The narrative of the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter four of St. John's Gospel serves as a metaphor for personal conversion. While the events in the narrative are historically accurate, they also provide an image of our blessed Lord's call to each of us to honesty about ourselves, repentance and change. Hence, the Samaritan woman represents each of us. Our Lord's interaction with her reveals the manner in which He moves us to conversion.
When Jesus arrives at the well alone, it is midday. Jesus is weary, hungry and thirsty. And yet, He cannot help but reach out to the Samaritan woman drawing water from Jacob's well, considered by the Samaritans to be one of the holiest sites in the Promised Land. The simple fact that Jesus goes into Samaritan territory and interacts with a foreign woman reveals to us that the Lord will stop at nothing to seek us out.
Jews never intermingled with Samaritans out of respect for Jewish ceremonial law. Intermingling with the ritually impure Samaritans would defile a Jew, who would have to participate in ritual purifications before entering the Temple to pray. Moreover, Jewish men would never interact with a woman alone — contact of this kind was a violation of social mores. Jesus transcends these social and ritual constructs in order to save a soul.
On a human level, Jesus is thirsty but His thirst extends far beyond a mere desire for water. Our Lord thirsts for the Samaritan woman's faith, just as He thirsts for our faith, hope and love. Interestingly, it is Jesus who claims that He will provide living water for the woman, in spite of the fact that it is Jesus who asks for a drink. This reminds us that before we can reap the benefits of a life in Christ, it is Jesus Himself who nourishes us with the living waters of baptism and the Eucharist.
All of the good that we accomplish is merely a response to the goodness of God. He asks for our faith, hope and love and yet it is He who gives us the capacity to believe in Him, trust Him and love Him — a capacity given to us at baptism. Jesus promises the Samaritan woman that whoever partakes of His living water will never thirst again. In doing so, He sets Himself above Jacob, whom the Samaritans venerated. Christ's revelation to the Samaritan woman begins to unfold.
Our blessed Lord then asks the woman to call her husband. This exchange reveals that the woman is mired in adultery. This infidelity is an image of our infidelity toward God when we sin. The theme of the unfaithful wife was often cited by the prophets as a powerful image to remind the Jews of their relationship with God whenever they made pacts with foreign gods or colluded with enemies. Similarly, Jesus calls us to return to our original fidelity and innocence when we were baptized and washed clean of original sin. He desires to restore us to sonship with the Father. Jesus' knowledge of the Samaritan woman's marital status convicts her. It allows her to perceive that the Lord is no ordinary man — she calls Him a prophet. And yet, Jesus is much more than that. His knowledge of the Samaritan woman's sinfulness does not leave her despondent. Instead, she returns to her village to call others to meet Our Lord. Convicted by His knowledge of her sins, moved to conversion and healed by the living waters only Jesus can give, the Samaritan woman calls us to experience the spiritual healing we all desire during this season of Lent.