SERMON ON THE SUNDAY OF THE SAMARITAN WOMAN 2019
Christ is Risen!
We are still basking in the afterglow of Pascha, aren’t we? It’s such a joyful time of year, a time filled with light and hope. The earth itself is alive, bursting with new life, green, leafy trees, colorful flowers, and even new baby animals. Right? Across the street in the field the baby bunnies are venturing out and exploring. And four young baby possums that my mother recently discovered in her shed, are being exported along with their mother to new, safer, location in the country. Yes, Bright Week in truth becomes Bright Month and beyond. If winter represents the death of the world, spring is the resurrection of the world. If winter represents hibernation and cessation, then spring represents reawakening, quickening, and healing. Now maybe you didn’t notice this, but three of the five Sundays following Pascha have been (or will be) focused around healing; water and healing. Last week we had the Paralytic by the pool and his physical healing. Today we have Jacob’s well, the Samaritan woman, and her spiritual healing. Next week we’ll have the blind man, who receives new eyes from clay fashioned by his creator, and who is told to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” All of these Sundays point to the new creation in Christ. As St Paul reminds us: “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come into being!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). These Sundays were appointed by the Church to explain to the newly-baptized Christians what they had just experienced. They were now forgiven, washed, and healed!
This “new creation” this new beginning was also being revealed at Jacob’s Well 2,000 years ago. Nothing happens by accident, and the future St. Photini did not arrive at the well when she did by accident. Let’s take a moment to think about this scene and about this well. By the way, Matushka and I were blessed to visit this holy place by your prayers and generosity during our pilgrimage to the Holy Land last year. The well can only be reached by going to Samaria, to the monastery church of St. Photini, and descending via a narrow stone stairway to what was then ground level. The well itself is a stone structure, cube shaped, about 1.4 meters square. The round hole in the center is the access to the water. There is a bucket there, and a tin cup. Pilgrims lower the bucket, bring up the water, make the sign of the cross, dip their cup into the water and drink. The water is cold and sweet, and full of grace. Today this holy site is protected by monks of the Jerusalem Patriarchate. In other words, like most of the holy places, it is under the administration of the Orthodox Church. But now, let’s go back and look at the situation at Jacob’s well at the time Christ came to visit.
You will probably recall from the Scriptures, a time when the Lord said to His disciples, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter into any city of the Samaritans” (Matthew 10:5). Why did he say that? Because when He sent them out to preach, He only wanted them to preach to the Jews, the Chosen People of God. But now look at what He does! He enters directly into Samaria, and into a Samaritan town! This goes to show that while initially the saving words of the Gospel were meant for the Jews alone, later they would be shared with the Gentiles. Jacob’s well was a Jewish holy site, but no Jew would go there because it was occupied by Gentiles. Going there would defile them, making them ritually unclean. But Jesus went there. Why? Because He had promised to do so through the prophet Hosea: “I will love her that was not loved, and will say to those who were not my people, You are my people; and they shall say, You are the Lord my God.” (Hosea 2:23 LXX). Here the Lord speaks of the Gentiles as if they were a woman, as a bride whom He loves and calls His own. It is not accidental that the Lord encounters a woman at the well, is it? No, not at all. Let’s see what happens when the encounter takes place.
“Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat on the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’”
Before Jesus would open her heart and open her mind to receive the great gifts which He had in store for her, the Samaritan woman was first asked to give something to Him. He would later give her rivers of living water, which is the Gift of the Holy Spirit and eternal life, but first she must offer Him a tiny drink. And what is this drink? St Augustine says: “He who was asking for a drink was thirsting for the faith of the woman herself.”
In the Psalm 115:3 in the Orthodox Psalter, the holy King and Prophet David asks: “What shall I render unto the Lord for all that He hath rendered unto me?” In other words, what can I possibly give to the Lord, what can I possibly offer to God as a fitting token of my gratitude for all of the overwhelming blessings which He has showered upon me? What tiny sip, what sign of faith can I show? David, in this very same Psalm, gives us the answer, the four things that we should imitate to the best of our ability. 1.) “I will take the cup of salvation.” For us this means that we should frequently receive the Holy Mysteries, preparing ourselves with Confession, the recitation of the pre-Communion rule of prayer, and fasting. This is what the Prayer Book means by approaching Holy Communion “worthily.” 2.) “I will call upon the Name of the Lord.” Prayer is our spiritual breath. Without prayer we have no spiritual life. We need to pray often, everyday, both the formal and the informal prayers, the Prayer Book and the Prayer Rope. 3.) “I will pay my vows” means I will make a regular offering of myself, in the form of my time, my talents, and my treasure, in other words, my money, to the Church. “My vows” means the same thing as “my pledge” or “my financial obligation.” And 4.) “in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the House of the Lord.” Being present in church, joining together in prayer with the people of God, this is probably the most fundamental sign of our appreciation for and love of God. Remember, we are saved together, but we fall alone. Going to church is our tithe of time for God. Praying at home cannot replace praying in the temple. Why? St. Macarius of Optina says: “Concerning prayer in church, know that it is higher than prayers at home, for it is raised by a whole group of people, among which many are most pure prayers, offered to God from humble hearts, which He accepts as fragrant incense. Along with these, our prayers are also accepted, even though they are feeble and worthless.”
So, brethren, let us offer our sip of faith to Christ. Let us come frequently to the church, let us participate in the Holy Mysteries of Confession and Communion as often as we can, preparing ourselves to the best of our ability. Let us pray more fervently at home, at work, and throughout our day, and finally, let us offer with gladness our tithes and offerings to the Lord. On these four pillars, an entire spiritual house can begin to be built. May God, through the prayers of the holy Photini (Svetlana) grant us the heart, the desire, and the strength to do it. Amen.