Give me a drink (John 4:7)

In the Gospel of John we find the beautiful story of the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan women. In verse 7 of that account John writes: There came a woman of Samar’ia to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (John 4:7).

On this line St Augustine in Tractate 15, 11 writes: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. For His disciples were gone away into the city to buy meat. Then saith the Samaritan woman unto Him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, who am a Samaritan woman? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.” You see that they were aliens: indeed, the Jews would not use their vessels. And as the woman brought with her a vessel with which to draw the water, it made her wonder that a Jew sought drink of her,—a thing which the Jews were not accustomed to do. But He who was asking drink was thirsting for the faith of the woman herself.

If for St Augustine Jesus’ asking of the woman to give him to drink was done because he was thirsting for her faith in Pope Francis’ comment on this line the shift is on the encounter of Jesus which transcends barriers and prejudices and opens up for a dialogue aiming at communion with woman whose parched soul was so evident to him. In his angelus address of the Third Sunday of Lent, 23 March 2014, Pope Francis says:

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in Sicar, near an old well where the woman went to draw water daily. That day, she found Jesus seated, “wearied as he was with his journey” (Jn 4:6). He immediately says to her: “Give me a drink” (v. 7). In this way he overcomes the barriers of hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans and breaks the mould of prejudice against women. This simple request from Jesus is the start of a frank dialogue, through which he enters with great delicacy into the interior world of a person to whom, according to social norms, he should not have spoken. But Jesus does! Jesus is not afraid. When Jesus sees a person he goes ahead, because he loves. He loves us all. He never hesitates before a person out of prejudice. Jesus sets her own situation before her, not by judging her but by making her feel worthy, acknowledged, and thus arousing in her the desire to go beyond the daily routine.

Jesus’ thirst was not so much for water, but for the encounter with a parched soul. Jesus needed to encounter the Samaritan woman in order to open her heart: he asks for a drink so as to bring to light her own thirst. The woman is moved by this encounter: she asks Jesus several profound questions that we all carry within but often ignore. We, too, have many questions to ask, but we don’t have the courage to ask Jesus! Lent, dear brothers and sisters, is the opportune time to look within ourselves, to understand our truest spiritual needs, and to ask the Lord’s help in prayer. The example of the Samaritan woman invites us to exclaim: “Jesus, give me a drink that will quench my thirst forever”.

In Pope Benedict XVI’s understanding, the question of Jesus: Give me a drink (John 4:7), points to Jesus’ thirst for her faith. Thus, Jesus was thirsting for the woman’s openness for the need of accepting and being transformed by the inherent need for God and his salvation. In his homily during his pastoral visit to the Roman Parish of “Santa Maria Liberatrice” at Monte Testaccio on the Third Sunday of Lent, 24 February 2008, Pope Benedict said:

Everything begins with Jesus’ request: “Give me a drink” (see Jn 4: 5-7). At first sight it seems a simple request for a little water in the hot midday sun. In fact, with this question, addressed moreover to a Samaritan woman – there was bad blood between the Jews and the Samaritans – Jesus triggers in the woman to whom he is talking an inner process that kindles within her the desire for something more profound. St Augustine comments: “Although Jesus asked for a drink, his real thirst was for this woman’s faith (In Io ev. Tract. XV, 11: PL 35, 1514). In fact, at a certain point, it was the woman herself who asked Jesus for the water (see Jn 4: 15), thereby demonstrating that in every person there is an inherent need for God and for salvation that only God can satisfy. It is a thirst for the infinite which only the water that Jesus offers, the living water of the Spirit, can quench. In a little while, in the Preface we shall hear these words: Jesus “asked the woman of Samaria for water to drink, and had already prepared for her the gift of faith. In his thirst to receive her faith, he awakened in her heart the fire of your love”.

Lord, help me hear your insistent invitation to give you a drink. Help me understand that your cry for my drink is none other than your loving calling to let you awaken in my heart the fire of your love. Amen.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap