Monday, May 07, 2007

A Meditation for the Fifth Sunday of Pascha:
The Samaritan Woman

Have you ever felt parched, dry, spent? If you have, then listen closely:

This past week we’ve reached the mid point of the Great Fifty Days of the Paschal season – we’re midway between Pascha and Pentecost. One of the images associated with this week is that of Living Water – Christ Jesus as the Living Water, the Life-giving One who replenishes and refreshes his people. In John 7, Jesus says “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

These days are meant to be days of renewal, refreshment – again and again we sing that Christ has risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and to those in the tombs bestowing life. The barren ground of our lives has been irrigated with the good news of our salvation; we have become partakers of the Fountain of Life. And now, in these days, this is the time for our hearts to flow forth with the Living Water that is Christ.

We see this in the long passage we read this morning from John 4, the longest single conversation Jesus has with any one person throughout the Gospels. He’s in Samaria, foreign territory, and He asks one of these foreigners – the Samaritan woman – for a drink of water. This startles her, because Jews and Samaritans didn’t typically speak to one another, let alone a Jewish man to a Samaritan woman.

And yet, Jesus makes it very clear that there is something more going on than “identity politics” and turf battles between Jews and Samaritans, something bigger than the political history of Jacob and his descendents: Jesus speaks of the promise of Living Water, the gift of Himself, that is offered to all people. He speaks of the Life of God graciously offered to all the world.

The woman is intrigued; she asks for this great gift. The conversation then moves in a very uncomfortable direction. Whenever we move close to the Light that is Christ, the darkness of our lives is laid bare: Jesus exposes the fact that the Samaritan woman has had five husbands, and is now living with a man who is not her husband. She attempts to move the conversation back to the historic divisions between Jews and Samaritans over worship customs – even faith and politics is a safer topic than her adultery.

Notice that Jesus does not berate her. Instead, He moves the conversation to an entirely different level: ancient distinctions are passing away. What matters is what He is bringing into the world – true worship of the Father in heaven, worship in spirit and in truth. Not only is the Messiah, the Christ, coming – he has come, even there, at Jacob’s well.

His disciples return at this point and the Samaritan Woman leaves her water pot and makes her way to the city, saying to anyone who will listen to her: “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did: Could this be the Christ?”

In his sermon on this passage, St John Chrysostom draws attention to the fact that the Samaritan Woman has become spiritually enkindled by our Lord’s words to her. She acts with zeal and wisdom: she moves quickly and acts as a powerful witness to Jesus. She wasn’t commanded to go forth and preach, as the disciples would be. Instead, she was compelled by the event, the encounter. And she doesn’t speak presumptuously, saying “believe this or that…” She simply says, “Come and see what I’ve seen – come and meet the One that I’ve met, who knows me better than I know myself.”

She acts as a witness, freely sharing what has happened to her. And that’s enough to prompt others to investigate for themselves – to come and see what this Jesus is all about. And they come to see and believe for themselves, not because the Samaritan woman had a sophisticated argument, or the perfect sales pitch… She simply provided the witness: “Come and see.”

That is a powerful example that we should ponder this morning. We have been given so much, the treasury of the historic faith, an encounter with Jesus Christ through the mystery of his Church. And if you don’t feel like you can adequately explain that mystery, that’s OK – none of us can. But neither may we keep it a secret. The Samaritan Woman’s example is our task and mission: to bid others to come and see, to pray with us in this place – at Vespers, Typika, Liturgy, whenever. Don’t worry about convincing anyone. God brings conviction. We simply invite and welcome. But invite and welcome we must. For to those whom much is given, much is expected.

And no one demonstrated that any more faithfully than the Samaritan Woman, whom we remember in the great tradition as St. Photina (or in the Slavic languages, St Svetlana) – the name means “the enlightened one.” She and her two sons and five daughters became Christian evangelists, traveling across North Africa to Carthage. They were eventually arrested and taken to Rome, where they died as martyrs. Saint Photina – St Svetlana – is said to have come face to face with Emperor Nero, even inviting him to come and see the wonders of the Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus. Having first encountered her Lord beside Jacob’s well in Samaria, she was imprisoned and eventually martyred by drowning in a well in Rome.

And yet, we know that in Christ she lives. We remember her, we venerate her and her children, to this day. They drank deeply from the living water that is Christ Jesus and out of their hearts flowed rivers of living water out into the world from Samaria to Carthage and even to Rome.

Remember the wonder of their witness, and have the courage to say what they said: “Come and see!”