Sunday, May 6 (O.S., April 23), 2018: Fifth Sunday of Pascha; Sunday of the Samaritan Woman; Holy Glorious Great-martyr, Victory-bearer and Wonderworker George (303). Martyr Alexandra the Empress, (303). Martyrs Anatolius and Protoleon (303).
Epistle: Acts 11:19-30
Gospel: John. 4:5-42
Christ is Risen!
Marriage is hard and because it is hard sometimes a marriage will fail.
The woman in today’s Gospel has tried and failed at marriage five times. Not surprisingly, she has given up on marriage and has chosen simply to live with the latest man in her life.
And Jesus knows all this about her:
Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”
This might at first sound harsh but the woman takes no offense. In fact, and surprisingly for the time, she goes on the offensive. The woman challenges Jesus on, as she says, the Jewish contention “Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” God.
In short order, this heretic (which is how the Jews saw the Samaritans), this public sinner is transformed! By the simple fact of His presence, Jesus reveals this woman her dignity and value.
Secure in who she now knows herself to be, the woman races back to the city and began to tell people about Jesus. And, amazingly enough given her reputation, people believe her!
So the woman left her water jar, and went away into the city and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the city and were coming to him.
Through her encounter with Jesus, this woman becomes an apostle to the Samaritans who tirelessly preached the Gospel in Carthage.
Later in life, after she is arrested for being a Christian, this woman–St Photina–is entrusted to the care of Nero’s daughter Domnina pending trial. And, again, the saint leads someone to faith in Jesus Christ. This time Nero’s daughter.
The saint ends her life as a martyr. But the boldness she had before Christ is boldness with which she dies. As her last act St Photina spits
…in the face of the emperor, and laughing at him, said, “O most impious of the blind, you profligate and stupid man! Do you think me so deluded that I would consent to renounce my Lord Christ and instead offer sacrifice to idols as blind as you?”
And all of this because she has the experience of being known, really being understood, by Jesus.
For all the differences between our time and that of St Photina, like her we all of us want to be understood. We don’t necessarily want someone to like us or agree with us. But we want to be seen for who we are and, on that basis, taken seriously. We want to be heard and, like Photina, really understood.
Unfortunately, and again like in Jesus’ time, we often misunderstand others. We reduce people to categories, we pigeonhole other people.
To love someone, however, is to see them as they really are without embellishments and with all their blemishes.
To love someone, in other words, is to see them as God sees them. But love is more than this.
Through His conversation with St Photina Jesus awakens something in her that she likely never suspected was there. He awakened in her a vocation–a calling–to be an apostle, an evangelist and eventually even a martyr.
When we love someone, we don’t simply see them as God sees them, we work to help them discover and fulfill their vocation. We commit ourselves to help them realize the life work that God has given them to do. To love others as Jesus loves them, is to see who they are and then to help them become who they are.
You see the great sorrow of human life is that most people don’t know who they are, they don’t know what God has called them to do and so become. Many, even most Orthodox Christians, are in this situation. This is why so few of us attend church and even fewer of us regularly receive the sacraments.
Without a sense of my own, personal vocation, the life of the Church will feel artificial. Prayer and fasting, the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church, and the sacrifices and good works we are all called to do, all of this will feel like an imposition.
And friendship with my brothers and sisters in Christ?
Even this will be at best superficial; often it will be fraught with tension and drama. Why? Because apart from Christ, we can’t see each other as we truly are.
And who are we? After Christ, we are each of us God’s gift to each other.
It is because we don’t see each other as God’s great gifts, that we are so often lonely and discouraged.
My brothers and sisters in Christ! We don’t need to live this way!
No one here starts as far from Christ as did Photina at the well! And everyone here is capable of doing things greater than the saint!
Because everyone here has a vocation, a call from God to do a great work only he or she can do.
Discovering and living that vocation is the inner meaning of all we do in the Church. How do we do this? Through prayer, confession and the sacraments.
And here’s what I’ve figured out about my vocation.
I’ve only got one job: To help you discover and become the person God has created and called you to be. That’s it. The vocation of being a priest and, for that matter, the vocation of the deacon and the bishop, is to help other people discover and live their own vocation.
The clergy only have one task in life: to help you become who God has called you to be.
Put us to work!
Christ is Risen!