Spiritual Journey of the Samaritan Woman

March 19, 2017
John 4:4-29

Gospel of John

Once, in conversation with the theologian Leonardo Boff in Brazil, he said to me: “Behind what is said, is also what is not said.”

That’s what the gospel of John is like, there’s always more than what his words say. There is always more.

There is always more. There is always more than our eyes see. There is always more than our nose smells. There is always more than our mouth tastes. There is always more than our hands touch. To be spiritual is take a step further toward the “Always Higher”. This is the message of the gospel of John: “Come and see.”

The text
With today’s text, we can bring to bear multiple interpretations. And of course, take away from it multiple meanings. I want to respect the words, but not forget the spirit. I find echoes of Buddhist wisdom. And also of the healing communities of northern Egypt that were contemporaries of Jesus of Nazareth.

This tradition of desert healers still continues. The sacred texts are also texts of our soul, they reveal our interior state, the states of our psyche.

Today’s text is a true “initiation journey”. The origin path revealed to a woman. Discriminated against for being a Samaritan, discriminated against for being a woman.

Jesus revealed truths and a deep prayer to that woman. What was it about that Samaritan woman? Maybe her ears were not closed in all-knowing arrogance. She was looking for Truth and Spirit. She had her gods, her traditions and her beliefs. But she was invaded by dissatisfaction, thirst. The water she found never calmed her thirst. In dialogue, Jesus invites the woman to take a step further. From personal desire to the trans-personal. A higher truth, a broader meaning. An ineffable Mystery that is beyond “that” which we call “god”, and of which we cannot speak.

I. John 4:4-7
In Jesus, God was tired. Fatigued looking for a humanity where she could lay down, where he could rest. At the beginning of an authentic spiritual experience, exists this discovery: we are not the ones who are seeking, it is God who searches for us, it is Life that searches for us. For many people, it’s hard to let themselves be found, to let themselves be loved just as they are. This is the first obstacle in the path: to let oneself be found, to become findable.

“It was about noon”. The hour of thirst, of desire. The time without shadow. Moment of clarity without room for the lie. We are by the side of the well. The Greek word means literally “nascent of water”.

The well is a symbol of the heart. To sit by the edge of the well is to place oneself in a position of listening and resonance. This means descending to those depths in ourselves to discover there the nascent and hear “Give me a drink”. It’s the nascent that asks to be drunk. The call of God that asks for a moment, to be noticed.

It’s always a surprise, an insight to feel that way: called, sought, recognized, wanted, loved.

But from this, a second obstacle emerges.

II. John 4:9-10
Here is the second obstacle. “Why me?” “Why to me?” “This is too beautiful for me!” Abraham Maslow, a humanist psychologist that worked many years ago, in DC, called this reaction “the Jonas complex.” To not have the audacity to believe in the possibility of this encounter, this communion. To not feel deserving of this original experience.

Jesus’ answer is symbolic, mysterious. “Ah, if you only knew…” This is a knowledge not acquired through study, but through direct experience of the divine gratuity. “Ah, if you knew this Life as a gift, as a gift of love, and not a debt.” Again, Jesus asks her for: “one more step.”’ There is always more, “a living water.”

III. John 4:11-14
The woman is realistic. She is not dreaming. She doesn’t await a new revelation. She doesn’t expect anything beyond her understanding. She knows the history and miracle of this well. But she doesn’t expect anything more. But this realism seems to be a third obstacle.

And again, Jesus asks for “one more step”. Jesus tries to awaken in her the thirst for water that doesn’t run dry (v.13). This is not about water and material satisfaction.

Here we find ourselves in universal wisdom. What calms desire during one moment becomes the beginning of another desire. This ignorance – said the Buddha – is the cause of suffering.

We know what happens: the more we possess, the more we want to possess. Maybe at one time our psyche thought it would be at peace and happy with a certain level of wealth, a certain number of relationships, a certain amount of pleasure. And then…dissatisfied… we suffer.

Most of the time we are happy thanks to our health, to some possession, some activity, or some relationship. If that’s true, it seems our happiness depends on an external, fragile reality. Always ephemeral, always impermanent. People change, phenomena change, objects change. Everything and everyone is impermanent, and sometimes also disappointing.

The more we drink of “this” water, the more we thirst.

But, Jesus announces something new (v.14). One life, one peace, one happiness, one nascent of water that doesn’t depend on external circumstances. While we don’t find that happiness inside ourselves, we can’t find it on the outside.

The question is: is that possible? Is it possible to know a happiness that doesn’t depend on the objects of happiness? Really, I don´t know but… I am still looking.

I have known families that have everything to make them happy. Everything. But they are not. They only think about buying an apartment in a high-rise, to throw themselves out the window. I’ve also known families that have nothing to make them happy. When I looked up at their roofs there were so many holes the stars shown through. And yet, they were witnesses to peace, harmony, and unity…

Jesus does not propose objects or circumstances to give us happiness. In fact, he guides us to find in ourselves a “quality of being happy,” without dependencies, without attachments. Jesus the Christ desires that we be one with the source itself. To be “one with the Father/Mother” (The ancient Church called God the Father/Mother “a Fountain”).

IV. John 4: 15-18
The woman interprets the words of Jesus according to her desire to not feel needy anymore, to no longer be lacking. This is the fourth obstacle.

And again, Jesus asks to go further, to take a step higher (v. 16). Literally he says to her: With what or with whom are you married today? Where are you seeking unity, joy, happiness, peace? What is the cause of your happiness?

She responds: “I do not have a husband.” She means to say: “in this moment, I don’t know that communion. I don’t have the peace that I desire. I am not in a state of unity, joy and peace.”

Jesus reveals to the woman her lack of happiness, her continuing thirst. She already knows this. But goodness, if she only knew! She’s had five husbands and even with the sixth she doesn’t have unity. Five times she tried to know love, harmony, and even the sixth time has brought neither goodness nor peace.

The words of Jesus mean: “You are honest.” “You are bright.” It’s important to note the beautiful energy of this woman. The power of her search. She does not renounce love…one, two, three… even six times! She does not lose hope.

What are those 5 or 6 husbands? Maybe they were the 5 Samaritan gods. Maybe the five empires that invaded Israel and the sixth are the Romans. Or maybe they are the five books of the Hebrew Torah (accepted by the Samaritans). Saint Augustine proposed that they were the five physical senses and the sixth was the mental sense… However, they are understood, nothing and no one brought her happiness. Maybe pleasure, but not happiness. Maybe laughter, but not joy. Maybe a bit of realism, but not the Truth. “No, I don’t have…” said the woman.

Jesus reaffirms that insight, even if it is painful. A journey always passes through that fleeting moment of clarity. We must say “yes” to what is. Recognize what’s missing. Recognize what falls short, to transcend it.

Neither material possessions, nor affectionate attachment, nor the realism of the senses (to see, touch, hear…). Nothing is permanent. Nothing is forever. Nothing resists the law of entropy. “Everything that is made will be unmade” says the gospel of Mary Magdalene.

Only the Truth not-created, not-conditioned, not-visible, not-explainable, not-comprehensible… It is towards that Truth that Jesus the Christ wants to orient us. But what is searched for is limitless. The Truth cannot be grasped… there is Always more.

V. John 4: 19-21
The woman recognizes that Jesus sees clearly. She feels recognized. She recognizes her lacking, her absence. She confesses her dissatisfaction. She cannot hide anything any longer. He recognizes in her a more essential, more spiritual desire. She questions Jesus about true adoration, true worship.

But this is the fifth obstacle. A subtle obstacle. A subtle idolatry: to possess the truth. What is the true worship of God? Who has the true place of adoration? What is the true religion? Which is the right way to worship?

A subtle and dangerous idolatry: to possess the truth. Not content to just material things or affections, now our psyche seeks to possess the truth. Whoever says they possess the truth, –and we know this—is dangerous. To want to box God into one shape, into one place, into one doctrine, into one practice, is not just stupid, it is dangerous.

And again, the word of Jesus asks “to go further.” I interpret this as something of a “trans-religious spirituality.” Not in this religion, not in the other. Not in this church, not in the other.

VI. John 4: 23-24
Jesus reveals to the Samaritan woman a spiritual exercise. Different from the rational, intellectual, masculine and even more Jewish prayer (Our Father), now, Jesus teaches a practice. An exercise that is spiritual and open to all humanity. And this is revealed through a woman who was excluded, marginalized, without status. It is a prayer “in spirit and in truth”. The original meaning is interesting in the Greek text. Let’s see.

1. To pray in spirit (= pneuma). Pray in the Breath. This is, to breath. To pray is not to repeat words. Nor is it to stitch together thoughts and reasonings. To pray is, to breath. To participate in the divine Breath/Wind. The resonance with Buddhist meditative practice is obvious.

2. To pray in truth (= aletheia). The Greek word means “out of lethargy”. This is to be vigilant, with attention, awake. So, to pray “in truth”/”for real” is not to recite truths of the faith, like remembering doctrines or creeds. The word “truth” means “to be conscious and attentive.” The truth is not a something to be had. It is to be “awake”.

When Jesus said “I Am the truth” we can understand this as “I am alert, vigilant, awake”. And you all know, the word “awake” reminds us of the Buddha’s state (= The Awakened One)

In summary: what Jesus says is: if you want to know the source of your being, you have to breath with attention to the Wind/Breath, to be conscious, vigilant. What is important is not this or that mountain. This or that religion, this or that practice, this or that worship. What is important is to be conscious of the Breath that inhabits us, to pray with attention, to breath the Breath of God.

Unfortunately, in the western churches we have forgotten this breathing dimension of prayer. And we have been left with the words, the thoughts, the reason. I think this has impoverished our spirituality.

VII. John 4:25-26
In this stage of her journey, the Samaritan women is awakened to her thirst to know the Anointed One (= Messiah), the Christ. And the word arrives: “I Am, he who is speaking to you.” (v.26).

We arrive at the heart of the initiation journey. All the detours, the waiting game, the questions, the answers each time more profound, to finally arrive to “see what Is.”1 Now the Samaritan woman knows the “I am, He that Is.”

But the story does not end here.

VIII. John 4: 28-29
After the initiation experience, she can “leave her water jar”. Again, the Buddhist echo: the detachment. The initiation journey leads to letting go, renouncing, transforming.

The Samaritan woman “leaves her water jar.” That is, her usual ways of obtaining knowledge. Now she knows – from her own experience – that “the nascent” is in her.

She can give testimony to her awakening. “Is this not the Messiah?”

Tony Brun
Kimberly McCain (Translation from Spanish)

1 Vipâssana is a meditative practice older than Buddhism, practiced even by the Buddha himself. The goal of vipâssana es simply “see what is.” “see things as they are.”