Sunday of the Samaritan Woman
(John 4:5- 42)
In the Gospel appointed for today, we hear of our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. Our Lord and His disciples had been journeying from Judea, headed toward Galilee, and came to rest and get some refreshment in the heat of the midday. While the disciples went into the town to buy some food, Jesus rested next to the village well. A Samaritan woman approached to draw water from the well and our Lord entered into conversation with her. This conversation, recorded for us by the beloved Evangelist John, is rich with meaning and divine revelation. Let us reflect on a few points from today’s Gospel account…
Our Lord rested at the well during the oppressive heat of the midday sun. Why was this woman coming to draw water at this unlikely time? Many Gospel commentators have surmised that she approached at this hour in order to avoid the other townspeople. She was conscious that she was not living a virtuous life (having had five husbands and even now living with a man that was not her husband) and she avoided the scornful looks and words of others whenever possible. Not only was this woman something of an outcast within her village, but as a Samaritan, she was shocked that a Jew would deign to speak to her – ‘for Jews had no dealings with Samaritans’.
We see from this account, and from many others, that Jesus Christ does not turn anyone away. He ‘came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’
Throughout the Gospel, we should recall who received the harshest words from Christ – it was not the sinners, but the self-righteous. Our Christian faith must never manifest itself in arrogance and self-righteousness, judging others from an imagined pedestal of favor with God. Our Christian faith must manifest itself in humility, in gratitude for the infinite patience and mercy and love of God.
As long as we approach our Lord with love, with a contrite and humble heart, and with a sincere desire to turn away from our sins, God will have mercy on us. As long as we are approaching God with this thirst and this sincerity to repent and improve, God will not turn us away. He awaits our return and He welcomes us, He has mercy on us, and, forgiving and healing us, He exhorts us to ‘go and sin no more’.
And so it was with the Samaritan woman at the well - having approached the Lord and entering into conversation with Him, what did she encounter and receive? Our Lord spoke to her of the living water that shall be like a well of water within us, forever able to quench our thirst and springing up into everlasting life. He revealed to her His knowledge of her sins and troubled life and yet He did not send her away. He elevated her vision and understanding of the omnipresence of God, Who is everywhere present and fillest all things and that we must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And, when she said that she knew that the Messiah was coming, Christ revealed to her saying, ‘I that speak unto thee am He’.
Something happened within the heart and soul of this woman. When we first meet her, she is going to the well in the heat of the midday sun in order to avoid the townspeople. But now, she has encountered the Lord and has communicated with Him, receiving the words of life. Now she leaves behind her water jug and runs off to gather up the townspeople to tell them the good news of the arrival of the promised Messiah. What a remarkable transformation has occurred! And indeed, there was something new about her that was able to persuade the townspeople not only to not shun her, but to listen, to believe, and to come and see for themselves.
Our Lord revealed to her that we must worship in spirit and in truth. We must seek and hunger for truth… desiring to know God as He is, not as we might wish Him to be.
We must pray in spirit and in truth… Our prayers must come from the depth of our spirit. Too often we may find ourselves only praying with our tongue… reading the words of our prayers without attention. When this happens, we must recognize it and re-engage our mind to understand what we are praying. But even so, we may then only be praying with the mind… God calls us toward something deeper. We must engage our heart and soul in prayer. Perhaps our heart is captured in prayer… this is good, but even so, God calls us even deeper. Our prayer should not just be an emotional response to God. The deeper part of our spirit is called to communion with God.
When we pray in a way which touches the spirit, we move beyond mere recitation of words, we move beyond our emotional reactions… when the spirit is engaged we become aware of our conscience, we become aware and concerned of those things which create obstacles between us and the love and grace of God. When the spirit is engaged our attention is wholly directed upon the Person of God… we stand in awe and trembling, in love and admiration and gratitude to our Father in Heaven, and we are stirred by the longing for God, with a sense of ‘homesickness for Heaven’. Worship in spirit and in truth draws our attention away from our self and toward God. When we pray in spirit and in truth, we lay ourselves open and vulnerable before the majesty and the mercy of God… coming to Him with complete transparency and sincerity… worshipping ‘in truth’.
The Samaritan woman received these revelations from Christ into her heart. From the lives of saints we learn that the Samaritan woman was baptized at Pentecost along with her five sisters and two sons. She took the name Photini upon baptism and became a bold and prolific preacher – many proclaiming her ‘equal to the Apostles’. She traveled to Africa and then, along with her sisters and other believers, went to Rome where she met face to face with the persecutor of Christians, the Emperor Nero. She fearlessly defended and proclaimed Christ even to the Emperor and for this she and her companions were imprisoned and tortured. For three years they endured various forms of torture – beatings, burnings, poison – all proved to have no effect on them as they were preserved by the grace of God. Finally the Emperor had her companions beheaded, leaving Photini alone and throwing her into the depths of a well. Even here she endured and was thus granted to meet Christ again at a well – giving over her soul to the Lord.
In St Photini we see the courage and the hope of the Christian life. The Lord reaches out to the lost and the fallen sinner, He reveals to us the great and wonderful things of God, He offers to us the refreshment and transforming power of the Living Water of the Spirit, and from this encounter we are transfigured, becoming a new being, a child of God. May we, like St Photini, become truly transformed – leaving behind our old fears and our sinful ways and stepping forward with joy and confidence to live our lives as faithful disciples of Christ, worshiping Him in spirit and in truth.