The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (4:5-42)
God has created the world out of His overflowing love. The pinnacle of the created world according to the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church is the human being. God created us out of His love. He wanted us to exist, to experience, to live and He wanted to know us and be known by us. As we hear today’s gospel reading it can really be easy to overlook what a profound and amazing story we are hearing. It is the lengthiest one on one dialogue between Our Lord Jesus Christ and any other person in the entirety of the 4 gospels. He doesn’t save this for the high priest or Pontius Pilate or even one of His very own disciples. He shares this honor and privilege with a sinful and struggling woman. This is a much bigger deal than we probably realize. According to some historians, it was not even permitted that women should speak with men outside of their homes unless those men were either their husbands or their close family members such as brothers or uncles. Yet we see that the Lord does not refrain from speaking with her. He knows the social rules and conventions but He is more interested in the person that is right across from Him. Today is the day that He will open her heart and bring her to living faith.
This poor woman had come to the well in the middle of the day because she was thirsty and looking for fresh water to drink, but the Lord revealed that in truth she was thirsty for something much deeper. She had been married 5 times and now she even spent time with a man to whom she wasn’t married. In all of her actions she loudly screams that she is lonely and desperate for a deep sense of love that has never quite been fulfilled. One after the other, this poor woman chased after the next opportunity, the next promise, the next chance, but one after the other, each of them failed. She was left still thirsty for more. The water here is a symbol of what this woman desires and chases after. She drinks and finds herself thirsty again. She starts a new relationship, thinking it will solve all of her problems and she is left still feeling lonely, misunderstood, and ultimately unloved.
The Lord Jesus never does anything by chance. It seems quite likely that He came to the well at that very moment and on that very day because He had a purpose. His purpose was to see this woman’s life redeemed. But in order to redeem her life He must first take it apart and correct her thinking. In the Christian life, you can’t simultaneously follow Jesus and do your own thing. You can’t have both, at least not in a serious way. Either you choose Christ or you choose your own way. When I say this I don’t mean merely mentioning that we follow Jesus Christ, I also mean actually following His teachings and the teachings of His living body, the Church. The saints demonstrate that we are forced to choose between our way(the way of the world) and Christ’s way (the way of the Church).
Our Lord does what would be considered rude in our times because when the Samaritan woman begins to talk about worship He insists that the woman doesn’t really have a clue what she’s talking about. He says to her “You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know.” But He knew that she could handle that and in fact would benefit from it. He goes even further saying “We worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” In our day and age it is inconceivable that one would speak this way in such definitive and absolute terms. Yet this is precisely the way that the Lord Jesus addresses her and reveals to her the truth. The truth can be perceived as abrasive, yet nothing can substitute for truth, so we try to speak the truth in love as much as it is humanly possible. Our Lord is saying that not all paths lead to salvation because salvation is a living relationship with the true and living God. In the days of old, one was merely concerned about religion and philosophy, but now it is claimed that there are other ways to lay hold of salvation. Gender ideology and sexual identity are among the new paths offered for the one who is hungry and thirsty and lacks peace within themselves. Of course we know that this is not a path to living water, and not a path to God. The path doesn’t lead to peace or salvation because it starts with a lie as it’s foundation. True worship of God starts from a place of truth. Truth about who God is and truth about who we are. The Lord says “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” So when the Lord says that salvation is from the Jews, that means that salvation proceeds from a narrowly defined path. It is by no means universal, except in the sense in which it is available universally, to all people who repent and direct their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ.
The Lord pointed to this woman’s sinful life through her multiple marriages and divorces and her current relationship. He then corrected her understanding of religious practices and worship. And when she accepted these things humbly, without arguing or being offended, He then revealed Himself to her as the long-awaited Messiah, the anointed one of Israel.
Our path to salvation begins similarly. First we have to have our way of thinking and our way of life corrected. We have to see our failings, acknowledge them and choose to turn away from that path. Next we go to Christ and allow Him to teach us and lead us in the right way since He is the way, the truth and the life. We receive the living water of the Holy Spirit in baptism and Chrismation and continually as we struggle to live a holy life in the Church. This refreshes us and gives us life, much as it did for the Samaritan woman named Photeini. She met and was challenged by Jesus Christ and He forever changed her life, because He desired her and loved her even before she was born. Do we dare to allow Christ to encounter us in the depths of our hearts and to likewise change our lives? I want to leave you with a few words from St. Nikolai of Zicha. He writes,
“God does not desire that any man be lost. He did not create man for death, but for salvation. Is there a gardener who sows vegetables, yet desires that his vegetables dry out and perish? God is wiser and more compassionate than all men. God has only one desire: that all men repent and turn away from evil. How the husbandman rejoices when a withered vine comes back to life, becomes green again, and brings forth fruit! How much more then, is the joy of God and His angels when the souls of men, withered from sin, turn to Him and become young again with tears of repentance, and bring forth the fruit of repentance!” St. Nikolai Velomirovic- Prologue from Ochrid