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Third Sunday in Lent


Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-11 ; John 4:5-42; Psalm 95 “This is truly the Saviour of the world.” It may come as a surprise to learn that there are still Samaritans in the world today. According to Wikipedia, that font of all human knowledge and wisdom, there are about a thousand of them, still living where they have always lived, in what is now the area called the West Bank, wedged between Israel proper and the country of Jordan. Despite extensive research, no one really knows their precise origins. And as at the time of Jesus, the Samaritans today still practice a religion similar to Judaism but with unique and important differences. Our account this morning of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, taken from the Gospel of John, reflects this reality. By the way, this is Jesus’ only ever recorded foray into Samaritan territory, a dangerous and hostile place for a Jew, and a rabbi at that, a dangerous place to be stopping for a drink of water and a rest. Our Lord could have avoided the place altogether and taken the longer, and safer, way around back to Galilee, but his visit represents in a sense the spread of the Gospel message he came to proclaim beyond the people of Israel, to a people rejected by others and on the fringe, to a people different from himself and his disciples. Interestingly, this passage, set in a faraway and alien place, also relates Jesus’ longest sustained conversation with anyone in any of the four Gospels, which is surely significant in itself. After all, left to our own devices, we might well have thought Jesus’ longest recorded conversation should have been more appropriately held with his disciples. They were his confidants after all, the ones who believed in him. Or perhaps with an erudite scholar of ancient Israel, a Nicodemus perhaps, whose visit to Jesus was recounted to us in last Sunday’s Gospel narrative just a few short verses before today’s story. But surely, we would think, his longest dialogue should not be with an unnamed, divorced, and presumably unclean by Hebrew standards, Samaritan woman specifically at a well, of all places, the symbol in ancient Israel of fertility and courtship. Unlike Jesus’ nighttime seminar with the noncommittal and somewhat skeptical Nicodemus, his meeting with this brash and self-assured Samaritan Woman takes place at high noon, the brightest time of the day, reflecting both the light and truth of the Gospel message as well as her heart and mind open to understanding, open to the coming of the Messiah. She may be a simple person who has clearly made her share of mistakes, five of them to be exact, but she is not stupid. She knows a prophet when she sees one. And, what do Jesus and the Samaritan Woman talk about at the well...? Well, not surprisingly, to begin with at least, water. People, it seems, always talk most about what is in shortest supply in their lives. And they are at Jacob’s Well, after all, an ancient and isolated holy site known for its dependable and potable waters, the place ages before where Jacob first met Rachel, his wife-to- be, as recounted to us in the Book of Genesis. Indeed, to this point in John’s Gospel, and we are

only at the beginning of Chapter Four, the word water has itself already come up some nineteen or twenty times, from the story of John the Baptist to the Miracle at Cana to Nicodemus’ Nighttime Visit. Water is important. And so, “Give me a drink,” says Jesus abruptly at the beginning of the scene without so much as a how-do-you-do or if-you-please. The Woman in turn rightly chides him for speaking to her at all, and for all the obvious reasons. Jesus then offers her “living water.” Missing his spiritual meaning, she for all intents and purposes laughs at Jesus for having no bucket with which to ladle out any kind of water, much less spring water or running water, which is the literal translation of the term living water. As with Nicodemus’ briefer encounter and dialogue with Jesus, the Samaritan Woman’s conversation is filled with misunderstanding and double-entendres. It almost sometimes seems a characteristic of John’s narrative style that people end up talking past each other. Jesus, himself finally getting to the point, explains to her the true meaning of his words. “The water that I will give will become...a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Still not quite grasping our Lord’s deeper sense, the Samaritan Woman, echoing our Lord’s initial demand of her, now pleas in her turn, “Sir, give me this water.” Our Lord’s deeper meaning of course is that just as we cannot live without actual water, so can we not live spiritually without the living water he came to bring. One might say this is spiritual fertility of an entirely different order, a point which perhaps should not have been lost on a woman with “five husbands.” This longest of conversations then moves from water and wells to time and place and worship and ultimately to the timeless and immortal. “The hour is coming, and is now here,” says Jesus, for “worship in spirit and truth.” And the Samaritan Woman, at last coming to understanding, responds in faith, “I know that Messiah is coming.” Jesus, in arguably the very first of his many so- called I AM statements about himself in the Gospel of John, tells her simply, “I am he,” as clear a revelation of his true nature as there could be; what the theologians call a Christophany, a manifestation of the Christ. Hastening home, this woman of Samaria asks her kin, “This could not be the Messiah, could it...?” A rhetorical question perhaps but one full of hope and promise; a question very different by the way than Nicodemus’ befuddled query, “How can this be...?” And, the Samaritan Woman becomes among the first to spread the Good News of the Gospel to others, to her townsfolk, who then come out to meet Jesus and end up believers themselves. In fact, it could be argued that this Samaritan Woman brought more people to Christ in the Gospels than any—or even all -- of his disciples put together. Well, the Samaritan Woman may disappear from Scripture at this point, but you will be happy to know that she lived on in medieval legend. She was even given a name at long last, and is known in the Churches of the East as the martyr, Saint Photina. Saint Photina. Get it...? Photina... Photon... Light. She is indeed the saint of the light of the Gospel. Call her a spiritual photon. And if the Samaritans are still with us, though few in number, so is the Samaritan Woman of the Gospel of John, bringing light and hope to our still too dark world. There is a bit of her in each of us, women and men alike. With all our failures and sins, we like her still ask in expectation, “This could not be the Messiah, could it...? And like her kinfolk, in meeting Jesus we also come to “know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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