they had borrowed from their Gentile conquerors, but to emphasize that God's new, eternal and universal kingdom that was foretold by the prophets is in the process of being fulfilled in himself. Consequently all kings and all nations are destined to bow to the divine/human Savior.

As the Savior of the world, Jesus is establishing the new and everlasting Jerusalem characterized by true worshippers. The new Jerusalem is a present reality. "The hour is coming and now is ..." (Jn.4:23). By showing the woman at the well that he is the anticipated Messiah of the Jews and Samaritans (Jn.4:25ff.), Jesus also reveals to us in every celebration of the Eucharist the new Jerusalem. In this context we are drawn under the headship of the crucified and risen Savior. In this context we are recipients of the living water of Christ's true doctrine proclaimed and sustained by the Holy Spirit. In this context of the Eucharistic gathering, the feast of Pentecost continues. In this context the fountain of immortality overflows from the altar table and spreads to all who in baptism have put on the New Man, Jesus Christ. This is why we can sing with great joy and power the ninth irmos of the Paschal Canon: "Shine, Shine O New Jerusalem the glory of the Lord has shown upon you. . ."

What transpires in the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman regarding worship "in spirit and truth" cannot be confined to one place and time in history. Worship "in spirit and truth" is a: cosmic reality that proceeds from time into eternity. Thus, Jesus stands before the woman at the well as the cosmic Christ. He shows himself as the one to whom the Spirit leads all minds and hearts yearning for the truth.

From this perspective Jesus does not seek to establish a new religion. By announcing that-the hour of "spirit and truth" has come, Jesus declares himself as the fulfillment and perfection of all religion - of all worship - which either precedes or follows him. For this reason, the Church as the body of Christ must never be distracted from its missionary task to draw the world into itself making every one and every thing new. But this missionary task can only be fulfilled when, in "spirit and truth," those in the Church confess with one voice that Jesus Christ is indeed the Savior of the world.


Copyright © 2003 by Father Robert M. Arida