IF ONLY YOU RECOGNIZED GOD’S GIFT, AND WHO IT IS THAT IS ASKING YOU FOR A DRINK. Today’s Gospel is surely one of the more vivid scenes from the active ministry of Jesus. By this account Saint John allows us, as it were, to listen in and observe our Lord’s effective charm as he encounters a stranger who is a rather disreputable woman among her own people. Rather than treat her with a deliberate scorn, he speaks to her with a friendly trust in the form of asking her a favor. She is not accustomed to such a show of respect, and, as often occurs when such a person is approached with unaccustomed openness, she responds with a measure of indignation in words that remind this Jew of his proper place. But she had not reckoned with her new-found interlocutor. In a single phrase Jesus turns the tables: “If only your recognized God’s gift, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him instead and he would have given you living water.”


How suddenly she is confronted with a wholly new kind of situation by this stranger who causes her to feel she is dealing with some one at once challenging and intriguingly different. In the course of a few more exchanges she comes to realize that this man is uniquely convincing. Not only does he speak to her with respect, he reads her heart and knows her past. His way of speaking of the Father persuade her as much by his manner of address as by the mysterious claim to know the Father in heaven and the way to serve him. Even more than his words, his person persuades her that he is the one sent by God to save his people. More than that, she realizes that he has evoked within her a sense that she has a freshness of life that is a new experience for her.


If the liturgy presents us today with this encounter of the Savior with the sinful woman of Samaria it is because this text invites each of us to make the same discovery that Jesus is indeed the Savior, a discovery that marked a new beginning, even a new birth. The most exciting feature of the encounter with this person is that he is so accessible to the inner self that he can speak to the heart, and in doing that reveal not only what is hidden from others, but even make known possibilities previously hidden even from myself.


The water that he will give, Jesus affirms, “shall become a fountain within the one who drinks, leaping up to provide eternal life.” What does this mean? This text invites each of us here to ask herself or himself this question and to follow the example of this nameless woman who dared to take to her heart the insight that this man who challenges her speaks with the authority of God himself. To discover this for our own self is to glimpse the possibility of a new life, to make a fresh beginning that engages me in a process that terminates in an unending life, for it is life in the Spirit of God.


To enter into this exchange with the words of Christ is to encounter the very life of his own Spirit and to begin to participate in that life without end or limit for it is a sharing in the mystery of God himself. In this Eucharist we are given a pledge of that life, an assurance that the Lord Jesus, now living in the glory of the Father in the power of their mutual Spirit, remains accessible to us today and speaks to our heart. May we discover in his words and by the power of his Spirit that he is truly a fountain of eternal life, welling up with unending fullness from within the soul who puts all trust in him and his word. &


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger