Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Magdalen Lawler
Glimpse: THE SAMARITAN WOMAN
an encounter with Jesus.
My fascination with this woman goes back many years. I was familiar with a number of images that portrayed her as a promiscuous woman. I had also heard many homilies about this ‘sinful woman’. They were echoed in the homilies I had heard about Mary of Magdala, my patron. I felt that, like Mary of Magdala, she was misrepresented by the Church when, in all likelihood she had been divorced by her husbands, or widowed, because the cultural mores of her time made it unlikely that she would be able to sue for divorce.
30 years ago, I discovered a most beautiful icon of the Samaritan Woman in the vesting room of a small domestic chapel belonging to the British Jesuits. It has taken me all of 30 years to find a publisher who would reproduce the icon in book form. I felt drawn to representing this woman as one of the nameless many women in Mark’s gospel who had ‘followed ‘Jesus, ‘ministered to him’ and ‘come up to Jerusalem with him’. I have been working with a parish group of women in Sidcup, Greater London, who call themselves ‘WINGS’: Women in Gospel Service. We are rediscovering all the nameless women who appear in the Gospel narratives; women and girls like the ‘Bent Woman’ and the young woman, ‘Daughter of Jairus’ and the ‘little slave girl’, (‘ton paidiskon’ Gk.) who unarmed Peter, the ‘Prince of the Apostles’.
The Eastern Christian Church remains more faithful to the tradition that this woman, whom we celebrate today, was indeed an apostle. She holds the longest conversation with Jesus, that is recorded in the gospels. She is the first to address Jesus as ‘Lord’ in John’s gospel. She runs off carrying the good news to those who will become the Samaritan Church. She discards her bucket, because she, too, has become a ‘vessel of election’, carrying the ‘Living Water’ to others. Eastern Churches have given her a name, Photine, which derives from the Greek word, ‘phos’, meaning ‘light’, and she has a feast day celebrating her gift of listening to Jesus and acting on what she hears. Maybe we could rediscover many of these women as a sort of Lenten project and ‘name’ them in ways that are meaningful to us, personally.
St Photine, pray for us and lead us to the Living Water.
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.— Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
The Gospel of the Lord