Sermon given on the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman
26th May 2019
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, one God, Amen.
Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’1
The name of God is powerful. When God revealed himself to Moses in the Burning Bush in the third chapter of the Book of Exodus, Moses wants to know the name of God who had sent him. In order to set Israel free from the slavery of Egypt, Moses wants to know God because in knowing a person’s name we know something of them. This is a natural thing, when we meet someone for the first time we ask very early on, “What is your name?” And in knowing that name we feel like we have come to know the person.
Do we, my brothers and sisters in Christ, honour God’s name, honour each other’s name, honour our own name? Do we remember the name of the Lord?
God reveals his name to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” – “ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν” in the Greek Scripture – and this “I AM” is the name of God. Often in English translations of the Bible “I am he” is written but the “he” is added. This is why, when the soldiers come to arrest Christ in Gethsemane we have a strange occurrence,
Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” They answered Him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am He.” And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.2
They fell to the ground because Christ had spoken the divine name, “I AM.” The name of God was so sacred, so holy, that the Jews would only say it once a year, spoken in the Holy of Holies in a whisper by the High Priest. When Christ says “I am” he is identifying himself as God: “Before Abraham was, I am.”3 We, the Israel of grace, continue this: we keep the name of God holy and honour it, often instead of his name we will say “the Lord,” as did the Jews, so that we preserve the sanctity of the name.
Christ, in today’s Gospel reading, spoke to a Samaritan Woman. Samaritans are heretics, everyone knew that. Samaritans were not to be trusted: they had the Law – the first five books of the Bible – but not the Prophets, they were outside the Church, outside Israel, outside grace. Listen, my brothers and sisters in Christ, to the Lord’s greetings. He did not start his dealings by stating, “You are wrong, you are a heretic, you do not honour the prophets.” Yet that, so commonly, is how we speak to those outside the Church. Even worse, we perhaps ignore their spiritual needs and say nothing for fear of causing offence. Rather, the Lord does not ignore her but – slowly, step-by-step – leads her to himself. “Give Me a drink,” he starts slowly to bring her to truth. “How is it that Thou, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” This is a reasonable response. The Lord sees the opportunity for further discussion in spiritual matters and takes it. “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” “Living water” has a double meaning, it could mean water from a river, a moving body of water, but also means the spiritual life-giving water. The woman, Church tradition identifies her as St Photini, misunderstands – a common theme in St John’s Gospel.
“Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?” asks the saint. The answer we could expect from the Lord is “Yes, I am greater,” but in his love for her does not want to shut down the conversation, rather he wants to save her soul. Do we speak, dear brothers and sisters, with the same humility? Do we draw out from our children, our neighbours, our families, our friends their Faith or do we show-off our own? Do we make room for the other person to grow and do we then rejoice in it?
The Lord answers, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The Lord is allowing growth in St Photini and using the present context shows her how to become more truly human. “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” She is starting to come to the Lord, but still does not fully understand. The Lord does not want to bring her to a half-truth so carries on in drawing out from the well of her soul the full truth. “Go, call your husband, and come here.” She replies, “I have no husband.” “You are right,” answers Christ, “in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” Note how he did not start with this statement, he did not greet her at the beginning of the conversation with “you have had five husbands,” he was not trying to show power over her – but now the time is right for a deepening of the relationship, a greater revelation of truth is possible. He had sown the seed so that she is able to respond, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and Thou sayest that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
The Lord, in his love for her and for us, has drawn out from her a great declaration of Faith. “Woman,” says the Lord,
believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
The Lord, for the first time in the Gospel, has revealed to us the Trinity: “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,” that is, will worship the Father in the Holy Spirit and in the Son who is Truth. This conversation, outwardly about water, has turned into a revelation of God – not to a Jew but a Samaritan, not to someone in the Church but to a heretic. “I know that Messiah is coming [He Who is called Christ]; when He comes, He will tell us all things.”
“I Who speak to you am He.” This translation loses something of the meaning. Remember what was said to Moses from the Burning Bush, “I AM WHO I AM” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν), now Christ says “I AM, who is speaking to you” (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ λαλῶν σοι). Christ, for the first time in John’s Gospel, identifies himself with the one who spoke out of the Burning Bush, as being himself the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
And she was not scandalised, she did not take up stones to throw at him as did the Jews4 nor fall to the ground. She was a marginalised woman, unable to collect water in the cool of the morning but had to go in the heat of the sixth hour, around midday, for fear of causing scandal among her own people – even the man with whom she now lived was afraid to marry her. This marginalised, demeaned, vilified woman was the first to hear Christ use his divine name. Because the Lord looked into her soul and saw a person capable of glorifying God he met her where she was and drew out from the well of her soul the truth of who he is.
Go out today, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and live this Gospel. See in each person the possibility of hearing the Word of God and keeping it. Be like St Photini: listen and do not dismiss, allow any occasion to be an opportunity of deepening faith in Christ – even getting water to drink. Listen for the name of God, the name which has been revealed to us eternally through Christ as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the divine I AM.
Because St Photini had an open heart, through her many of the city believed, “Come, see a man Who told me all that I ever did,” she cried out around Sychar. “Can this be the Christ?” Are we this excited about our faith? Do we speak like this even to those to whom we are close? Are we changed by our encounter with Christ so that our actions speak more loudly even than anything we say? The world in which we live seeks authenticity and truth – not a clever argument nor empty rituals – and the Orthodox Church offers the only truly authentic experience, the only truly authentic way to be human. It is our responsibility to live up to this calling, to ourselves be truly authentic so that the society around us can see our transformed and transfigured lives and itself be transformed and transfigured. It is our responsibility to proclaim the only truth which matters, the only truth which can lead us to life: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.
To the risen Christ be glory, together with the Father who is without beginning and the All-Holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit, Amen.
1 Exod. 3:13–15.
2 John 18:4-6.
3 John 8:58.
4 See John 8:59.
In those days, the Disciples, who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen, travelled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the Word to none except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who, upon coming to Antioch, spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people; and in Antioch the Disciples were for the first time called Christians. Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius. And the Disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
At that time, Jesus came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as He was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His Disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that Thou, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans. Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Art Thou greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst forever; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and Thou sayest that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming [He Who is called Christ]; when He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I Who speak to you am He.” Just then His Disciples came. They marvelled that He was talking with a woman, but none said, “What dost Thou wish?” or, “Why art Thou talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city, and said to the people, “Come, see a man Who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to Him. Meanwhile the Disciples besought Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the Disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him food?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me, and to accomplish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest. He who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour; others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, “He said to me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His words. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”