In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Christ is Risen!
I’ll admit that this morning’s gospel reading is not the most exciting passage in all of Scripture. It doesn’t tell a story of a miraculous healing, it doesn’t describe the calming of a great sea storm or any other dramatic moments that we find elsewhere in the Gospels. Instead, today’s passage is simply about a conversation. A conversation between Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and a Samaritan woman. But, make no mistake, this Gospel passage is certainly no less profound than any other.
It begins at the sixth hour. The hottest time of the day. Our Lord, wearied from his travels, stops at a well to rest. There, he is met by a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water. And Jesus asks her for a drink. What on the surface seems like a simple request is actually very significant. It’s significant, because as the woman herself says: Jesus is a Jew. She is a Samaritan. These two groups of people had no dealings with each other. They weren’t supposed to associate in any way. And certainly, it was improper in Jewish culture for a man to sit and start dis-coursing with a woman in this manner (Samaritan or not).
Even more startling is the fact that Jesus converses with her knowing that she is an adulteress. The Samaritan has had five husbands. And now, she’s with yet another man. (Which, explains why she came to the well when she did: she wanted to avoid other people because she was ashamed, looked down upon). Undoubtedly, she was a source of gossip in her community because of her lifestyle. St. John even says that the disciples themselves “marveled” that Jesus was talking with her at all! How scandalous!
But, Jesus doesn’t let these things stop him. He breaks through the social, and cultural barriers, so that he can engage this poor, lost soul in conversation. And this woman was certainly lost and confused: she had been spending her life seeking fulfillment in earthly things. Yet, no matter how many different partners she had, no matter how hard she tried to fill that void inside herself with earthly things, she still felt empty.
She needed something else. But, she didn’t know what it was… Until she met Jesus. Our Lord opens her eyes when he tells her about “living water.” A water which He alone can give. A water, which will cause:
“the one who partakes of it to never thirst forever; but will become in that person a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This is not like any earthly water. Or any earthly thing. It comes from heaven. Indeed, the Fathers of our Church identify this “Living water” that Christ speaks of, as the Grace of the Holy Spirit itself.
The grace of God is what’s been lacking in the Samaritan’s life. This is why she feels empty…by sinning, she’s been distancing herself from that which she needed the most… that which would give her true fulfillment, and joy: A relationship with God.
So, Christ pushes through all those barriers so that she can have that relationship. What LOVE! What compassion! Jesus gently guides her to the truth about herself (what she must change) about who he is (the Messiah) and about how she will find fulfillment in following him.
And according to Church tradition, she went on to be baptized by the Apostles themselves and became a saint known as “Photini”, meaning, “the enlightened one.” This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is a model of evangelism. This is how we are to approach people outside of these walls.
People out there are thirsty! But they are filling themselves with garbage! With money, drugs, sex, —all which leave them hollow, wanting in the end. What they truly need is “Living Water.” That which the Church can provide.
But we won’t get them here without following Christ’s example. Like him, we will come across a multitude of people in our lifetime. People who are lost, confused, wanting, and sick. Many of whom will be avoided by the majority of people in society. And often this is because people think that being seen with them would tarnish their reputation, or because they are worried that task of helping them would become too big of a burden for them.
Christ did not come to one select group. He came for all mankind including the “least of these” the harlots, tax-collectors and sinners. Our mission cannot be limited either. This is why Evangelism tests our love. It challenges us to see each and every person as an icon of Christ.
Jesus saw within the Samaritan Woman His own image, despite the fact that she was a wretched sinner. He still recognized her as an icon of Himself. And he redeemed that image, which had been obscured by sin. But he was able to do so, only because he was loving, compassionate and sensitive. It was his love, and sensitivity that comforted her and allowed her to open her heart to him.
When evangelizing, there is a risk that in our zeal, we can come across too strong. We can be too aggressive because we want so badly to bring someone to the Church. And we can end up overwhelming the person.
As Fr. Michael Keiser, an Orthodox priest, author, and gifted “mission planter” once wrote:
“Without sensitivity both to the Holy Spirit and to the feelings of others, evangelism turns into a disastrous attempt at imposing our agenda on someone else, rather than helping them towards God.”
Trust and confidence—a RELATIONSHIP—has to be built before we can effectively evangelize. Otherwise, people feel pressured and “put on the spot.” And the flee from us and from the source of “living water.”
Don’t get me wrong—Christ was firm with the Samaritan at certain points their conversation. Such as when he points out to her that the man she was with should not be considered her husband. But he only goes there when she is prepared to talk about it—He gradually, carefully, guides her in this conversation. He let’s HER ask the questions: “sir where do I get that living water?”, “Are you greater than our Father Jacob?” etc. He opens the door, but lets her walk through when she’s ready. He doesn’t push. This is the way of love. For as the Apostle says, love “does not insist on it’s own way.” Neither can we, when we are evangelizing.
We must begin with God’s love…” A love which respects the freedom of the individual. We are called to be his “Sons and Daughters, not His “mindless slaves.” So sensitivity to the person, and being patient and bringing them in on their timeline rather than ours brings a sense of comfort, and trust, that is essential in the process of evangelization.
Second, we must be humble. We are the true Church, but sometimes knowing that can lead to an “air of superiority.” I have in my teens and young adulthood, (and even in seminary), encountered Orthodox who spoke to those outside the church with such disrespect, such judgment and sarcasm about who they are and what their church or religion believed that I wouldn’t be shocked if they never considered walking through the door of an Orthodox Church again.
Yes, we have the truth. On the Sunday of Orthodoxy we proclaim:
“…this is the faith of the Apostles, this is the faith of the Fathers, this is the faith, which has established the universe.”
But this is a humbling proclamation. We, who are a part of this faith, must honor it with our words and deeds. Being part of this faith is a great calling and one we should answer with humility; not pride, not judgment. After all, Christ came not to judge the world, but to SAVE IT. That’s what he’s doing here:
As Fr. Anthony Coniaris says in his commentary on this morning’s Gospel passage that:
“Jesus doesn’t approach the Samaritan Woman brandishing a Bible and talking of repentance. He just asks for a drink of water. He does not act superior to her, but as inferior. She has something which he needs: water.” A simple, interaction which leads to something salvific. Sometimes it’s all in the approach!
No agenda. No pressure. No forcing. No judging. Just meet the person where they are and love them as Christ loves you. If someone comes to us and they see us mocking others on the outside, or even treating other members within the church with disrespect, gossiping about them, talking badly about them—then we’re a poor excuse for an evangelist.
If we are to be true followers of Christ and to fulfill the commission to: “make disciples of all nations” then we should do so in a loving, compassionate, and humble way…as Christ did with the Samaritan woman and so many others.
Don’t over complicate things. Just love. As our Lord himself says: By this they will know that you are my disciples: “that you love one another.” Let us be his true disciples by showing Christ-like love to everyone. Amen.