IN THOSE DAYS, Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by His journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone to the city to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Since Jews do not share things in common 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, You have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered Him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying that you have no husband because you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, I see that You are a prophet. Explain to me why our ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you, the Jews, say that the place where people must worship God is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You, Samaritans, worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth, for the Father seeks such 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” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am He, the One Who is speaking to you.”
Just then His disciples came. They were astonished that He was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do You want?” or, “Why are You speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a Man Who told me everything I have ever done! Could He be the Christ?” The people left the city and were on their way to Him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has someone brought Him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me and to complete His work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering 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 labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 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 word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
Christ is risen!
From this long Gospel lesson I would like to focus on the Samaritan woman. “How is it that You, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” What is the meaning of her shock? Why does she react that way to Jesus? There are a few things here. First of all, a single man and woman would not stay alone in a public place like this. It was unseemly in those days. The only reason for them to do it was to court each other, which is clearly not happening here. That's also the reason that Christ's disciples "were astonished that He was speaking with a woman" alone.
Second, people of Israel and people of Samaria did not get along. They hated each other. Samaria used to be a Jewish country, but it was conquered by Assyria a few hundred years prior to Christ's coming. Assyrians, in order to prevent riots and rebellions, used to deport up to 90% of the population of the lands they took over and replaced that population with the deportees from another land. Therefore, Samaritans were mixed with other ethnicities and were no longer "pure" Jews, which in the eyes of Israel made them completely non-Jews and nobodies. But Samaritans preserved their Jewish faith, or at least part of it, as they only accepted the Five Books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and no other books of the Jewish Bible.
So to reiterate, in those days, a man would not speak to a woman, and vice versa, when left alone, and a Jew was very unlikely to talk with a Samaritan, unless it was to hurl some insults at each other. Hence, the Samaritan woman was shocked to hear Christ, Whom she correctly identified as a Jew, address her.
Now, who was this woman from Samaria? Even though it is not indicated in the Gospel account, but we know her name - Photini, which is a Greek name (in Russian - Svetlana), the importance of her name will become evident towards the end of this reflection. As is clear from the text, she became a follower of Christ, and we also know that she was later martyred for her faith.
A few important, but overlooked facts from the text, reveal to us who she is. "It was about noon. [And] a Samaritan woman came to draw water" from the well. Noon is not the time to go to a well outside the town to get water. Noon is the hottest time of the day. Usually, women went to get water in the morning, and they went in a group. The fact that this Samaritan woman came alone and at midday, shows that she was alienated from the other women in the town.
The reason for this was her "bad" reputation, which is revealed in her dialogue with the Lord, Who says, "'Go, call your husband, and come back.' The woman answered Him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying that you have no husband because you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.'" Very often this is interpreted as her leading a sexually immoral life. Which is not the case at all.
In those days, a woman could not marry and divorce. She was taken in marriage and, if there was divorce, it was initiated by the man. Therefore, she was taken in marriage five times, and all five times she was let go. We are not given the reason why, but if it was adultery, then she would've been arrested and/or killed. And the man she was living with now would not even give her a dignity of marrying her. He was basically using her, and, the sad part is, she had no choice. A woman could not live on her own in that time, without a male presence. So, whatever the reason for her being divorced five times, the other women in the town stayed away from her.
In other words, this Samaritan woman had a very hard, dark, and sad life. And I think we can see Christ acknowledging it with His statement about her husbands.
And this encounter with Christ changed her. At first, she was shocked to see Him and hear Him speak with her. But, as their conversation continued, she slowly realized that she was not speaking to a mere man. From a stranger in her eyes, Jesus became a prophet, "I see that You are a prophet," she says, Then from a prophet she slowly recognized in Him the Messiah, "I know that Messiah is coming...I am He...Could He be the Christ?"
We know that she, an outsider not only to the Jews, but even to her own people, recognized Jesus for Who He really is because her testimony convinced the people of the town. Even though she was an outcast, even though she lived through a really dark and hard life, she was still able to recognize Jesus, recognize God. And her name testifies to this. Both in Greek (Photini) and in Russian (Svetlana) her name means "the enlightened one." She was enlightened by Christ, she recognized God because even in life that was cruel and unfair and dark, she kept looking for light.
This reflection is based on an excellent Bible Study podcast, called The Whole Counsel of God, by Fr Stephen De Young.
Yours in the risen Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest