Sunday, May 26, 2019 – Fifth Sunday of Pascha: Sunday of the Samaritan Woman & After-feast of Mid-Pentecost
Holy Gospel according to St. John 4:5-42: “At that time, Jesus came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as He was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His Disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that Thou, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst forever; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and Thou sayest that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. 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 [He Who is called Christ]; when He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I Who speak to you am He.” Just then His Disciples came. They marveled that He was talking with a woman, but none said, “What dost Thou wish?” or, “Why art Thou talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man Who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to Him. Meanwhile the Disciples besought Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the Disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, “He said to me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His words. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Today’s Gospel describes the encounter of our Lord and an immoral woman he met at the well in Sychar in Samaria at noon. In the heat of the day, when all respectable women were back at their houses preparing to serve the noon meal, she was out gathering water. Some have written that she fetched her water at noon to avoid being ostracized by the highly regarded women of the city because of her lifestyle. She was a woman of many men. Christ instructed to “Go, call your husband, and come here.” She admits that she has no husband and then Jesus, seeing her heart, reveals His knowledge that she has “had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband”.
This telling proclamation from Christ was directed to her after her unsuccessful attempts to boast of her heritage and her religion. These smoke screens, asserting her lineage all the way back to the Old Testament Patriarch Jacob was her way of claiming her cultural and moral superiority to the traveling stranger who interrupted her mid-day water run. She had set out to fetch water in the noontime heat of the day when no one else would be found at the well in order to avoid the conversation and public shunning which she would have needed to endure if she had she come to the well in the early morning hours when all the others would have gathered their water for the day.
She intentionally missed the snubbing of the local women of Sychar but then, much to her surprise she was approach by this weary Jewish man as he was passing through her area and asked for a drink. It wasn’t an unreasonable request. She had a jar and he didn’t. She carried her jar to the well to draw out that for which she would need to return tomorrow and the next day and the next day for the rest of her life, as she was able. She had to have this water with which she would cook, or clean or bathe. The water which she was collecting was an essential element for nearly everything she was about to do for the rest of the day. She had to have this water to complete the chores she had before her on this most historic day in her life.
Initially, she refused his request for water. It was the historic well of her people – the Samaritans. They were racially and culturally mixed – half-breeds. Shunned by the purebred Jews, these Samaritans only accepted the first 5 books of the Old Testament and were the result of a societal experiment of many generations ago to repopulate the region by resettling foreigners among the few remaining Israelites after the Assyrians had defeated them and exiled them in Babylon and Media. This interracial group of Gentiles lived in the area named after a mountain called Somer and were hated and despised by the Jews.
Interestingly, Jesus and his disciples found themselves in Samaria because of the unbelief of the Jews who had chased them out of Judea. St. Augustine has written the “thirst” Jesus spoke of when approaching this woman was a thirst for faith rather than water. He was longing for the refreshment of belief in who he was, what he could offer to a believer and a life changing “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Last night, one of the hymns at Great Vespers proclaimed: “At Jacob’s well, Jesus met the Samaritan woman. He Who screened the earth with clouds asked water of her. What wonder, that He Who rideth on the cherubim converseth with an adulterous woman. He asked water Who suspended the earth on the waters. He seeketh water Who caused the springs of water and their lakes to overflow. Yea, that He may draw to Him the truth ensnared by the contending enemy, and give her water to drink who was inflamed with ugly vices; for He alone is compassionate and the Lover of mankind.”
Jesus met resistance from those to whom he was sent and he was desirous of meeting and being received by those who would believe. Maximus of Turin, a 5th century bishop in northern Italy has written: “The Savior asks for water from the woman, then, and feigns thirst so that he might give eternal grace to the thirsty. For the source was not able to be thirsty, nor was he in whom there is living water able to draw water full of earthly sediment. Did Christ thirst, then? He thirsted, to be sure, but for salvation and not [merely] for human drink. He was thirsty not for the water of this world but for the redemption of the human race. In a wonderful way, therefore, the source sitting by the well produces streams of mercy in that very place, and with flowing, living water he purifies the woman who is [living] with a sixth man, not her husband but an adulterer. And in a new kind of miracle the woman who had come to the well of Samaria as a prostitute returned chaste from the source of Christ. She who had come to look for water brought back chastity. As soon as the Lord points her sins out to her she acknowledges them, confesses Christ and announces the Savior. Abandoning her pitcher she brings not water but grace back to the city. She seems, indeed, to return without a burden, but she returns full of holiness. She returns full, I say, because she who had come as a sinner goes back as a proclaimer, and she who had left her pitcher behind brought back the fullness of Christ, without the slightest loss to her city. For even if she did not bring water to the townspeople, still she brought in the source of salvation. Sanctified, then, by faith in Christ, the woman goes back home.”
Again, another hymn from Vespers last night declared, “When by Thine ineffable dispensation Thou didst appear on earth, O Christ, the Samaritan woman, hearing Thy philanthropic words, left off drawing water at the well and hastened, saying to those in the city: Come and behold the Knower of hearts: perchance He may be the expected Christ Whose is the Great Mercy.”
And just a few minutes ago, during Orthros we heard, “Our Savior Jesus, the Element of life, came to the Spring of Jacob, the head of the patriarchs, and was about to drink the water at the hand of a Samaritan woman. But she intercepted Him by telling Him that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans. Albeit, the wise Creator turned her by the sweetness of His words rather to seek of Him the water of everlasting life, which, when she received, she proclaimed to all, saying: Come and see the Knower of secrets, God Who hath appeared in the flesh to save mankind.”
What was her response to what she had seen and heard during her encounter with Christ at the well? “So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man Who told me all that I ever did.” She left her pot and ran to her people and proclaimed Christ. She asked, “Can this be the Christ?” She no longer wanted to be weighed down by the jugs of temporal needs and quickly evaporating satisfaction after she had been introduced to Him who was offering her “living water.” Those jars she was carrying would have slowed her down, worn her out, or caused her to stumble or fall. She knew it was no longer good for her to lug around the pots she was carrying after she met Christ.
It might be asked: What pots are we still carrying around after having met Christ at our wells of family, cultural or intellectual pride. What were we carrying when we met Him and he offered us the living water after which we would never again thirst? Were we able to accept what he offered us or did we cling to our pots of self-centeredness, arrogance, lust, greed, fear, or despondency? Are we still to be found lugging around our old jars of bitterness, unforgiveness, hate, backbiting, gossip and slander. Have we really dumped those old ugly jugs which have weighed us down for years and kept us from being free and able to joyfully proclaim the good news of the one we met who is able to free us from all that we ever did?
The woman in our account today didn’t just run and tell her townspeople that she had met the Christ. The early church writers identify her as Photini and she is recognized as the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ among the Samaritans. She converted her five sisters (Sts. Anatole, Photo, Photis, Paraskeve, and Kyriake) and her two sons (Victor and Joses). They all became tireless evangelists for Christ.
The apostles of Christ baptized her and gave her the name of Photini which means “the enlightened one.” She is remembered by the Church as a Holy Martyr and Equal to the Apostles. After Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred, St. Photini and her family left their homeland of Sychar, in Samaria, to travel to Carthage to proclaim the Gospel of Christ there.
During the reign of Emperor Nero in the first century, excessive cruelty was displayed against the Christians, St. Photini lived in Carthage boldly proclaimed Christ with her sons.
In a rage, Nero gave orders to inflict horrible deaths upon St. Photini, her family members and the others who had come to believe in Christ. Nero gave orders to throw St. Photini down a well, where she surrendered her soul to God in the year 66.
It is never written that St. Photini went back and to pick up her abandoned water pot from that fateful day. We too, are asked to leave our pots and joyfully follow Christ and loyally proclaim Him until our death.
(Jude 24 & 25) – “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.”
Christ is Risen!