The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. John. (4:5-42)
Today we are blessed with one of the most profound and rich passages in the whole of the four Gospels. There are so many different aspects to this amazing reading but in our limited time together we can only focus on just a couple of the main points.
Many people in North America have had an encounter with the person and teachings of Jesus Christ. The woman at the well also had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ, but what makes this encounter much more special is that the encounter was a life changing experience. We have all known people who are Christians, who go to church and say brief prayers, who go to Bible studies and help with bake sales, who celebrate Baptisms and first Communions. We know plenty of Christians who go through the motions of being Christians. Our Lord tells us in this passage that those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth.
What makes this encounter with the Lord so special is that it is indeed, a life-changing experience. We have a woman who was lost in her life. She lived a life of shame and regrets. She lived a life where she was ostracized from the rest of her community. She felt loneliness and pain. She lacked love and she desperately sought that feeling of love and belonging wherever she could find it. Her heart ached for something more.
It is only when someone is at the brink of despair that they are open to a life-changing experience of Jesus Christ. In times of comfort it is easy to have an encounter with Christ but the results of the encounter are usually insignificant. In the life of every Christian there must a be a life-changing experience of Jesus Christ and the love and healing that He offers. We should ask ourselves if we have had this experience and if we have not had it, we should quietly reflect and pray and question why we have not had that experience. We should determine what is holding us back from a true encounter with the Lover of mankind. Is it all of our comfort? Is it our comfort in material things, comfort in our distractions, comfort in our relationships, or even comfort with ourselves and our own sense of virtue and spirituality? Whatever the case may be, we cannot have a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ when He adds nothing of meaning to us because we are already so full.
The woman at the well had the potential to be transformed into a completely different person through the healing grace of the relationship and love she received from our Lord and Savior. This was possible for her because she came empty and in many ways she was broken and suffering. It is so important for us to also come to the Lord with our brokenness and loneliness and suffering. We have to find that within us. Sometimes God in His mercy will use our outer circumstances to bring us to a place of need. Sometimes the Lord will allow us to become sick or weak physically. But sometimes we must sit quietly and dig deep within to acknowledge that we are all like this poor woman at the well. Above all else we must learn to repent in a way that makes our brokenness and necessity for Christ a reality. There is no doubt that we each need a life changing encounter with the Lord, and there is no doubt that we are each capable of having this because the Lord in His grace is hungry for this relationship with each of us. He is present, but where is our heart? Do we recognize that we are sick and have been enemies of Christ through our own sinfulness and pride?
I promise that the Lord is ready to remake us and to transform us. I know this to be true because I have seen it and observed it many times and this is further demonstrated by the life of the woman at the well who is now known within our Holy Orthodox Church as St. Photeini. She met the Lord but she desired and thirsted for the living water that He alone could offer her. This living water changed her life, her goals, and her desires forever. We have each met the Lord, but have we thirsted for Him?
Some of us are going through the motions of being Christians and believers. I know this because I have moments where it is easy to do the same thing. Christ our Lord is not interested in rituals and religious routines that are done by rote habit. These ritual practices and observances will not save us by themselves. They have the potential to save us when they enliven and enlighten our hearts and minds and kindle a burning desire for God within us. But apart from our deep desire for a daily relationship with Jesus Christ, they are just hollow and superficial.
How do we kindle that relationship? We start with dedicated times of silence and repentance in our day. We sit or kneel and we reflect on our own sins and the ways we have hurt others or come short of the glory of God. We do this away from our phones or other distractions. We repent daily as an act of dying to ourselves or killing off the old man and his ways. For some it is enough to sit in front of the icons quietly, for most it will include using a prayer book or slowly and intentionally reading psalms. One of the most important things we can do to prepare for an encounter with Jesus Christ, is to prepare ourselves on Saturday evenings for the great and holy events of the coming morning, the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Eucharist (communion). God is waiting and He offers Himself to each of us.
We have encountered Him but have we been changed?