The Samaritan Woman (1994): Women Disciples of the Lord

Sermon notes for THE SAMARITAN WOMAN

May 29, 1994         John 4:5-42

Christ is risen!

Today we have reached the 5th Sunday after Pascha. Our Sunday Gospel lessons continue to look at the reaction of different people to Christ and how they came to believe in him. We have heard the stories of Thomas the Apostle, the Myrrhbearing Women, the paralytic man, and today’s lesson is about the Samaritan woman. Next week the lesson is about a blind man. The gospel lessons tell us about how different people become disciples of Christ.

If you notice the pattern, the lessons are about first a man (Thomas), then women, (The Myrrhbearers), then a man (the paralytic), and then again today a woman.

Today, I want for just a few minutes to make a comment about the role of women in the church. This is a topic which causes much controversy today, and usually focuses on the ordination of women to the priesthood. I do not intend to focus on that part of the controversy, since I cannot add anything new to the debate, and I do not ordain others, so no matter what I or you might think, we cannot resolve it anyway.

There is one interesting note to this. In the history of the Orthodox Church, we find women in almost every role in the church. There are women who are called disciples such as the Myrrhbearing Women referred to as the women disciples of the Lord. There are women in our church who are called equal-to-the apostles such as Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine, and Nina of Georgia.  There are women evangelizers, which include Nina of Georgia, as well as the Myrrhbearers. And we must remember that Christ picked women to be the first to know of the resurrection, so they were the first evangelists to proclaim that Christ is risen. There are in our church’s history women martyrs, confessors, ascetics, women prophets, deacons, teachers, rulers, monastics. And perhaps even more significant, women have been recognized as saints in every one of these roles. Women have occupied almost every position in church life and been recognized as saints in those positions. I said almost every position, for in the history of our church, despite the exalted role of the Virgin Mother, and of the women disciples of the Lord and of all the other women glorified as saints in the church, there are no women who have been gloried as saints as either priest or bishop. In fact, despite a few claims today, there are no indisputable accounts in the history of the church of women serving as priest or bishop. And that is one of the major reasons today that the Orthodox Church does not ordain women today.

Now, as I said, I do not intend to wrestle with issues of ordination because I cannot resolve them. What I do want to comment on is a much simpler fact. When we read the New Testament, and when we look at the lives of saints, we come to understand that what is most important in our salvation is that we become faithful disciples of Christ, like all those people of the Gospel lessons. However it is that we come to know Christ, the truth is we all are being called to be his disciples, each of us whether male or female are asked to believe that Jesus is God’s Messiah. Our salvation, eternal life, is linked to our relationship to Jesus who is the Son of God. Our own ability to become one of God’s saints is linked to our personal willingness to be Christ’s disciple, to do as Jesus teaches us, to love and to forgive. We do not become saints by becoming ordained. No one is saved by being a priest. All of us are saved by our relationship to Jesus Christ, by becoming his disciples, by being part of the body of Christ. It is in this context that I believe St. Paul said that in Christ there is neither male nor female, neither Greek nor Jew. In Christ all of these distinctions are unimportant, because all of us are asked simply to love God and love neighbor, to love as Jesus loved us. And that aspect of being a disciple is equally accessible to all of us.

We see vividly in the Gospel lesson of the Samaritan Woman, the tensions between men and women. The woman is surprised that Jesus speaks to her publicly, because this was not considered proper behavior. Besides of course the fact that Jews would not normally accept food or drink from Samaritans. Yet Jesus speaks to her most respectfully and about the most theological things, even though her reputation is quite sordid having had 5 husbands. Jesus accepts her as an evangelist for himself, he allows her to be both disciple and preacher.

Again the male-female tensions are apparent when the disciples see Jesus speaking with this women, because this was not customarily accepted behavior. But Jesus taught those disciples to open their eyes to see the fields ripe for harvesting. He was asking them to see even their relationships with Samaritans and women in a new way. For all who are called by Christ are called to be his disciples, to be co-workers with one another on the road to the kingdom of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did not leave for us an exact picture of how the Church was to be structured. He left us with teachings on how to be his disciples, to be co-workers with one another in building up this Church. He taught us to what degree we are to love one another, to what extent we are to forgive one another, how we are to love God. He revealed to us what God is like, so that each of us in our turn might become god-like.

We will accomplish this task only to the extent that we help each other, and pray for each other. Amen.

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