John 4:5-42: The Samaritan Woman
One would expect that if Jesus was trying to convert the world and make everyone be His followers, His disciples, that He would aim to meet with the most influential people around. When he went into a town, you would think He would try to talk to the village chief, the mayor the town, the high priest or someone of some influence and importance.
Yet, the Gospels tell us that Jesus meeting with important people – The Governor Pontius Pilate, King Herod, and the High Priest – did not go so well for Jesus.
It seems Jesus was not much of a top – down thinker, but rather was one to move from the bottom up. Or maybe for Jesus there are no real important people contrasted with unimportant people. For Christ, all people, whatever their age, gender, social rank, skin color, nationality or language are simple people – God’s creatures all of equal value, yet of infinite importance to God.
When Jesus begins talking to the Samaritan woman , according to history her name is Photini, as he sits by the well in the village of Sychar, He is not being distracted from His true mission. Christ is there to unite all humans to God. It’s just as significant to start with one woman, and a sinner at that, as with some man of influence. Christ redeems us personally as we all form a relationship with Him.
Jesus engages in a serious theological discussion with this “sinful” woman. She is a a social outcast. First of course she is a Samaritan, a kind of people whom the Jews despised. But then even within the Samaritan people she is an outcast: Married multiple times, living with a man who is not her husband – coming to the well at Noon instead of in the morning when all the rest of the women of the town were there.
Yet, strangely, and God does work in mysterious ways, by avoiding the crowd, by avoiding the social life, she finds God.
But still, if Jesus wants to convert the world, why is He wasting His time with this social failure and misfit? She’s not exactly His poster child, nor a good PR spokesperson, nor a person who respectable people would trust.
Jesus Himself is quite willing to speak with her, He is not distracted or annoyed. He is on task, fully engaged, fulfilling His mission. Speaking with this woman is not beneath His dignity. He is not amusing Himself, or her. He doesn’t leave this task of talking to this insignificant woman to His disciples. He is fully engaged with her, and wants to give her what He has to offer. No sense whatsoever that talking with this woman is less important to Him than talking to Jews or to His disciples.
He helps her become a disciple. And in fact in the Orthodox Church Photini is given the title, “Equal to the Apostles”. She is a martyr in our church. A saint, an evangelizer.
Photini comes seeking well water to drink, goes away thirsting for living water. She comes looking with her body, her feelings, her physical needs, her eyes. She leaves looking for living water for her soul, seeing Jesus no longer as a Man, Jewish male, but as the Messiah. Her heart, soul, mind have been awakened – given life.
She realizes that when it comes to the spiritual life, we cannot take every discussion at face value. The discussion on water, on living water, is not about H2O but about the Holy Spirit.
“Living water.” Not water having living things in it (like fish), but having life in the water itself, having the power of life, life-giving. It is flowing, moving water from a spring – the source can’t be seen, it is deep and hidden, yet the water is flowing from it. It is an image of God.
It is not pond water, or puddles of rain water. Not even the purest bottled water. But water that is forcefully moving, has vitality to it. It moves and can move things. Like all gushing water it makes sound – it is seen and heard.
Photini comes to know what each of us here has to come to know, a relationship with God is a spiritual relationship which requires me to think in a spiritual way about spiritual things. Even words like heart, mind, eyes, ears, hands have a spiritual meaning, and we have to be able to move beyond the physical to understand the spiritual.
The Gospel lesson about Photini is about you and me and our relationship to Jesus Christ and to God.
And so we see in the Scriptures that God describes Himself as the fountain of living water:
O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be put to shame; those who turn away from You shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for You are my praise. (Jeremiah 17:13-14)
If we want living water, we have to find God in our lives. We cannot buy this living water, it’s not a commodity for sale, for Christ gives it to us freely as a gift. Our task is to know how to receive it.
And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. (Revelation 21:6)
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)
St. Ignatius of Antioch says this: “My love has been crucified and there is no burning love within me for material things; instead there is living water, which also is speaking in me, saying to me from within: “Come to the Father.” I have no pleasure in the food that perishes nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, from the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is imperishable love.”
The living water is tangible, yet completely spiritual! Women and men, everyone is offered this gift by Christ. Receive it! Christ offers this gift to sinners, misfits, failures, people of any race or color, female or male, young or old. He offers this to all people – to each of us, without exception.
As Isaiah the Prophet proclaimed:
You will say in that day:
I will give thanks to you, O LORD,
for though you were angry with me,
your anger turned away,
and you comforted me.
Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the LORD,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.