A Deep Well and an Endless Wellspring

St. John recounts the meeting of Jesus and a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well on the outskirts of the ancient city of Shechem:

“There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink” (John 4:7). St. Augustine comments: “The woman here is the type of the Church, not yet justified, but just about to be. And it is a part of the resemblance, that she comes from a foreign people.” Elsewhere, he writes: “Jesus also thirsted after that woman’s faith. He thirsteth for their faith, for whom He shed His blood.”

Jesus said to her, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (v. 10). Concerning this water, St. Augustine notes: “Living water is that which comes out of a spring, in distinction to what is collected in ponds and cisterns from the rain.” And, as regards the woman, he writes: “Her poverty obliged her to labour more than her strength could well bear; would that she could hear, ‘Come unto Me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you’ (Matt 11:28). Jesus had said this very thing, that is, that she need not labour any longer; but she did not understand Him.”

Referring to the water in Jacob’s well, Jesus said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again” (v. 13). St. Augustine explains: “The water in the well is the pleasure of the world, that abode of darkness. Men draw it with the waterpot of their lusts; pleasure is not relished, except it be preceded by lust. And when a man has enjoyed this pleasure, that is, drunk of the water, he thirsts again.”

Then Christ said, “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (v. 14). St. John Chrysostom understands it thus: “As a man who had a spring within him, would never feel thirst, so will not he who has this water which I shall give him.” Theophylact explains why such a one would never thirst: “For the water which I give him is ever multiplying. The saints receive through grace the seed and principle of good; but they themselves make it grow by their own cultivation.” But note St. Augustine’s caveat: “If spring water too becomes stagnant, that is, collects into some spot, where it is quite separated from its fountain head, it ceases to be living water.”

Quotations from St. Thomas Aquinas, Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels Collected Out of the Works of the Fathers, Vol. IV, Part I (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1845).

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