St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

On the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman

by Fr. Antony Hughes

Sermon Preached by Father Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 9, 2004

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.

Christ is Risen!

Each encounter with Christ in the New Testament is unique. Each encounter is open and free. Nothing with God in His dealings with humanity is formulaic or pre-planned. Never is anything forced. Some come away from meeting the Lord happy and some go away sad. Some receive blessings beyond anything they had hoped for, others receive blessings they do not recognize as such. The rich young ruler who could not give away his wealth to follow Jesus also received a blessing from God in the form of a lesson, a bit of wisdom he could not yet fully understand, but which I am sure stayed with him all his life. Who knows what later became of that young man? The money-changers in the temple were surely not happy that day Jesus overturned their tables, but even God’s chastisement is a blessing, for God only chastens those He loves.

But there are some encounters recorded by the Gospel writers that astound us, that move beyond personal encounter to universal revelation. The meeting at Jacob’s well with the Samaritan Woman is one such moment: deeply personal on the one hand, but also way beyond personal. As the Lord did with the Syro-Phoenician Woman – you remember, the one who said, “Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table” – He does with this Samaritan: he reveals through the dialogue he has with her a deep and surprising faith; a faith that can move mountains, a faith that opens the door to mysteries few others could even begin to comprehend!

One: Christ reveals to this sinful, Samaritan woman that God is not respecter of ethnic, social or gender sensibilities for He is the lover of all. “In God,” writes the Great Paul, “there is neither Jew nor Greek nor male nor female.”

Two: Christ reveals to this woman that He alone is able to judge a human being and his judgment is compassionate and merciful. You see the meaning of “justice” in Holy Scripture is quite different from our “earthly” understanding of “justice”. It has nothing to do with courts, judges, laws, statutes, lawyers and retribution. As Dr. Kalomiris points out (The River of Fire) the Greek word (diakosuni) means “the Divine energy which accomplishes salvation” and is a translation of the Hebrew word tsedaka. It is also nearly synonymous with two other Hebrew words, hesed (mercy, compassion, love) and emeth (fidelity, truth). This is an entirely different understanding than the one that has found such a prominent place in Western theology.

The Samaritan woman told the truth when the Lord asked her to bring to him her husband. Her honesty was an invitation for God to work miracles. She puts down her guard willingly. She demonstrates that she is not afraid. She proves to him that she is willing to be open, so the Lord opens himself up to her! Sometimes, perhaps even all the time, a little honesty is all it takes! But look again! Something even more surprising happens here! He opens himself to her even before she answers the question! He had already looked into her heart. He had already seen her faith. The door was already opened! Her guard was already down! Somehow she had already accepted the invitation that is given to all humanity..

Three: the Lord starts teaching her theology! A woman! A Samaritan, a heretic! A great sinner! An adulteress! In modern terminology, an addict of sensual lust! In her day only men were allowed to read and explore the Torah. Yet to this sinful, Samaritan woman Christ teaches theology! “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” she asks. The Lord replies, “The water that I will give you is living water. If you drink of it you will never thirst. If you drink of it, it will become in you a well of water springing up to eternal life!” Christ had spoken like to this to only one or two before this. Think of Nicodemus who came to him late at night. But even then did the Lord ever speak so explicitly about such things?

What we see in this encounter at Jacob’s Well, before our very eyes, is what happens when the fear that separates a human being from God is cast aside. The mystery of deification is beginning to take root and grow in soil that looked barren to everyone but to God was most fertile. St. Gregory of Nyssa says it like this, “When perfect love has driven out fear, or fear has been transformed into love, then everything….will become a unity growing together through the one and only Fullness, and everyone will be, in one another, a unity in the…Holy Spirit as the bond of peace.”

Dear ones, we must look deeply into ourselves not only as individuals and a parish community, but also as a nation. Have we lost our minds? Have we accepted the Orwellian slogans “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength”? Are the doors to our hearts fast closed to truth? Has not our arrogance blinded us? Are we cowering in the Upper Room with the disciples because we are overcome with fears of many kinds, or are we preparing to take the dangerous trip to the Empty Tomb with the Ointment-Bearing Women? Have we heard his voice like the rich, young ruler and turned away sad because everything else in life is more important to us than the Lord? Or are we like the Samaritan Woman who knows that there is nothing to fear in Him and who hungers so much for the living water that the Lord cannot possibly deny it to her?

What are we waiting for?