Overcoming Hate and Division through the Resurrection: Homily for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman in the Orthodox Church

Henryk Siemiradzki. Christ and Samaritan, 1890
Henryk Siemiradzki. Christ and Samaritan, 1890

Christ is Risen!

We all have our assumptions about who are our friends and
who are our enemies.
For all kinds of reasons, we probably feel more
comfortable associating with some people as opposed to
others. Fortunately for us all, Jesus Christ has overcome
such divisions. He died and rose again in order to bring
all peoples and nations into the blessed glory of His
Kingdom, which is not of this world. And if we associate
ourselves with Him, then our lives must bear witness that
His resurrection is good news for all.

In order to understand how revolutionary His way of living
was in the first century, recall that the Jews despised
the Samaritans because they had mixed the ethnic heritage
and the religion of Israel with that of other peoples.
Jews would have nothing to do with Samaritans, and
certainly would not eat or drink anything handled by them.
The idea of a good Samaritan was a contradiction in terms.
Nonetheless, Christ did the unthinkable by asking a
Samaritan woman for a drink of water. Through the unlikely
conversation that followed, she came to recognize Him as
the Messiah, to believe in Him, and to lead many of her
own people to Christ. We remember her in the Orthodox
Church as Saint
Photini, an evangelist and martyr with the title
“Equal to the Apostles.”

In that culture, Jewish men simply did not strike up
conversations with women they happened to encounter in
public places. Nonetheless, the Lord spoke to Photini with
just as much concern and respect as He had shown in an
earlier conversation in John’s gospel with
Nicodemus, who had misunderstood Him entirely. We cannot
overestimate how astounding it would have been in that
time and place for a Samaritan woman to respond more
faithfully to the Jewish Messiah than had a Pharisee.

To make things even more complicated, this particular
Samaritan woman had been married five times and was then
living with a man outside of marriage. Both Jews and
Samaritans would have considered her to have fallen into
an immoral lifestyle of routinely going from one man to
another. She may have gone to the well at high noon
because she had been rejected by the other women from her
village. Though they did not want to treat her as a
neighbor, Christ related to her in a different fashion. He
knew all about her failings, but did not condemn or ignore
her as a result. Perhaps because He treated her in such an
unexpected and welcoming way, she was remarkably open to
His message.

Indeed, she was transformed
by their conversation. Photini showed bravery in telling
the men of her village that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
Not only would they have been shocked for a woman,
especially one of her reputation, to speak to them about
God, they would probably also be astounded to hear that a
Jewish rabbi was a Messiah for them as Samaritans. Being
inspired by the shocking ways in which Christ had reached
out to her, she reached out in surprising ways to her own
people. The name Photini means “enlightened
one.” This Samaritan woman was enlightened through
her unlikely conversation with the Lord and then
enlightened others.   Consequently, the
Samaritans invited the Jewish Messiah to stay in their
village for two days, which also would have been totally
unheard of in that time and place.

Our reading from Acts has a similar theme in describing
how Gentiles came to believe in the Lord at Antioch, where
the disciples were first called Christians. It was no
small thing for the originally Jewish Christian community
to accept Gentile believers, to be comfortable eating,
drinking, and sharing a common life with them. Those
viewed as the worst of enemies, as the most depraved human
beings, became brothers and sisters. The distinction
between Jew and Gentile became irrelevant in Christ in
Whom the promises to Abraham are fulfilled and extended to
all who have faith in the Savior.

No doubt, different groups of people fear and hate one
another because of the power of sin and death in the world
as we know it. What group cannot cite some plausible
reason that it is justified in getting even with another
group?   The same is surely true in our personal
relationships. It apparently makes us feel better about
our own failings and inadequacies when we build ourselves
up even as we put others down. At least we are better than
that person or group, we like to think. We like to blame
scapegoats for our problems, instead of looking ourselves
squarely in the eye. We like to take revenge rather than
to forgive. We like to hide our own brokenness and
weakness by denigrating anyone who poses a threat to our
prideful illusions. Of course, that simply perpetuates a
cycle of resentment, as it gives some other group or
person an excuse to feel justified in condemning us.

In this glorious season of Pascha, we celebrate that
Christ has set us free from slavery to the sin and death
that are at the heart of the division and enmity that make
people feel completely justified in hating one another.
The more that we participate in His great victory, the
more our souls will be freed from the compulsive desire to
secure our well-being by destroying the character of
others. The more we will see that the blessed life of the
Kingdom is not a zero-sum game in which we have to beat
others in a contest for a scarce resource. Life in a world
captive to death is a scarce resource. And if it all ends
with the grave, then why not do what it takes to exalt
ourselves over the competition for as long as possible?
But Christ has truly emptied the tomb and made it possible
for Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, and everyone
else—including each of us as the “chief of
sinners”– to participate in the life of
heaven.

If we are truly to embrace His resurrection, then we must
stop distracting ourselves from our own brokenness and
pain by demonizing other people, whether individually or
collectively. As sinners ourselves whose only hope is in
the abundant mercy of Jesus Christ, Who died and rose
again for us all, we have no right to exclude anyone from
the possibility of embracing the new life of the empty
tomb through faith and repentance. If we respond with
hatred, condemnation, or stony silence to those we deem
unworthy, we turn away from Christ’s ministry of
bringing new life to the whole world. We must treat all
our neighbors as Christ treated the Samaritan woman. To do
anything less is to place our own limits on the great joy
of His resurrection. It is to remain in the tomb of sin
and death when the Savior invites us to share in the great
wedding feast of heaven.

In the remaining days of this glorious season of Pascha,
let us keep a close watch on our thoughts, our words, and
our actions, and replace fear, revenge, and condemnation
with hope, reconciliation, and blessing. Let us refuse to
define ourselves over against any group or person, and
instead become full participants in the joy of a Kingdom
where the divisions that have plagued humanity since the
fall of our first parents are healed and overcome. If we
will live that way, then we, like St. Photini, will truly
become living witnesses that death has died and that light
now shines even from the darkest tomb.

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