Ars Praedicandi: Fifth Sunday of Pascha, Samaritan Woman

May 30, 2021
Fifth Sunday of Pascha
Gospel: John 4:5-42

Do you unite yourself to Christ?

The Church poses this question to candidates for Baptism.

Do you unite yourself to Christ? Have you united yourself to Christ? 

The Church poses this question to us, gathered here today on this fifth Sunday of Pascha. 

The Gospel lessons appointed to the Sundays of Pascha are designed to strengthen faith and deepen communion with the risen Christ. They take a turn away from the liturgy’s practice of strict historical mimesis.

The Divine Liturgy of Pascha itself sets the tone for the season of Pentecost, the fifty days of rejoicing with the risen Lord. The Prologue of John’s Gospel reveals Christ, who makes his dwelling among us and pours out grace and truth. The Gospel invites us to hear and see the risen Christ in our midst, and to deepen our communion with him. 

On this fifth Sunday of Pascha, we hear St. John’s narrative on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. St. John tells us that Jesus decides to return to Galilee through Samaria, and he meets a woman at a well in Sychar. Their dialogue reminds us that the Jews avoided Samaria, and that Jesus was violating norms by conversing with a woman at the well. 

The topography of this episode tells us a lot about Jesus’ desire to come to us. This meeting happened in the same location that Jacob purchased a plot of land from the descendants of Hamor, in Shechem (Gen. 33:18-20). It is a holy place because he erected an altar to the Lord, and it was also the burial site of Joseph’s bones (Joshua 24:32).

The location is a paradox, because it is also a place of wickedness. Hamor’s sons raped Dinah there, and Jacob’s sons avenged this crime by killing of the men of the city (Gen. 34). We also learn later that Omri ruled Israel from Samaria, and his son, Ahab, married Jezebel (1 Kings 16:24-33). They committed apostasy when they worshipped Baal, and set up a dramatic confrontation with God through the prophet, Elijah (1 Kings 17).    

Jesus knew the dark reputation of the Samaritans, and the tendency for Jews to travel around Samaria. The Samaritan woman also knew of the Jews’ enmity towards the Samaritans. Their conversation should never have happened. It happened because Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but sinners, and to reconcile the world to God. 

He went into a dark, dangerous place to meet not only the Samaritan woman, but to stay and teach the Samaritan community for two days. 

He is the God who comes to meet the estranged in dark, dangerous places that the righteous avoid. 

We have every reason to believe that Christ will go anywhere to meet those who are estranged from him. This is why the Church does not ask God, “do you unite yourselves to us?” God always says yes. 

What do we say?

We are not external observers of this story who marvel at the degree of transformation that took place among the Samaritans. We do not raise our eyebrows that the woman had five husbands. We hear this Gospel today as those who meet Christ at the well. He has come and offered us living water – to enjoy communion with him for eternity – despite the darkness surrounding us

Our faith has wavered. We have failed relationships because of our errors. We have turned away from God. We have committed these sins both voluntarily and involuntarily. Christ took the dangerous road to meet us to make us one of his own, a servant of God, through baptism and anointing. Christ comes to us down these dark paths when we turn away from him long after we have been baptized and anointed. 

So the question has nothing to do with Christ’s desire to be with us. He awaits us on the road, at the well of God’s reign that gives us living water, to become partakers of the divine life of God. 

The question is posed to us: do we unite ourselves to Christ? Are we willing – as the body of Christ! – to walk along the road darkened by our own sins, by our own sad legacy of betrayal, to meet him at the well? Are we afraid that the chains of our past sins and weaknesses will keep us captive and prevent us from meeting him? Or do we believe that he has destroyed those chains in his resurrection and awaits us with tears and joy, as the father greeted his prodigal son, and as the God who forgives seventy times seven?

On this fifth Sunday of Pascha, let us ask God to give us the faith, strength, and love to respond by saying “I do unite myself to Christ,” so that we may join him for eternity, together with his Father who is without beginning, and his all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen. 

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs, bestowing life! 

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