Notes on John 4:1-26**

Jacob's well
Chapter 4 of St John's Gospel takes us to Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman.  Verses 5-42 of this chapter are used as the Gospel on the Friday after Third Sunday of Lent, while

It is an important story for a number of reasons, most notably because it is one of the relatively few recorded cases of Jesus seeking to convert an essentially non-Jewish, or at least schismatic, group - and Acts records the follow-up mission of St Philip and others to Samaria.

The Samaritan religion claims to be a purer form of Judaism that rejected the (claimed) syncretism introduced by the Babylonian exile.  The Samaritan version of the Torah differs in certain respects to the (medieval) Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Septuagint, and is at least as ancient as the latter.  The Gospel passage, though, records the woman's assertion of their common ancestry through the appeal to Jacobg and his well.

The initial Samaritan split from Judaism occurred somewhere between the eighth and fourth century BC, and by the time of Our Lord their 'traditionalist' schism of a million or so souls had long since hardened into an outright rejection of mainstream Judaism: they had their own temple and priesthood.  Similarly the Jews no longer regarded them as Jewish despite their Jewish descent, and relations between the two groups were tense.


You can find the Greek, Latin and English translations over at New Advent here.  For the audio you can find the Latin over at the excellent Greek Latin audio site, and similarly the Greek here.  Alternatively, try out the video below.

Ut ergo cognovit Jesus quia audierunt pharisæi quod Jesus plures discipulos facit, et baptizat, quam Joannes 2 (quamquam Jesus non baptizaret, sed discipuli ejus), 3 reliquit Judæam, et abiit iterum in Galilæam. 4 Oportebat autem eum transire per Samariam. 5 Venit ergo in civitatem Samariæ, quæ dicitur Sichar, juxta prædium quod dedit Jacob Joseph filio suo. 6 Erat autem ibi fons Jacob. Jesus ergo fatigatus ex itinere, sedebat sic supra fontem. Hora erat quasi sexta. 7 Venit mulier de Samaria haurire aquam. Dicit ei Jesus: Da mihi bibere. 8 (Discipuli enim ejus abierant in civitatem ut cibos emerent.) 9 Dicit ergo ei mulier illa Samaritana: Quomodo tu, Judæus cum sis, bibere a me poscis, quæ sum mulier Samaritana? non enim coutuntur Judæi Samaritanis. 10 Respondit Jesus, et dixit ei: Si scires donum Dei, et quis est qui dicit tibi: Da mihi bibere, tu forsitan petisses ab eo, et dedisset tibi aquam vivam. 11 Dicit ei mulier: Domine, neque in quo haurias habes, et puteus altus est: unde ergo habes aquam vivam? 12 Numquid tu major es patre nostro Jacob, qui dedit nobis puteum, et ipse ex eo bibit, et filii ejus, et pecora ejus? 13 Respondit Jesus, et dixit ei: Omnis qui bibit ex aqua hac, sitiet iterum; qui autem biberit ex aqua quam ego dabo ei, non sitiet in æternum: 14 sed aqua quam ego dabo ei, fiet in eo fons aquæ salientis in vitam æternam. 15 Dicit ad eum mulier: Domine, da mihi hanc aquam, ut non sitiam, neque veniam huc haurire.16 Dicit ei Jesus: Vade, voca virum tuum, et veni huc. 17 Respondit mulier, et dixit: Non habeo virum. Dicit ei Jesus: Bene dixisti, quia non habeo virum; 18 quinque enim viros habuisti, et nunc, quem habes, non est tuus vir: hoc vere dixisti. 19 Dicit ei mulier: Domine, video quia propheta es tu. 20 Patres nostri in monte hoc adoraverunt, et vos dicitis, quia Jerosolymis est locus ubi adorare oportet. 21 Dicit ei Jesus: Mulier, crede mihi, quia venit hora, quando neque in monte hoc, neque in Jerosolymis adorabitis Patrem. 22 Vos adoratis quod nescitis: nos adoramus quod scimus, quia salus ex Judæis est. 23 Sed venit hora, et nunc est, quando veri adoratores adorabunt Patrem in spiritu et veritate. Nam et Pater tales quærit, qui adorent eum. 24 Spiritus est Deus: et eos qui adorant eum, in spiritu et veritate oportet adorare. 25 Dicit ei mulier: Scio quia Messias venit (qui dicitur Christus): cum ergo venerit ille, nobis annuntiabit omnia. 26 Dicit ei Jesus: Ego sum, qui loquor tecum.

And the English:

When Jesus therefore understood that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus maketh more disciples, and baptizeth more than John, [2] (Though Jesus himself did not baptize, but his disciples,) [3] He left Judea, and went again into Galilee. [4] And he was of necessity to pass through Samaria. [5] He cometh therefore to a city of Samaria, which is called Sichar, near the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph.[6] Now Jacob' s well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. It was about the sixth hour. [7] There cometh a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus saith to her: Give me to drink. [8] For his disciples were gone into the city to buy meats. [9] Then that Samaritan woman saith to him: How dost thou, being a Jew, ask of me to drink, who am a Samaritan woman? For the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans. [10] Jesus answered, and said to her: If thou didst know the gift of God, and who he is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou perhaps wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. [11] The woman saith to him: Sir, thou hast nothing wherein to draw, and the well is deep; from whence then hast thou living water? [12] Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? [13] Jesus answered, and said to her: Whosoever drinketh of this water, shall thirst again; but he that shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever: [14] But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting. [15] The woman saith to him: Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw.[16] Jesus saith to her: Go, call thy husband, and come hither. [17] The woman answered, and said: I have no husband. Jesus said to her: Thou hast said well, I have no husband: [18] For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband. This thou hast said truly. [19] The woman saith to him: Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. [20] Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say, that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore.[21] Jesus saith to her: Woman, believe me, that the hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father. [22] You adore that which you know not: we adore that which we know; for salvation is of the Jews. [23] But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeketh such to adore him. [24] God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth. [25] The woman saith to him: I know that the Messias cometh (who is called Christ). Therefore, when he is come, he will tell us all things.[26] Jesus saith to her: I am he, who am speaking with thee. 


The verses open with a continuing reference to the essential nature of baptism, a theme from the previous chapter continued through the discussion of living waters.

Which raises the question of why Jesus had the disciples continue to baptise, seemingly as John did, and what kind of baptism was it?

John the Baptist's baptism was not, of course, sacramental: it did not remit sins in and of itself for it was not baptism in the Spirit.

It is a de fide teaching that Christ instituted baptism as a true sacrament.  But when did he do so?  Many takes these verses in chapters 3&4 of St John's Gospel as the institution narrative, even though the solemn promulgation of it did not occur until after the Resurrection.  Here is the Catena Aurea's take on the subject:

CHRYS. Christ Himself did not baptize, but those who reported the fact, in order to raise the envy of their hearers, so represented it as to appear that Christ Himself baptized. The reason why He baptized not Himself, had been already declared by John, He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Now He had not yet given the Holy Spirit: it was therefore fitting that He should not baptize. But His disciples baptized, as an efficacious mode of instruction; better than gathering up believers here and there, as had been done in the case of Simon and his brother. Their baptism, however, had no more virtue than the baptism of John; both being without the grace of the Spirit, and both having one object, viz. that of bringing men to Christ.

AUG. Or, both are true; for Jesus both baptized, and baptized not. He baptized, in that He cleansed: He baptized not, in that He dipped not. The disciples supplied the ministry of the body, He the aid of that Majesty of which it was said, The Same is, He which baptize. 

ALCUIN. The question is often asked, whether the Holy Ghost was given by the baptism of the disciples; when below it is said, The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. We reply, that the Spirit was given, though not in so manifest a way as he was after the Ascension, in the shape of fiery tongues. For, as Christ Himself in His human nature ever possessed the Spirit, and yet afterwards at His baptism the Spirit descended visibly upon Him in the form of a dove; so before the manifest and visible coming of the Holy Spirit, all saints might possess the Spirit secretly.

AUG. But we must believe that the disciples of Christ were already baptized themselves, either with John's baptism, or, as is more probable, with Christ's. For He who had stooped to the humble service of washing His disciples' feet, had not failed to administer baptism to His servants, who would thus be enabled in their turn to baptize others. 

The Fathers see this passage as deeply symbolic, so it is worth considering some of the spiritual interpretations of the key verses:

"AUG. He lets her know that it was not the water, which she meant, that He asked for; but that knowing her faith, He wished to satisfy her thirst, by giving her the Holy Spirit. For so must we interpret the living water, which is the gift of God; as He says, If you knew the gift of God.

AUG. Living water is that which comes out of a spring, in distinction to what is collected in ponds and cisterns from the rain. If spring water too becomes stagnant, i.e. collects into some spot, where it is quite separated from its fountain head, it ceases to be living water. 

CHRYS. In Scripture the grace of the Holy Spirit is sometimes called fire, sometimes water, which shows that these words are expressive not of its substance but of its action. The metaphor of fire conveys the lively and sin-consuming property of grace; that of water the cleansing of the Spirit, and the refreshing of the souls who receive Him. 

THEOPHYL. The grace of the Holy Spirit then He calls living water; i.e. life-giving, refreshing, stirring. For the grace of the Holy Spirit is ever stirring him who does good works, directing the risings of his heart... 

ORIGEN. In the mystical sense, Jacob's well is the Scriptures. The learned then drink like Jacob and his sons; the simple and uneducated, like Jacob's cattle...

AUG. Which is true indeed both of material water, and of that of which it is the type. For the water in the well is the pleasure of the world, that abode of darkness. Men draw it with the waterpot of their lusts; pleasure is not relished, except it be preceded by lust. And when a man has enjoyed this pleasure, i.e. drunk of the water, he thirsts again; but if he have received water from Me, he shall never thirst. For how shall they thirst, who are drunken with the abundance of the house of God? But He promised this fullness of the Holy Spirit. 

CHRYS. The excellence of this water; viz. that he that drinks of it never thirsts, He explains in what follows, But the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. As a man who had a spring within him, would never feel thirst, so will not he who has this water which I shall give him.

THEOPHYL. For the water which I give him is ever multiplying. The saints receive through grace the seed and principle of good; but they themselves make it grow by their own cultivation...

ORIGEN. May not Jacob's well signify mystically the letter of Scripture; the water of Jesus, that which is above the letter, which all are not allowed to penetrate into? That which is written was dictated by men, whereas the things which the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, cannot be reduced to writing, but are from the fountain of water, that springs up unto everlasting life, i.e. the Holy Ghost. These truths are unfolded to such as carrying no longer a human heart within them, are able to say with the Apostle, We have the mind of Christ. Human wisdom indeed discovers truths, which are handed down to posterity; but the teaching of the Spirit is a well of water which springs up into everlasting life. The woman wished to attain, like the angels, to angelic and super-human truth without the use of Jacob's water. For the angels have a well of water within them, springing from the Word of God Himself. She says therefore, Sir, give me this water. But it is impossible here to have the water which is given by the Word, without that which is drawn from Jacob's well; and therefore Jesus seems to tell the woman that He cannot supply her with it from any other source than Jacob's well; If we are thirsty, we must first drink from Jacob's well. Jesus says to her, Go, call your husband, and come hither. According to the Apostle, the Law is the husband of the soul.

AUG. The five husbands some interpret to be the five books which were given by Moses. And the words, He whom thou now have is not your husband, they understand as spoken by our Lord of Himself; as if He said, You have served the five books of Moses, as five husbands; but now he whom you have, i.e. whom you hear, is not your husband; for you do not yet believe in him. But if she did not believe in Christ, she was still united to those five husbands, i.e. five books, and therefore why is it said, you have had five husbands, as if she no longer had them? And how do we understand that a man must have these five books, in order to pass over to Christ, when he who believes in Christ, so far from forsaking these books, embraces them in this spiritual meaning the more strongly?..."


Each Monday in the Benedictine Office the theme of baptism is particularly stressed at Vespers, with the psalm In Exitu Israel (Psalm 113).  The psalms of Monday also point to the importance of living up to our vows and promises to God (Psalm 115), and take us to a weekly renewal of our oblation or profession promises in the Suscipe verse of Psalm 118 (at Terce).

Are we, then, living up to our own baptismal promises, opening ourselves to the grace it imparted, and doing our best to cultivate the virtues it infuses?

Given the importance Our Lord puts, in his teaching, on the necessity and importance of baptism, have we done our best to stress its necessity to others, and ensure all who should receive it?

And do we manifest that living water to those around us, offering to others water from well?

**Cross-posted from Saints Will Arise

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