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In Spirit and Truth
Gospel Reflection for March 12, 2023, the third Sunday of Lent - Jn 4:5-42
He cometh therefore to a city of Samaria, which is called Sichar, near the land which Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
Now Jacob's well was there. Jesus therefore being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well. It was about the sixth hour.
There cometh a woman of Samaria, to draw water. Jesus saith to her: Give me to drink.
For his disciples were gone into the city to buy meats.
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.
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.
The woman saith to him: Sir, thou hast nothing wherein to draw, and the well is deep; from whence then hast thou living water?
Art thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?
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:
But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting.
The woman saith to him: Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come hither to draw.
Jesus saith to her: Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
The woman answered, and said: I have no husband. Jesus said to her: Thou hast said well, I have no husband:
For thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband. This thou hast said truly.
The woman saith to him: Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say, that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore.
Jesus saith to her: Woman, believe me, that the hour cometh, when you shall neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, adore the Father.
You adore that which you know not: we adore that which we know; for salvation is of the Jews.
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.
God is a spirit; and they that adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth.
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.
Jesus saith to her: I am he, who am speaking with thee.
And immediately his disciples came; and they wondered that he talked with the woman. Yet no man said: What seekest thou? or, why talkest thou with her?
The woman therefore left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men there:
Come, and see a man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done. Is not he the Christ?
They went therefore out of the city, and came unto him.
In the mean time the disciples prayed him, saying: Rabbi, eat.
But he said to them: I have meat to eat, which you know not.
The disciples therefore said one to another: Hath any man brought him to eat?
Jesus saith to them: My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work.
Do you not say, There are yet four months, and then the harvest cometh? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and see the countries; for they are white already to harvest.
And he that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life everlasting: that both he that soweth, and he that reapeth, may rejoice together.
For in this is the saying true: That it is one man that soweth, and it is another that reapeth.
I have sent you to reap that in which you did not labour: others have laboured, and you have entered into their labours.
Now of that city many of the Samaritans believed in him, for the word of the woman giving testimony: He told me all things whatsoever I have done.
So when the Samaritans were come to him, they desired that he would tarry there. And he abode there two days.
And many more believed in him because of his own word.
And they said to the woman: We now believe, not for thy saying: for we ourselves have heard him, and know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world. (Jn 4:5-42 DRA)
From this incredibly rich and multilayered reading, I would like to reflect on only one layer, although perhaps it is the most fundamental: what it means to adore or worship God “in spirit and truth.” For the woman at the well, Christ’s statement that “salvation is from the Jews” would have gone against her Samaritan convictions, yet His warning that soon the faithful would not worship God according to Samaritan customs or even in the Temple of Jerusalem would have been equally shocking to first-century Jews. Instead, the true faithful, those who believe in and seek to follow Christ as His disciples, would begin to worship God in spirit and truth.
In this way, Christ distinguishes three phases of salvation history which the Church Fathers, as well as Pope Benedict XVI and Denis McNamara, have recognized: the times of shadow, image and reality. In the worship of the Old Law, first in the Tabernacle of Moses in the desert and then in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, God was worshiped authentically and faithfully, according to His own divine ordinances, but, as the Letter to the Hebrews makes clear, “the law having a shadow of the good things to come, not the very image of the things; by the selfsame sacrifices which they offer continually every year, can never make the comers thereunto perfect”. (Heb 10:1) Although the sacred architecture and liturgies of the Mosaic Law were made “according to the pattern that was shewn [to Moses] in the mount”, (Ex 26-30) they were not truly efficacious and salvific: like the prophecies and typologies of the Old Testament, they only served as a shadow pointing toward the full revelation of God in Christ which was given “in the fulness of time”. (Gal 4:4)
In the age of the Church, the time of image, the realities of the Heavenly Liturgy, in which Christ is the High Priest offering Himself eternally to the Father as the Lamb of God for our salvation, prefigured in the Law, is made sacramentally visible through material signs. Unlike merely metaphorical symbols, or the unspiritual shadows of the Law, these Sacraments “act ex opere operato (literally: ‘by the very fact of the action’s being performed’), i.e., by virtue of the saving work of Christ, accomplished once for all.” (Catechism, 1128) For this reason, although “it is impossible that with the blood of oxen and goats sin should be taken away”, (Heb 10:4) these sacrifices commanded by God heralded the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the Cross, which He now makes available to all through the Sacraments of His Body, the Church. Just as the “spiritual rock” which followed the Hebrews in the desert and gave to them living water was Christ, (1 Cor 10:4) who in the Gospel offers the Living Water of His Holy Spirit, Christ is also revealed as the true Manna, “the living bread which came down from heaven.” (Jn 6:51)
Through the waters of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist, which is “the partaking of the body of the Lord”, (1 Cor 10:16) we can now receive the grace of Christ through the Holy Spirit, divinizing us unto perfect union with Him. Since we are incarnate beings, the material continues to act as the means of revelation and salvation by Christ, but now His Sacraments are infused with the divine life of the Holy Spirit and so are eternally efficacious. Sacred architecture should make this clear by imitating the shadows of the Tabernacle of Moses and the Temple of Jerusalem while also revealing the Heavenly Liturgy through artistic representation.
As a final note, especially pertinent for Lent, when Christ called the Samaritan woman to communion with Him, He first called out her sins of adultery. Only by confronting and confessing her sin could she receive the divine life He offered. Just as the souls of the saints in Heaven “have washed their robes, and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14) before participating in the eschatological Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the New Heaven and Earth, (Rev 19:9) which is itself the reality revealed by the image of the Eucharist, we must all be cleansed from sin and made ready for the eucatastrophic consummation of history, when God will be “all in all.” (1 Cor 15:28)