Sunday of the Samaritan Woman
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30
In today’s world, we think of a Samaritan as someone who is generous, someone who gives of himself, someone who cares for others. There are organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and Samaritan Center, organizations aimed at helping others. But how did the first hearers of this Gospel think of Samaritans?
To answer that question, we have to go back nearly a thousand years earlier. After King David died, his son, Solomon, ascended the throne of Israel. Combined, the two reigned over the Israelite Kingdom for nearly ninety years. But once Solomon died, there was a civil war, and the nation was split between the 10 Northern tribes, maintaining the name Israel, and the 2 southern tribes - Judah and Benjamin - which remained loyal to David’s line, forming the nation of Judah.
A variation on the Israelite faith developed among some in the northern kingdom, claiming that the only real scripture was the Torah, the five books of Moses, which are the first five books of our Old Testament. They rejected the prophets and the rest of the Old Testament; for them, Moses was the only prophet except for the Messiah yet to come. And, unlike the Jews, they denied that Mount Zion, in Jerusalem, was God’s holy mountain, chosen by God for His Temple. Rather, they looked to Mount Gezirim as the holy mountain. Although they were Israelites, they were not Jews; Jews looked to Mount Zion. They were the Samaritans, and they exist to this day.
How do we translate that into our modern experience?
For centuries, Christians have been divided between Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant. While generally today there is, at least, mutual respect, even friendship, that wasn’t always the case. There have been times that the divisions erupted into open animosity, with mistakes made on all sides. Our own St. Josaphat was a victim of that animosity, having been the victim of an Orthodox lynch mob.
Just as Jews and Samaritans agreed on the basics of their faith but were divided by details; so Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants generally agree on the basics of our faith, but are divided by details.
So, in this Gospel, imagine Jesus, a Catholic teacher, passing through a Protestant area, an area populated by anti-Catholic Protestants. He’s thirsty, goes to a well, and asks a woman for a drink of water. “Why would you, a Catholic, ask a Protestant woman for a drink? Catholics and Protestants don’t talk to each other!”
In the following conversation, there are some very interesting things.
The first thing is Him telling her that she had had five husbands, and was now living with another man. There was no condemnation, just a statement of fact. We don’t know why she’d had five husbands. That statement alone opened her eyes.
Remember I said that the Samaritans only recognized Moses as a prophet, but were looking forward to the Messiah? And here is this Samaritan woman saying, “I can see that you’re a prophet”. She began to suspect at that point that, for her faith to be true, Jesus HAD to be the Messiah!!!
And then, he tells her that the time would come that they wouldn’t worship either on Mount Gerizim in Samaria or Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Jesus is telling her that one of the things that divide them was soon to become a thing of the past., Some 400 years earlier, Malachi, the last of the Old Testament Prophets, wrote, “from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering”.
And, isn’t that what happens today? The pure offering is no longer bulls and lambs, but the body and blood of the Lamb of God. And it is offered in every land, wherever there is one of Christ’s priests to offer that sacrifice.
Then he radically overturns what she’d always known by telling her, “Salvation is from the Jews”. And then, he told her that, as we would say in our modern terminology, doctrine is important. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth”.
I imagine, at this point, she’s pretty shook up. First, he tells her that she’s been married five times and is now living with a guy. Then, he upsets what she’d held to be true, the Samaritan faith. “I know the Messiah is coming”, she says. “And when he comes, he’ll show us all things”.
And he tells her that it’s him.
Well, that did it. She was convinced.
The Gospel continues, "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?’ . . . Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony”. The truth broke down the barriers between Samaritan and Jew.
Speaking truth without judgment does wonders. I’m not talking about debating. Just speaking the truth, speaking it in. As Jesus says in a later chapter, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free”.
So, what happened to the Samaritan woman?
She is commemorated by the Church on March 20 as St. Photini. She is sometimes considered the first to proclaim the Gospel of Christ. Along with her 5 sisters and 2 sons, all of whom she converted, she was a tireless evangelist for Christ. After living in Carthage for many years, working for the Lord, she went to Rome and was martyred by direct order of the Emperor Nero,
My brothers and sisters, our Lord is telling us
- Be open to Truth. St. Photini wasn’t comfortable in hearing her Samaritan notions dismantled, but she knew that Jesus was Messiah and accepted the truth.
- Know the Truth. Those who worship the Father must worship him in Spirit and Truth
- Speak the truth in love. It can break down walls