Homily on the Samaritan Woman

Lesson on the Samaritan Woman: St. John 4 : 5 – 42

Beautiful story, full of insights into how Christ conducted Himself during His earthly ministry… It is also from the Gospel according to St. John: a short book that is full of beautiful spiritual insights; a book that shares the wonderful words, actions, and teaching of Christ. Today I want to focus on the transforming conversation that led the woman at the well – St. Photini – to sanctification and what it means for us.

Let me take you through their time together:

The conversation began simply enough; very similar to the conversation with the paralytic. The woman puts Christ into a certain box; she sees Him as a man, and as a Jew, so her conversation begins within that context;

  • How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?

He begins pulling her out of this comfort zone with His reply;

  • If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.

She widens her expectations a bit, recognizing that, although He is a Jew, He is willing to converse with her. Her reply is clever, teasing, and if we fit it into what we later learn about her relations with men, a bit flirtatious.

  • Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?

But notice how this very human conversation gives Christ and His Spirit an entrée with this woman so that she can truly begin to walk along The Way. He makes it clear that He is speaking of something special, that He and the thing He offers cannot be fit within her expectations – but (if true) will exceed them;

  • Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”


She then has the faith to ask for the water that Christ offers. Why?

The human touch. Human conversation.  Human friendship.  Human love.

Theology works through our psychology.  It is through human fellowship – the building up of godly rapport – that we develop the capacity to accept the Truth.

In the West, we sometimes focus on the Incarnation as the solution to a logic problem… but entire cosmos revolves around His Incarnation – it is the cornerstone of the whole edifice.

What I mean is that the Incarnation is the natural solution to every dilemma; the fitting end to every need.

I’m making it sound complicated, but it isn’t.  It’s very mundane and rooted in human experience – that’s why it works.

Back to the well. 

It was Christ’s incarnation – His humanity – that allowed the Samaritan woman to approach His divinity. Not through theory or theology, but through His HUMAN conversation; a conversation that began in a mundane manner about normal things (thirst, water, wells, locations), but then became something so much greater.

The God that rules the heavens, the One we called “Yahwey” and “Elohim” in the Old Testament was born as a baby just like us, grew up in a family just like us (it was even a blended family!).  He could have shared Himself through a book, or an idea, or as an angel.  Why become a man?  Because this is the only way it could work.  As St. Gregory the Theologian said over 1500 years ago;

  • “For that which God the Son has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.

St. Athanasius the Great put it this way;

  • “God became man so that men might become gods,”

Again, a lot of ink gets spilt about the logical mechanism and the theology behind the relationship between the Incarnation and the Salvation of the world, but today’s Gospel lesson teaches us something much more important: how God actually heals, teaches, and perfects us… how it is that He draws us into our inheritance as His divine “sons and daughters”.  And it’s something you don’t have to go to seminary to understand.

He does it through His patient presence, not just by sharing information “do this and you will be saved”, but first by sharing something that only another human could:  His presence, His fellowship, and His time.  Look at Photini: He was able to give her the perfect love of His divinity because she accepted the love He offered her as a man through a simple conversation at a well.

Please understand this:  Jesus had the truth, He had the love, He had the power.  He had everything Photini needed to bring her joy here and forever… but He also knew that there is only one way to get people to open up enough to hear the truth, feel the love, open up to the power, and enter into that joy.  He needed her to hear him.  And for that, he had to be a tired and thirsty human willing to spend a few minutes with another human in the mid-day sun.

Thanks to those few minutes Photini changed from being an instrument of sin and fleeting pleasure into a holy saint that shared “Living Water” with others.  She found true joy and is called the “first evangelist” because she helped others find it as well.

Conclusion:  What is the point of all this for us? 

I’m not here to teach you about history, and you’re not hear to learn history.  We’re both here for something much, much, more special.  So while Jesus Christ’s conversation St. Photini is interesting on its own, we need to know what it tells us today, and here it is:

Through His humanity – His body is now called “The Church”, Christ has entered into this conversation with us, and, as with St. Photini at the well, we all drink the “Living Water”.  

Now it is our turn – we must be Christ to those around us. 

We have to enter into loving relations with our family, our friends, and even our enemies.  And if we really do have live in Christ and Him in us, all of the resulting time we spend with them and all of our conversations will open their minds and hearts to receive that “Living Water” themselves.

This is not like some pyramid scheme where relationships are manipulated to get people to buy into something… this gets everything all wrong and so it can only produce bad fruit.  We aren’t salesmen trying to get people to join our parish: we are adopted members of the family of God. 

We enjoy being part of that family – there is nothing better! and so we naturally want others – and especially the people we care for (which should be everyone) to become our brothers and sisters at that family table.  You are Christ to your friends, family, colleagues, and enemies.  Invite them to that table.  Like Christ to Photini, invite them to drink the Living Water.