The Hydraulics of the Divine

There are several scholarly commentaries about Jesus and the Samaritan women. Several of them celebrate the irony involved in the incident about who will ultimately give water and to whom. Other’s like Raymond Brown reflects on the fact that Jesus chooses to transgress the accepted norms of social intercourse of his time. In the request: ‘give me a drink’, made by Jesus, we can notice a double bind. He had another wish that well water cannot satisfy. Jesus clearly articulates this when he says, “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” (Jn. 4: 10). Saying this Jesus is trying to trigger a desire for a new life in the women. Jesus thirsts/ longs to arouse her thirst for metanoia. He desires to lead the women to recognize what she lacked. It is only then that his own deeper thirst can be assuaged. In other words, his and her lack will be filled.

The entire text opens up several lacks. The Samaritan woman is portrayed as incapable of distinguishing the literal and material and spiritual and figural. Besides, in John chapter three, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus the male member of Jewish people while in chapter four he speaks to the female member of the enemy people. The male member has a name: Nicodemus and the female member of the enemy people does not have a name. She is known only by what she is (women of immoral life). The conversation between Jesus and the women lacked societal acceptance. It was scandalous: Jewish man was not supposed to talk to Samaritan women. The texture of lack in the structure of the text might have reinforced the patriarchal interpretation of the text. This means most of the time we are acting out an interpretation of the text that is scripted in advance. These interpretations victimize the Samaritan woman and reduce her to a sexual stereotype as well as patronize her for her intellectual inferiority.

These interpretations forget that in the first place the text manifests the women as a worthy conversation partner for Jesus. But we still have the task that contests the sense in the text that produces an emptiness of women who becomes as empty as her jar that is waiting to be filled by the water of life that Jesus gives her. Can we think that the Samaritan woman was also an enlightened partner in dialogue alongside Jesus? What if the woman at well also has an insight to offer? To arrive at a new reading we need to arrive at the hydraulics of the liquid metaphor. We have to follow the metaphor of water in the gospel of John. Water flows underground for the most part of the gospel surfacing again in chapters seven and nineteen.

In chapter 7 Jesus again speaks of thirst, drinking, and the superabundance of living water: “As the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water (Jn.7:38). We may ask: out of whose heart? Chapter four seems to indicate that Jesus himself is the source of living water. But he also added that once the believer has drunk of this water, it becomes spring in him or her “gushing up to eternal life”. Therefore, rivers of living waters can be thought to be flowing from the believer as well. But only if the believer has first received it from Jesus. This means the believer receiving water from Jesus becomes a channel of living water. In the text relating to the feast of the tabernacle, Jesus traces his authority of being the source of living water based on scripture. Therefore, we may also say that the scripture becomes the source of the imagery of water that first gets articulated at the dialogue with the Samaritan women.

The motif of thirst once again comes up when Jesus on the cross cries, ‘I thirst’ (Jn.19:28). We find the imagery of water and thirst in John chapter nineteen. This cry seems to bring us once more to the well where Jesus says, ‘give me a drink’. The scene again appears to be the same. It is noon and Jesus needs more than just a drink. In both cases, Jesus is not just thirsty for water but is thirsting to bring humanity into the divine life. In chapter nineteen, we can also notice that the well water like that of the wedding of canna is replaced by wine/ sour wine/ vinegar. Again it is said that Jesus expressed his thirst to fulfil the scripture and having accepted the drink, he says it is finished. It means that scriptures are fulfilled.. He made up for what is lacking in them. Having said it is finished, Jesus gives up his spirit. But his spirit is not fully handed until he breathes on his disciples saying ‘receive my spirit’ (Jn.20: 22).

In the light of our reflection, we can relook at the binary of literal and living water. This binary is closely linked with other similar ones like spiritual/material, heavenly/earthly, and even male/female. With Jesus on the cross, these binaries are breaking apart. The satiation of Jesus’ physical thirst, therefore, is the required precondition for the proleptic actualization of that which is intended to satiate the spiritual thirst of the believer, namely, the Holy Spirit. This means we can see how the material and earthly thirst for the well water is superseded by the heavenly spiritual drink/ the Holy Spirit. This means we can see two economies working together. The economy of matter/ nature and the economy of grace/ spirit. The same is also happening with Jesus on the cross. The material/ natural economy and the economy of grace/ spirit/ the Holy Spirit operate together. But we do not think the two economies into a close field of oppositions. Thinking the two economies together without the dialectics of opposition can bring us to the irruption of the impossible that we do not see coming. It opens us to the continuous flow of the living water/ Holy Spirit from Jesus. We can see this in the flow of water from the side of Jesus. We are back into the material/ natural economy and the economy of grace/ spirit. This time there is no closure. The working of grace/spirit and nature/matter are not one of the oppositions but one co-‘operation’/ co-existence.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao