Homily for Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, John 4: 5-42
What do the words Perrier, Evian, Dasani, Aquafina, Poland Springs and Fiji bring to mind? They’re all bottled waters. When many of us were young, no one heard of bottled or filtered water. In the last two decades there has been a growing emphasis on purified water that supposedly improves and maintains physical health as opposed to soda, alcohol caffeinated coffees and drinks. In fact, purified and bottled waters have been around so long now they are starting to wear out their welcome as many people are beginning to question if they are indeed more healthy than regular tap water.
Yet, no matter if it comes from a bottle with a brand name, or the faucet in our home or mountain spring, physical/liquid water can only improve our physical health. It cannot grant us eternal life. The mythical fountain of youth is just that: a myth. Jesus says this in today’s Gospel reading from the Fifth Sunday of Pascha (John 4:5-42) when He meets the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Referring to the actual well of Jacob, Jesus says ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again’ (v.13). By inference He refers to every well, stream, lake and source of fresh liquid water.
However, Jesus does tell us where the real, true fountain of eternal life is by saying, ‘whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life’ (v.14). Jesus calls the water that He gives ‘living water’ (Greek: idor zon, v.10) but what exactly is this living water that quenches all thirst?
In John 7 we read:
37 38 On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ 39But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Thus, Jesus’ living water is the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. Now, the Samaritan woman, and anyone of us would do the same, hearing about the opportunity to drink this living water that bestows eternal life (Gr. ‘zoen aonion’ v.14) asks, ‘Where then do You get that living water? (v.11) Give me this water that I may not thirst’ (v.15).
Unlike bottled water at the convenience store we cannot just go and buy the living water of the Holy Spirit. Something more is required. That something is cleansing and purification of sin.
In today’s society we put so much emphasis on keeping things clean. We wash everything a lot: our clothes, our dishes, our hands, our bodies, even our water. It’s not enough that it gets purified at the water treatment plant, it has to filtered and purified again. Our approach to life is extremely antiseptic. This is well and good to a point. However, many researchers have hypothesized that the growth in food and latex allergies is due to the fact that our immune systems cannot find enough germs to fight in the environment around us, so they start reacting to stimuli that were previously benign.
We must ask ourselves: Do I give as much attention to the cleansing and purification of my soul from sin as I do with my body from germs? When Jesus reveals His knowledge about the Samaritan woman’s serial marriages and current relationship outside of marriage (vv.17-18), He is pointing out that before she can drink living water, she must repent and change her current lifestyle.
The context for understanding how and where we must change is implicit in today’s Gospel. It is within the context of a living, continual encounter and relationship with the Lord, God Jesus Christ. There is no way to receive the living water of the Holy Spirit without Christ. He alone gives this water. We confess in our Creed that the Holy Spirit proceeds from God the Father. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me’ (John 14:6). Elsewhere Jesus says, ’But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me’ (John 15:26). At the same time, the Holy Spirit is the empowering force to live the life in Christ- to become like Him – to go beyond just knowing about Him to knowing Him personally. The Holy Spirit is the Light of Christ that illuminates the darkness in order to see Jesus more clearly. The Holy Spirit illuminates the path so we can follow Christ wherever He leads us.
Let us return to Jacob’s well (v.6) for a moment. Like other springs, a well is a unique thing in the desert. Wells and springs were traditionally understood as places and signs of God’s revelation, favour and blessing (Gen.16:7). We have spiritual springs in our modern day desert of secular society. These springs and wells are the Churches of Christ. These are the places to go to encounter Christ and drink of the living water of the Holy Spirit. Our sacramental entrance into the Body of Christ goes right through the baptismal font which is the spring or fountain of eternal life. And when we enter into the life of Christ in the Church we also are Chrismated with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. This personal encounter with God continues through another font or fountain; the chalice that holds the Body and Blood of Christ which we receive from with thanksgiving. The imagery cannot be any more obvious or clear.
On Mother’s Day (last Sunday), we remember that our first encounter with physical water was in the womb of our mother. When she drank water, we drank of the same water. We were surrounded by warm, life-giving water in our mother’s womb. When we became Christians we were surrounded by the purified, Spirit-filled waters of baptism. We give thanks to our mothers for the gift of earthly life.
We should also give thanks to our spiritual Mother, the Church, for the gift of heavenly life. We can get regular water from nearly anyone or anywhere. The living water of the Holy Spirit only comes from Christ in the life of the Church. Regular water is a material substance with physical properties. Living water is a supernatural Person that can inspire the soul and animate the body to holiness and good works. Regular water is a bare necessity for life but does not have much energy. Living water is the breath of life and energy of the spiritual life.
Jesus also said in today’s Gospel, ‘God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth’ (v.24). In ‘spirit and truth’ refers to the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Knowing all this, why would we go anywhere else but to the Body of Christ, the Church, who provides us with the opportunity to personally encounter Christ and the Spirit? It is only here that we learn how to truly worship and pray, how to understand the scriptures, how to fast and give alms. Numerous false gospels, including various philosophies, beliefs, pseudo-religions and spiritualities, exist in our world and claim to have living water but they do not. For various reasons, we turn to them but they cannot quench our thirst for the one true God. They even attempt to pervert the understanding and experience of our own faith by teaching us that we can be spiritual without being religious.
Don’t be fooled, these are cheap imitations in fancy brand-named bottles but they are not the true living water of the Holy Spirit that gives eternal life. Amen!