John 4:5-42: So Jesus came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says 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, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock? Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting 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 and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly. The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship. Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such 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” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ? Then they went out of the city and came to Him. In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors. And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
It was the sixth-hour of the day, the hottest part of the day with the sun at its zenith. It was perhaps the worst time of the day to visit Jacob’s well. But water was the life blood of any Samaritan village and the community well had to be visited daily. There would be no avoiding it even though this particular Samaritan woman, whom tradition calls Photini, had little desire to have any kind of chance meetings with fellow Samaritans. Her life, with its multiple marriages and taint of fornication, had made her an outcast among the other good women of this town. In order to avoid the shame and displeasure of being shunned, she came late that day. The resulting meeting with the man who waited at the well, despite the initial social awkwardness of this seemingly chance encounter, would change everything.
Everything about the situation put Photini on guard. Why was this man here? No proper Jewish man would ever be caught hanging out in a place where a Samaritan woman would go, especially one who lived in a public state of sin. What does he want? Was he a fool? Did no rabbi ever tell him not to be in places where scandal might occur or not to eat and drink with non-Jews? Or was he up to no good? Whatever it was, she was not interested and would not waste time making small talk with this man and his vacillation concerning asking her for water and then offering it to her. Mockingly, she brushed him off by pointing out the obvious: “Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? You are not greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock.”
However, Jesus was not put off. His answer was that the water of which He speaks gives unending life. Against all odds, she did not turn away. She took a chance, stayed, and listened. After all, she was unfulfilled in her life as it was; she was clearly a failure in life and in love. She truly wanted water that gave life. Now the ending of the story is rather unlikely; she did perceive that this was the Christ, overcame her status as a social outcast and proclaimed this Christ boldly to her neighbors.
On the Sunday which this gospel is proclaimed, I would speculate that most of the hearers will not be like Photini. As such, it is easy to overlook its important implications. There are two fundamental lessons for the average church-goer.
1. All desire to know God.
Whether we know it or not, this is a fundamental truth with which we are born. We might not call this desire “God” nor have the proper language for the desire; regardless, everyone seeks a fulfillment that only a deity can provide. Our society, friends, wants, and passions might drive us away from it, but it is always there. Furthermore, when we seek to fulfill this desire with ideas that are untrue, we, like the Samaritans of which Jesus spoke, “worship what” we “do not know.” This can lead to error and ignorance resulting in worshipping a false God or a God who is incorrectly understood. Or it can lead to a cycle of destructive sin. When we attempt to fill our desire for God with a desire for food, drugs, sex, entertainment, or anything that is not of God, we are left empty. Only the true God can satisfy the part of us that needs God. Photini had done just this; she had filled her life with six men, five she married and one she had not. The future was not looking good for Photini.
2. Having the right worship is only a starting point for knowledge of God; it does not guarantee anything.
At the time of this Gospel, the Jews worshipped in ways described in scripture. The rituals and sacrifices were done as prescribed. This did not prevent Jesus from chastising them nor prevent the coming destruction of the temple by the Romans in the year 70 AD. They had fallen into the pattern of empty ritual; they were comfortable in their religion. The Jews had God and needed neither to share Him with their lost brethren the Samaritans nor learn from any lessons of the past. Instead they were bigoted and hateful of the Samaritans; they did not need them or value anything they could have offered to the life of Israel.
It is at this point, we who call ourselves Orthodox, that is, “right-worshippers” might well take care to learn from our Jewish forebearers. Like them, we “worship what we know.” Yes, we know the saving message and proclaim, “God has saved us” and “God is with us.” But we are dwindling in both numbers and fervor. Too often we are shut off from the lost sheep. We are untouched by the constant reminder that God calls us to repent, reform, love, and evangelize. We are satisfied with just maintaining our temples, seminaries, dioceses, ministries, and other institutions. Yet how many of us have a friend, a sister, a brother, a parent, or a child who no longer lives an active Christian life or only attends the divine services twice a year (or maybe less or never)?
Now extend your gaze beyond your closest circle of co-religionists. Do you see the “Samaritan” men and women in your midst? They are everywhere. Some are as close as our own children and siblings. They are the victims of a godless culture that tells them they can do whatever they like. They are not evil people, but they are lost. Our response, too often, is to either shun them or pretend nothing is wrong.
Our current model of spreading the Gospel, which only works in a society where everyone at least acknowledges a basic Christian morality, no longer works. It was built on the presupposition that we all have stable families who will baptize us at forty days, teach us the precepts of the faith, and correct us we when go astray.
We can no longer assume we live in a Judeo-Christian society. We who profess the faith must be fully schooled in the faith, and then seek out those who are lost. We can no longer simply dunk our children in the baptismal font and assume all will be well. It is time to return to the earliest Christian model of spreading the faith. It is time to evangelize the kind of people whom our Lord and the early church sought: Photini the Samaritan Women, Matthew and Zacchaeus the tax-collectors, Mary Magdelene, the pagan Centurion, the lepers…. It was not the priests, Pharisees or the Zealots who spread the faith. It was those who knew they needed salvation: the poor, the wretched, the sinner, and the broken. Our history is full of sinners-turned-saints like St. Moses the black, St. Mary of Egypt, St. Phontini, Blessed Augustine, St. Dismas (the “wise thief”) and many more. If we continue to only maintain the external institution of the Church and leave the message to a small handful of professional clergymen, all we will be left with is empty buildings and a world without true knowledge of God.
For those of us who believe in God, who profess Christ’s divinity, who proclaim His life-giving Spirit, who confess one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, and await bodily resurrection, we must reform ourselves constantly. We must prepare ourselves to be uncomfortable, to be ridiculed, and even persecuted. It also means we will have to live worthy lives, that is, as models of virtue. We will need to stop compromising our own values.
If we do not, expect that our churches will be empty, our children lost, and our world worse off. It is time to open our minds and hearts (and our purses) to bold new ministries and new people.
Fr. Silouan Rolando
Holy Trinity Parish, Goshen, IN