John has made the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman a theological text to teach the process of conversion of those who accept the gospel of the Lord. Although the event is real it has a deeper, symbolic and metaphoric import.
It is noon when the woman comes to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. It is important to understand who this woman is. The way in which the evangelist presents her clearly reveals his intention to transform her into a symbol.
Let us try to identify her: she has no name, nothing is said about where she comes from. The only element that defines her is that she is a Samaritan, which is equivalent to a heretic, unfaithful to God. Who can she be?
The evangelist cunningly sends the disciples away from the scene to buy bread to leave the lovers alone! Whom do the two lovers at the well represent? The woman represents the unfaithful Israel (keep in mind that Israel, in Hebrew, is feminine). So the lovers are Yahweh and Israel.
At this point, the identification of the Samaritan woman is taken for granted: it is the bride Israel, backed by her whole story of love and adultery. She had many husbands and the one she has now is not really her husband. At the well, Jesus meets her and wants to bring her back to the one true love, the Lord.
The thirst of the Samaritan woman is the symbol of the most intimate needs that torment the heart of the bride-Israel: the need for peace, love, serenity, hope, happiness, sincerity, consistency and of God. These are the needs that every person experiences.
The water of the well indicates the attempts and tricks that humans put in place to quench this thirst that no material thing can satisfy.
The living water that Jesus promises is of another type. It is the spirit of God. It is that love that fills the hearts. Those who let themselves be guided by this spirit get peace and need nothing else.
The Samaritan woman, at the beginning of the dialogue, thought of material water. She did not even suspect that another type of water could exist. Gradually she began to perceive and accept the proposal of Jesus.
Her progressive discovery is carefully underlined by the evangelist. At first, for her, Jesus is a simple wandering Jew (v.9), then he becomes a master (v.11), then a prophet (v.19) and later the Messiah (vv.25-26), finally, with all the people, she proclaims him the saviour of the world (v.42).
The last part of the gospel (vv.28-41) presents the conclusion of the spiritual journey of the Samaritan woman and every disciple. What does this woman do after meeting Christ?
She leaves the pitcher (she has no more use for it because now she found another water) and runs to announce her discovery and happiness to others.
It is the call to become missionaries, apostles and catechists to tell everyone the joy and peace experienced by those who meet the Lord and drink his water.
• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ