by Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International
In the Gospel, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman in public, a woman from another background and culture. She is from a people ostracised by his own people and she is living publicly in an irregular relationship.
Water wells bring people together. Communication and meeting one another — not least with the enemy, the stranger or those from another culture — is an attitude of nonviolent resistance and is the beginning of peacebuilding. The “other” or the “unknown” encounter is not obvious. “Othering” is a form of excluding other people. It is sometimes “dehumanising” the other as an opponent. Both Christ and the woman at the well are criticised for talking to each other and for taking an interest in each other’s backgrounds. Samaritans and Jews did not mix and were encouraged to keep it that way.
However, Jesus and the woman built a bridge between the two very different cultures. He did not condemn the woman but made her the messenger of good news, despite her being regarded by others as a hated foreigner. Bridge-building is the result of an active nonviolent attitude.
Jesus did the unexpected and requested a drink from the woman. By doing so, Jesus accepts the Samaritan woman as a person: she exists! She is seen as a child of God, a person worthy of the deepest respect just like any other human individual.
He then moves to offer her a share in the life of God which he describes as “living water.” She glimpses the wonder of the moment and dashes off to share it with the neighbours. Drawing water was a humdrum part of the Samaritan woman’s life. Her generous kindness opened the way for Jesus to touch her and change her life and that of her townspeople.
Water is central to the giving of life. Clean water is one of the most precious gifts in the world. Water can give life. Ensuring access to water and sanitation for all is a major goal of the Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
The witness of Christ in his public life is that he cuts through various forms of discrimination. There should be no obstacles between people(s)! Christ is breaking the cycle of violence by taking at least four steps.
Firstly, he treats men and women equally. Respect the other as he or she is.
Secondly, Jews, Samaritans or people from any other tribe all have a right to food and drink. Human rights are universal, including the right to water.
Thirdly, nobody is excluded from God’s love.
Last but not least, he showed that deeds speak louder than words. The reality is that, if you are thirsty, you don’t want endless debates about where the water comes from or who has a rightful claim to it.
Fr. Paul Lansu is Senior Policy Advisor of Pax Christi International.