|Homily for 5th Sunday of Pascha The Samaritan Woman|
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit… Christ is risen! Indeed He is risen!
“Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Thus says the Samaritan woman when Christ has just revealed to her her own sins. This is an interesting image. How many of us, after someone had just revealed that they knew our shameful secrets, would go and run and tell people, “Hey, this guy knows all my sins. You’ve got to meet him!” It does seem odd, but that is what happened.
What is interesting is that the woman at first was showing all the normal signs of shame concerning her sins. We are told that it was the sixth hour of the day that this woman came to draw water. That means it was about high noon, the hottest time of day in what was essentially a desert climate. This was not the time that women went to draw water. Most people were indoors at that hour, away from the heat. This was a time that the she could go to the village well and could draw water without the stares, raised eyebrows, whispers or even the comments of the other women of the village. When Jesus tells her to go get her husband, she dissembles and says, “I have no husband.” What does our Lord say to her? Does he chasten her? No. He turns her shame around and says, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.” He tells her that she has spoken well, but He does not condemn her. Our Lord always wants to bring about the conversion of the sinner. God does not, as we are told, desire the death of the sinners, but that they turn and live. For this alone the conversation is remarkable.
In fact much of this conversation is remarkable for many reasons. First, the woman is a Samaritan; a group that the Jews hated and saw as heretical mixed-blooded people who were the descendants of gentiles moved into Israel during the Babylonian Captivity. These people had mixed with some Jews and had formed their own version of the faith. They did not worship at Jerusalem, though, but in their own temple on Mt. Gerazim. They also rejected all of the prophetic works that post-dated the Captivity. Their scriptures consisted of only the five books of Moses, the Torah. Jesus even asks the Samaritan woman to drink from her utensils. According to Jewish Law to drink from a Samaritan cup or bucket would be a ritually defiling act. The Samaritans were despised by the Jewish people. And here Jesus, a Jew, was speaking to her.
Her. There is the second extraordinary thing. A Jew who was known to be a pious Jew, was talking to a strange woman! In the society of that day, this was not done. One did not just talk to women who were unknown to them. Women were second class citizens then…but there He was a Jewish man, and a rabbi no less, talking with a Samaritan heretic.
Last, this woman was a sinner. A good Jew would not talk to a sinner in public…or anywhere else for that matter. Remember the scandal Christ caused throughout His ministry because He went to the homes of sinners and ate with them…and converted them from the way of death, which is sin, to the way of life.
The Lord asks for water and the woman, knowing who she is, is incredulous and asks Jesus how it is that He, a Jew would ask for water from her, a Samaritan. Our Lord gives a theological answer to her simple question. He already knew who she was. He had already seen into her heart, though she could not have known this. He says what he knows will speak to her thirst for wholeness, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman misunderstands Jesus and thinks He is speaking of physical water and asks if He is greater than Jacob the Patriarch and father of the Jewish and to some extent the Samaritan people; Jacob who gave them the well. Soon she will understand just how much greater Jesus is than Jacob.
Jesus tells her that the water He could give her would become within her a fountain of water that would give eternal life. He is speaking, of course, about the Holy Spirit. She does not understand Jesus, though, and still tries to see things literally (just as the Disciples often did not understand the Lord at first). She asks for this water so that she will not need to come to the well again and draw water, or to thirst again. Jesus asks her to call her husband and she responds that she has no husband. Christ tells her the nature of her current sin, as we have already said.
It is here that Christ begins to draw forth from the depths her true character. Here He begins to draw out the person that the Samaritan woman was supposed to be rather than who she was at the moment. He has just revealed to the woman that He knows that she is a sinner. She has been showing signs of one who is ashamed of her sin, as we saw earlier. Does she recoil from Our Lord in shame? Does she run from Him in tears? No. Despite the depths that she had gone to, she still has a spiritual sense to her. She still has a spiritual thirst that suddenly she realizes may be slaked. She sees that Jesus is a prophet and so she engages our Lord in a spiritual discussion about the location of the proper place to worship God; and who has the truth….the Jews or the Samaritans.
Jesus tells her that salvation comes from the Jews (meaning that He has come from the Jews and that the Jews had received the prophecies concerning Him), and that the Jews knew what they worshipped. The Samaritans were close, but off the mark. Our Lord does not stop there, though. He continues and tells the woman that the worship of God would not be confined to one place (either the Temple in Jerusalem or on Mount Gerazim in Samaria) or by one people, but “the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
What an extraordinary exchange! The Lord sees that the woman, despite her sins, has faith and hope. He rewards this with the explicit statement that He is the Messiah that she had hoped for. Hearing this, she is filled with the water that will not be exhausted, leaves her water pot filled with the water that is earthly, and goes to tell others that she has found the long-awaited Messiah. She is, as many Church Fathers say, made an equal to the Apostles then and sent to her people to bring them the Good News. Does she say, “I have found the Messiah?” No, she says, “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
Once her sin was exposed to the light it was abolished. Its power over Photini was abolished. She was able to stop sinning by being with the man who was not her husband and to go and spread the Gospel. It is the same with us!
Our Lord can see into each of our hearts. He can see how each of us has fallen far from how we could be. There is a teaching in the Church that God has an image for each one of us that is the best that we can be and is God’s plan for us. It is called our own logos (not to be confused with the Logos or Word of God, which is Christ). It’s a little w “word.” It is not forced upon us. We can deviate from it by our own free will, but our joy is greatest when we are conformed to the image that God has for us. Our sins knock us off that course, though, just as St. Photini’s sins had held her back…and the consequence of those sins, the shame, held her down and oppressed her. When she met the Lord and her sins were revealed, she was healed from the shame and had the strength to turn from her sin and live. It does not matter how old or how young we are, we can all turn from whatever sins plague us. It is important to expose them to the light and that is done through confession today.
St. Photini confessed openly when she ran through the streets saying without shame “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did.” Everyone knew what she was talking about, and she publicly acknowledged that. In confession one bares one’s soul to Christ with the priest as a witness. Christ does not condemn the penitent just as He did not condemn St. Photini. The priest does not stand as a judge and condemn either. He may, however, be directed to apply medicine to the wounds of the penitent, for that is what the penance is. Penance is an unfortunate word in English because it implies a punishment. In the Greek the term is epitimia, which has more shades of meaning than simply punishment. It first means to lay a value upon, to esteem and lastly a sense of punishment from a legal perspective. When looked at in a therapeutic sense, which is mostly how the Church views sin…in terms of medicine, one could say the wound of sin is weighed and the proper medicine is estimated. One does not want to weigh the repentant sinner down, but like Christ, lift them up and give them healing.
Christ tells St. Photini that we are to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. In spirit means that we are to struggle against the sins that weigh us down and strive to acquire the virtues. As St. Paul said in Galatians (5:17) “The desires of the flesh are against the spirit, and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh.” This means that to worship God in spirit we must fight the fleshly desires. These are not just desires such as lust or gluttony. The works of the flesh are, as St. Paul enumerates: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissentions, heresies…wait it goes on….envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, “and the like.” That is a long list but these are all things that make us fleshly and it is evident that fleshly does not just mean “of the body.” God made the body and it is good. The flesh is a term that the Church uses to mean something else, a twisting of what was created good. The Fathers of the Church will say that they kill the flesh in order to acquire a body.
We are also called to worship the Lord in truth. While this usually means that we worship the Lord according to the truth that the Church has handed down to us unblemished, it can also mean worshipping the Lord without lying to ourselves or others…without trying to justify ourselves and our sins before God and others. God knows our sins. We cannot hide them from Him…but we can hide them from ourselves by downplaying them or ignoring them, or not facing them….or if we do face them, not turning from them (or at least making the attempt). Under the bright noon-day sun the Samaritan woman tried to hide her sin from herself by avoiding the looks of others and their malicious gossip. She came to the well at a time she expected to meet no one. When she came into the brightness of the day, though, she met the Lord and the Sun of righteousness shone His light upon her sin. Did she wither under that sun? Did He destroy her in her sins? No, the Lord guided her to the water of life. He cured her of her sin and took away her shame. He can do the same for us. He will do the same for us…
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Christ is risen!
Indeed He is risen!
2009 Fr. Philip Kontos