38 Fifth Sunday of Pascha: The Samaritan Woman - May 25, 2008

Acts 11:19-26, 29-30

John 4:5-42

This morning we are at the fifth of the eight Sundays of Pascha. We celebrated the Midfeast of Pascha last Wednesday. As I have pointed out, the structure of the Paschal lectionary appears to be in a kind of parallelism in which the thesis statement of the parallel structure is given in the middle. That means that the thesis of these eight weeks of Pascha was given to us in the Scripture reading for the Midfeast this last Wednesday. The Gospel for the Midfeast, beginning at St John 7:14, opens with these words: “At the middle of the Feast, Jesus ascended to the temple and taught.”

His teaching is of such authority that it causes the Jews to marvel and they say to each other: “How is this man so learned in the Scriptures when he has not studied?” As soon as they asked the question, the Jews should have remembered the words of the Psalmist: “How I love your Law, O Lord; it is my meditation the whole day long. You make me wiser than my enemies with your commandment. For it is mine forever. I understand more than all my teachers. I understand more than the elders.”[1] These words were spoken by King David, who as King of Israel was son of God. But Jesus was revealed at his Baptism as the Son of God, and therefore the King of Israel. The authority with which he taught, by which he understood more than the elders and the teachers even though he had never studied, should have been the sign to the Jews that they were standing in the presence of the Messiah, the King of Israel.

The New Testament takes us even deeper into the identity of Jesus. On Pascha Night, the first Sunday of this eight week Paschal Feast, we read from the opening words of St John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word.” Jesus is this Word of God who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things came to be and in whom is the Holy Spirit of God, the Life that is the Light of the world. Jesus is therefore greater than King David. David was an ordinary man, adopted by God at his coronation when he was elevated to the throne of Israel. But Jesus is the very Word of God through whom the world was made and by whom the world was given life. He is therefore identified as the Law of God who became flesh and “pitched his tent” in order to dwell among us. For the OT tells us again and again that the Law of God gives life and that those who do the Law of God will live. So also, Jesus tells those who would follow him that if they believe in him and do his commandments they will have eternal life. Because he himself is the Law of God incarnate, Jesus teaches with authority. Because he is the Word of God and the Law of God, he is able to make people whole and to raise the dead. And when he dies in the flesh, he is not to be found among the dead but among the living. Death cannot hold him, for he is the Law of God, the Word of God, the Lifegiver who gives life and light to all those who come into the world. This is the God-man whom the Church worships, and those who worship him in Spirit and in Truth become partakers of his life-giving Spirit and his victory over death in the glory of his holy resurrection.

For the Jew, the authority with which Jesus teaches raises the question: who is he? Does his teaching uphold the Law of God given to Moses or reject it? This question is thrown into sharp relief when he heals the sick and raises the dead on the Sabbath, Saturday, the last day of the week (which for the Jew is sacred as a day of rest because so it was ordained by God). How can he do this if he is not from God? But if he is from God, then what is the meaning of the Law? Is Jesus breaking it or is he fulfilling it? Is he the Son of God, or is he as the Jews charged: Beelzebub, the prince of demons, who performs his miracles to deceive the people and lead them away from God.

This question of Jesus’ identity, raised by the authority of his teaching and by the miracles he performs, and how one is to find the answer to that question, is at least one of the main themes of the Paschal lectionary. For us, the question of how one goes about verifying the witness of the Gospel concerning Jesus’ identity is given as the question: how does one verify that Jesus really did make people whole, and that his holy resurrection really is real, and that it is not a fabrication, nor a mere symbol representing some religious truth of the soul?

I believe this question is answered in this morning’s Gospel of the Samaritan woman in at least two places. The first place is in vs. 6. There it says that Jesus, being weary from his journey, sat on the well of Jacob; and it was the sixth hour.

The sixth hour, noontime, is the hour when Jesus was crucified. If Jesus is the Word of God through whom the world and all things were created, then the world was raised up and united to God in his incarnation. Time was united to the eternity of Heaven. The Friday on which Jesus was crucified, the sixth day of the week, was raised up and united to the mystical Sixth Day of creation, when God made man, male and female, in his own image and likeness. When the believer sees Jesus dying on the Cross, he sees God the Word finishing his work of making man in his image and likeness. For the mindful believer, Friday, then, is no longer an ordinary Friday. It is the day of the week that has been opened by the crucifixion of God the Word onto the Sixth Day of Creation, when our creation in God’s own image and likeness was finished. The sixth hour, noontime, for the mindful believer is no longer an ordinary hour when he eats lunch. It has been sanctified by its union with the incarnate Savior as the hour when God manifested his great love for us, and gave himself to us as the living bread that comes down from heaven, by ascending the Cross in obedience to the will of the Father, who is love.

As far as I can see, this insight that the sixth hour opens onto the concrete demonstration of God’s love for us opens onto at least two teachings coming to us from this morning’s Gospel. First, it teaches us that the Law of God, who is Jesus himself, cannot be understood in earthly terms, in terms of land and progeny, as it is given in the prophets. The Kingdom of God is not a worldly kingdom concerned with land and progeny. Land and progeny, as promised by God in the covenants of the Old Testament, are but icons, prophetic signs if you will, of a much deeper mystery, namely, God granting to us eternal life by destroying the power of death.

The Church warns us repeatedly in the liturgical texts of this week of the Midfeast: “Do not judge by appearances.” Do not judge the meaning of the Law by the Law’s apparent emphasis on land and progeny. These are signs, icons that bear witness to the reality of God that is not of the world. Judge the Law and its promises according to the Spirit who is from God, not from man, and who blows where he wills, not where man wills. The Law is not about land and progeny. It is about coming to life from nothing by the power of God, and the gift of eternal life given by God. The Law is spiritual, not earthly. The Law is not measured by deeds of property and titles to land, nor is its vitality measured by how many children and grandchildren you have. It is measured by the Spirit of God and by Truth, which is to say that it is measured by the love of God, for it is out of love that God created the world. It is out of love that he gave to Israel his Law. And it is out of love that he sent his only-begotten Son into the world to save the world.  

Here we come to the second teaching that the meaning of the sixth hour opens to us. It is at this hour, the hour of his crucifixion, that he comes to the well. If we follow the admonition of the Church not to judge by appearances but by the Spirit, then we would look to Jesus’ identity as the Wellspring of life and we would say that he is drawing the Samaritan woman to himself as a well draws to itself those who are thirsty by the promise of water. And as the wellspring of Life, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman about living water that she could drink to satisfy her thirst, i.e. her longing, completely. It is water that he gives, just as he gives deliverance from Egypt, the manna and the land of Canaan to Israel. She asks for this water; but he does not give it to her. Why? He tells her first to call her husband. Why? Understand, this whole story, taking place at the sixth hour, is taking place in the spiritual reality of the Cross. The woman acknowledges that she has no husband. She has had many lovers, but none of them are her husband. For indeed, her true husband – the true husband of the human heart – is the one speaking to her: Jesus, the Word of God, the Law of God, the Bridegroom who comes at Midnight. And, he will not give his living waters of his Holy Spirit to her or to us unless we truly want to be his bride. In this exchange, something happens between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. She opens up to him and confesses. Then he begins to teach her the mystery of salvation. She believes in him, along with those who came out of the city to see him. That means they loved him. They became members of his bride, the Church, and he was able to open to them the spiritual mysteries of eternal life. That is how the truth of Jesus was verified for these Samaritan people: they loved him.

So how does one love Jesus and become a member of his bride, the Church? This takes us to the second place in this morning’s Gospel where the issue of how one verifies the truth of the NT claims regarding Jesus’ divine identity and the reality of his resurrection is answered. It is in v. 34. Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” To finish his work takes us to his crucifixion, as does the sixth hour, for it is on the cross that he cries out, “It is finished.” The “it” that is finished is the “work” he was sent to do by the one who sent him. It is the work of finishing the creation of man in his image and likeness by uniting himself not only to our life on this earth but also to our death, in order to destroy the power of death and to make us whole and to raise us up to eternal life. Therefore, when he makes people whole and raises them from the dead on the Sabbath he is not breaking the Law. He is fulfilling it as the Lord who, through the Law, his Word, brought creation into being and gave it life.

To prove the NT claims about Jesus and his resurrection, one must love Jesus as the bride loves her husband. To love Jesus is to unite ourselves to him by doing his commandments: loving each other as he has loved us, forgiving each other as he has forgiven us. By following after the mercy and compassion of God our eyes are opened to see and understand Jesus’ authority and his miracles. But much more than that: our inner man is raised up from the dust and set before the gates of Paradise. The pledge of our inheritance in Christ is given to us in the inner joy and peace that descend upon us when we practice the love of God. As we walk in the way of the Lord’s commandments, our life in this world opens more and more onto a vision of heaven. We see and understand that Jesus is the Lord who has revealed himself to us, and that his resurrection is not a mere religious symbol. It is the root and principle of being in which the world has been raised up into the life and light of God himself. Amen. 

[1] Ps 118:97-100 (LXX)