Homily 412 – 5th Sunday of Pascha (Samaritan Woman)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
May 10, 2020
Epistle: (28) – Acts 11:19-26, 29-30
Gospel: (12) – John 4:5-42
Christ is Risen!
In both the Epistle and Gospel readings we see the expansion of the Kingdom of God, the people of God, to include everyone, not just the Jews. One of the more puzzling aspects of Christ’s encounter with the Samaritan woman, Photini or Svetlana, is why Photini got so excited about Christ.
If we think about it, we all have parts of our lives that we try to keep only to ourselves – and in some cases, we even try to lie to ourselves, or ignore the issue. In the case of Photini, the fact that she had five husbands, and the man she currently lived with was not her husband – that was likely not a fact to be proud of.
To be fair, we don’t know the circumstances of Photini’s previous husbands. Did they divorce, which is perhaps the most common thought? Did they die? Did they abandon her, or did she abandon them? We don’t really know.
Besides, being a Samaritan, she was not part of Israel – she was not a Jew. Although, the Samaritans considered themselves to be part of the Kingdom of God, even if they didn’t follow the Torah in the same way or worship at Jerusalem.
In fact, the Samaritans saw themselves as “pure” and “right” Judaism. They saw the Judaism of their day as having been corrupted by the Babylonian Exile. They were the “true remnant” as it were – the remainder of the Northern Tribes of Israel.
The more traditional Jewish world didn’t see it that way. Obviously that Judean Rabbinic Judaism was the purest and right – all others were “Gentile”.
Christ directly goes against the grain on that front. He goes into Samaria and engages a Samaritan woman in conversation. So, our Lord discards the conventional wisdom of his day, because he knows the Truth – that is, God desires reconciliation with everyone. Regardless of how they see themselves, and regardless of how they see others.
Abandoning the view of self, and the view of others is one of the more challenging aspects of human nature. We are still, in our fallen state, basically tribal.
One of the most severe punishments that humans have inflicted on one another is that of exile. Forcing someone to leave their community, their tribe, and live isolated from others. Perhaps that is why our current situation is so stressful.
Jesus, in meeting Photini, tears down that barrier between tribes – without abandoning his own basic membership in a particular tribe. He was still Jewish.
And his message regarding the disagreements between tribes is explosive.
Both tribes are misguided. Both tribes are wrong. The place where one worships God is not a physical geographic coordinate. It is in our hearts. The living water flows not from a well, but from within our very being.
Like Photini, we ask “How can I receive this water?” It comes through the abandonment of all our preconceived ideas and introducing a new way of thinking. It comes through self-denial.
That is so difficult for us to hear, much less implement in our lives. If we can’t trust ourselves, then who can we trust?
We trust Christ. Just as Photini does. We trust him because he is the creator of all that exists, and knows how it was designed to work.
Christ communicates trust in a somewhat odd way, though. We’re back to the comment on Photini’s husbands. He revealed the truth about Photini. But, importantly, he did so without rejecting or abandoning her.
Something in the conversation offered Photini hope – a hope that most likely she didn’t understand at that moment. She just knew, confronted with the truth of her life, she was still loved and still accepted.
Perhaps it was just Christ’s presence. Perhaps it was his willingness to reach out beyond the “uncleanness” of Photini and engage anyway. We, who are the Church, still struggle with how to deal with the “unclean” of the world.
What Christ offers Photini, and what Christ offers all of us, is unconditional love. Unconditional acceptance. Forgiveness.
When we experience – truly experience – unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness, everything else fades away. Our shame, our ego – our passions.
Love of the one who forgives us becomes all-consuming for us. No longer do our rights and desires matter, no longer do our beliefs matter.
We trust him for everything. In everything. Even the things we don’t understand.
We trust like a child trusts a loving parent – we don’t always understand the whys, but we follow and accept because our Father loves us. Unconditionally.
So, we can experience and trust what the worship, and discipline, and understanding of the Church offers because the collective Church is the body of Christ.
In the Church, we find modeled for us, in a physical revelation, the worship in heaven. Which is the worship in our heart.
Some say, particularly during this time, that we are proving that Church isn’t necessary – that we can worship God in our hearts, wherever we are physically geographically located. And that is true.
Except we don’t yet know how to worship. We need the structure of the Church to teach us – rather, to form us – into what we were created to be. A Eucharistic being, worshiping our Creator – the one who loves us. Through the Eucharist, we see that we offer ourselves to God, and God returns to us His very presence.
For God so loved the world – the cosmos – us – that he offered his only-begotten Son, that whosoever relies on Him, whosoever loves Him, is not condemned but has eternal life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Christ is risen!