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.’ It is not uncommon to hear people either making ‘pious excuses’, that they are too sinful to approach the Lord and His healing Sacraments, fearing that Christ will turn them away; or for people to shrink away from Confession and Communion in an attempt to hide or ignore their sins.
For those of us that would try to ‘sweep our sins under the rug’ – who do we think we’re kidding? We are certainly not fooling God. God is already painfully aware of our sins and He wants nothing more than to heal us and draw us back into a living and loving relationship with Him. He is not poised to condemn us, He is longing to heal us! And as for our ‘pious excuses’… shrinking away from God because we are too sinful – this is like saying ‘I am too sick to go to the doctor!’
Throughout the Gospel, we should recall who received the harshest words from Christ – it was not the sinners, but the self-righteous. These insecurities and fears are effective means for the evil one to overwhelm us and paralyze us from drawing near to the outstretched arms of our Heavenly Father. As long as we approach with love and with a contrite and humble heart, God will not despise us. As long as we are approaching God, approaching the Church and Her sacraments, with this thirst and this sincerity to repent and improve, God will not turn us away. This is and should be a source of great hope and encouragement of each of us!
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 sneaking 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 to not just shun her, but to listen, to believe, and to come and see for themselves. The Gospel tells us, ‘And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did. So when the Samaritans were come unto him, they besought him that he would tarry with them: and he abode there two days. And many more believed because of his own word; And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.
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 joy 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.