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“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“If she had only known.” Now there’s an epitaph you don’t want written on your tombstone. “If I had only known.” “If I had only known then what I know now?”
“If I only known who he was.” “If I had only known how close I was.” “If I had only known the gift of God and who it was that said to me, ‘give me a drink…’” finish the sentence. “I wouldn’t have questioned him about social customs…” “I wouldn’t have argued with him about religion…” “I would’ve have given Him a drink…” “I would have asked for the gift of God…” “If she had only known.”
Early that morning, the sun rose, the rooster crowed, the man sleeping next to her snored. Just another day about to begin. “If she only knew.”
She got up, stretched, felt the aches and pains that would wear off as the day went on. There were chores to do, preparing meals, washing clothes, gathering water from the well on the outskirts of town. Just another day. “If she only knew.”
This woman, whose name we are never given, walked the same path to the same well that she had walked countless times. But on this same day, a man was also making his way to this same well. He was making his way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north and he “had to pass through Samaria.” “Had to,” not as in, there was no other way to get from point A to point B. But “had to” as in, there was this woman that He wanted to meet. We could just as easily say that He came all the way from heaven to earth just to meet her. “If she had only known.”
John writes, “wearied as He was from his journey, He was sitting by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” The “6th Hour” in Roman time is Noon in our time. Remember that.
When she arrived at the well, He was already there, sitting right beside it. It was one of those awkward situations. Like when one of those street people holding a sign at the intersection that says “Homeless. Even a dollar will help. God bless you.” And the light turns red and darned if you’re not stopped right beside him. You act like you don’t see him.
But he speaks directly to you. “Give me a drink.” It’s not a lot to ask. And yet, when we finally come to the end of this story, the one thing that don’t ever read is that he ever got his drink. But that’s okay. He has not come to this place for Himself but for her. “He has not come to be served but to serve.” Not to take, but to “give His life as a ransom” for hers. (Matthew 20:28). “If she had only known.”
He breaks the silence. He bridges the awkward gap. “He speaks. We listen and respond in words that He first gives to us.” “Give me a drink.” He is giving her the very words that she is to speak back to Him. “We do not know what to pray for as we ought.” (Rom.8:26)
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
“If you knew the gift of God, then nothing else would matter to you because the gift of God is everything, just as I who am speaking to you am everything. You would ask me for this gift and I would give it to you because that is precisely why I came down from heaven and from Galilee and to this well.” “If you only knew.”
“But because you don’t know the gift of God or who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you look for excuses and find all kinds of things to distract your attention and look the other way. You argue with me over social customs and religious sticking points and you let your racial prejudices rule over you – “you a Jew and me a Samaritan woman.”
Because you don’t know the gift of God or who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you ask for those things that cannot satisfy you and that thirsty and dry. And you are the weary one. You weary yourself in seeking that which moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.” “If you only knew.”
Maybe St. John had this woman in mind when, in the prologue of his gospel, he wrote, “He was in the world and though the world was made through Him the world did not know Him.” (John 1:10). Or, maybe John had us all in mind.
So, who is this man who intrudes into our daily life and interrupts our regular routine, and engages us in our daily vocations in ways that make us uncomfortable, and who makes such a preposterous and incomprehensible offer, “living water.” Or better translated, “life-giving water.”
And now she wants to say to this stranger. “IF YOU ONLY KNEW…”
IF ONLY YOU KNEW who I am.
IF ONLY YOU KNEW how many times my hopes and dreams have been crushed.
IF ONLY YOU KNEW how many times I have been widowed, divorced, forsaken, abandoned.
IF YOU ONLY KNEW that the man I am living with now is not my husband because he refuses to commit himself to me, to love and cherish me, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until death parts us.
IF ONLY YOU KNEW how lonely I am, how empty, how tired, how dead I am, you would be more careful than to talk to me about ‘life-giving water.’
But He has no intention of leaving her alone or going away. So she plays along. “Are you greater than our father, Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
“And Jesus said, ‘whoever drinks the water that I give to him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give to him will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.’”
She wants to say, “HOW CAN WATER DO SUCH GREAT THINGS?” All she sees is plain water. She doesn’t see God’s Word combined with this water. She doesn’t see that one greater than Jacob is here who give Himself to her in, with and under this water and takes her into Himself in the same ‘life-giving water,’ ‘to love and cherish her, for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health, until death parts them, WHICH IT NEVER WILL BECAUSE HE HAS OVERCOME DEATH. CHRIST IS RISEN! He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
“She said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” She sees no further than the physical convenience of not having to make this hike and carry this water as often as she does. She thinks of him as some who is interested in making her life easier. As if the latest technology and a little more luxury might actually be the answer to her loneliness and emptiness and weariness and death.
How shallow, superficial. It would be the same for the 5000 whom He fed in the wilderness. “IF THEY HAD ONLY KNOWN…” who it was who multiplied the bread in His hands and fed them all to the full, they would have asked for ‘living bread,’ or ‘life-giving bread’ to be more accurate. And He would have given them “that food that endure to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you.” But they could see no further than the bread itself and the only thing that moved them was their stomach. “IF THEY HAD ONLY KNOWN…”
“Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call you husband, and come here.’ The woman answered him, “IF YOU ONLY KNEW…” “I have no husband.”
“Jesus said to her, I KNOW. You are right in saying you have no husband; for you have had five husbands and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” HE KNOWS HER.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer.1:5) “I am the good shepherd. I know my own… just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” (John 10:14-15). He knows us better than we know ourselves.
He knows what we need, even though we avoid it and deny it and reject it. We need Jesus. He is the gift of God, who met you at this baptismal well or one like it, and gave you His unbreakable pledge, “I shall be your husband and you shall be my wife.” And “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5). “I will lay down my life for you and provide you with all that you need so that you will always rest secure. I will feed you with my own body and you shall never be hungry for my love. I will give you my own blood to drink and put my life in you, and it will be in you a spring of joy and peace and fulfillment, welling up to eternal life. And you shall be satisfied with a satisfaction that makes anything that this world has to offer “nothing, less than nothing when indeed, a positive impediment when measured against one drop of that living water that Christ offers the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.” (Malcolm Muggerige)
The gospels tell us that, “It was about the 6th hour” (Luke 23:44), when the GIFT OF GOD cried out from the cross, “I thirst.” He has taken our thirst for peace and joy and life into Himself and given us “living water, that whoever drinks of it will never thirst again.”
This account of the encounter between Jesus and this unnamed Samaritan woman at the well does not end here. This is only the beginning. After her conversation with Jesus, she went back into town and told everyone who would listen to her about what happened. “He told me all that I ever did.” As a result, “many Samaritans from that town believe in him, because of the woman’s testimony.” They said, “we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” We cannot say of them, “If only they knew…”
In some of the earliest and most reliable records of early church history outside of the Scriptures, we are told that this unnamed woman is given the name “Photini” which means, ‘enlightened one,” or “one who knows.”
According to the record, she tirelessly told and retold the story of Jesus from her hometown and then beyond that all the way to the city of Carthage. During the persecution of Christians under the reign of the emperor Nero, she spoke the Gospel to Nero’s own daughter, whom it is said, became a Christian. In the year 66 AD, about 34 years after that day when she met Jesus at a well, she was given the highest honor any Christian can be given – martyrdom for the sake of Christ. Nero demanded that she renounce Jesus and bow down to the Roman gods. Photini refused. Nero ordered that she be thrown down into a well. And there she died.
She knew the gift of God and who it is who once said to her, ‘give me a drink.’