Several years ago, NASA sent a remote-controlled probe to the planet Mars to search for something of great value – not gold, diamonds, or some unknown extraterrestrial element, but water – plain old water. The reason was simple. Based on all the education and scientific experience of the experts, it was agreed that life, in any form we understand it, could not exist without water. No water, no life.
Our Gospel reading for this fifth Sunday of Pascha brings us this same lesson, yet on a much more exalted plane. Our Lord is journeying somewhere else, and seems to make just an incidental stop in the Samaritan village of Sychar; after all, no self-respecting Jew would intentionally visit a Samaritan village. He sits to rest by the side of the village well, and of all things, a conversation develops with a Samaritan woman who comes to draw water.
This is part of the daily routine for this woman – day after day, she goes to the well, carrying her heavy water jar, to get the water she needs for cooking, washing, watering her animals, in other words, this is her work even before her work can begin. We can sense the tedium of her existence, her feeling of the emptiness and futility of her life. Of course, our Lord can, too. Boldly, he initiates the conversation, asking her for a drink. She is taken aback; the social, almost racial constraints of first-century Palestine were as much a part of life for the Samaritans as they were for the Jews. Yet something within her soul stirs; she doesn’t shun Him, she overcomes her prejudices and is intrigued. He reminds her of something she is all too aware of – no matter how much water she takes today, she will be back tomorrow for more, not satisfied and thirsting again. He offers her a new kind of water, living water: 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.” (John 4:13-14)
Of course, as yet she understands this in purely physical terms. This is an offer too good to refuse. He offers her a chance finally to find some fulfillment, to be relieved of the daily burden and routine. “Sir, give me this water,” she answers.
The living water our Lord was offering, however, was something much greater than just H2O. He was offering the newness of life possible through Divine Grace for those who accept Him and acknowledge Him as the Son of God and Savior. Yet acceptance of this new life requires a radical change on our part. We must be willing to break with our past, our old life, corrupt with sin. We must be willing to be washed clean with this living water.
So our Lord said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” This would have made little sense, were it not for the fact that as God, He knew her situation. The woman is not willing to face her failing; she plays the ‘word games’ so popular even today among those who seek to justify themselves. She answers, “I have no husband.” She had five and was now living with a man – simply put, she was living in sin! This discourse provides a clear condemnation of cohabitation, and should be all the answer needed for those who would suggest the Church needs to be more “in tune with the times” and accept these situations.
Until the Samaritan woman confronts the reality of her sordid secret, she will not find the relief she seeks. Her drudgery is not caused by the daily routine, but by her insistence on living a lie. The holiness, mercy and compassion of our Lord are too compelling for her to reject. Instead of becoming angry with the Lord, she first acknowledges him as a prophet; she then confesses her belief in the eventual coming of the Messiah, and in the end, this Samaritan woman, the unlikeliest of disciples, hears our Lord proclaim, “I AM HE”, a direct answer He would not give even to any scribe, Pharisee, High Priest or Procurator. She returned to the townspeople singing His praises, because by acknowledging her sinfulness and then rejecting it, by acknowledging Him as the Messiah, she entered into that new life. She left her water jar behind, because the physical well water didn’t even matter anymore. She had drunk the living water.
Naturally, our hearts are filled with joy beholding the transformation of this woman, who, known to us now as St. Photini, went on with her sons to be untiring witnesses for the Gospel. Ironically, years later she fearlessly suffered martyrdom for her beloved Lord, ultimately meeting Him in glory by being thrown down a well, just as she had first encountered Him at the well in that small hot, dusty Samaritan village.
Yet we cannot allow this lesson to remain locked in the pages of the Gospel, confined to an event from first-century Palestine. Our Lord continues to come to men and women in the midst of the daily routines, men and women worn out with the cares of life, men and women, like you and me, who realize that something is missing from our lives, who are thirsting for the living water. He invites us all: “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (John 7:37) If we confess our sins and submit ourselves to Him, we too will be blessed through this water to have life in all its abundance, the life for which we were created.
Fr. Michael Kochis