Nourishing the Saint Within - Homily for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (2024)

Nourishing the Saint Within - Homily for the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman (2024) - Holy Cross Monastery

Who has ears to hear the words of God? God is ever speaking to us, but how often do we pay attention? How often does the message really sink in? In the prophet Isaiah, God says, My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways; for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Is. 55:8-9). This truth is revealed to us over and over again in the Gospel narratives. So often Jesus speaks, and those around Him don’t understand Him. Even the Twelve Apostles who traveled with Him constantly for three years and heard His every word often remained confused or uncomprehending at Jesus’ teaching. Jesus is always speaking on a spiritual level, but those He speaks to are mired in carnal-mindedness. Jesus speaks of rebirth, but Nicodemus can only think of crawling back into the womb. He speaks of doing God’s will, but the disciples think He is talking about food. He speaks of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, but the disciples think He means the leaven of bread. He speaks of preaching the Gospel, but the people think He tells a story about sowing grain for harvest. He speaks of a kingdom, but the people only think of the glory, pomp, and might of this world. He tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the Samaritan woman thinks He is talking about running water.

It’s easy for us to wonder how even those close to Christ could miss His point so often. There are even times when the Lord Himself grew weary of the Apostles’ ignorance and rebuked them for their hardness of heart. Having read the Gospels so many times and knowing from the evangelists that there is more to Jesus’ words, we can fail to put ourselves in the place of the uncomprehending people. We think that we have it all figured out, that we’ve heard it all before, and so we never recognize that we are actually in the same boat, that we are dull of hearing and fail to respond to God’s living and active Word as He speaks to us every day.

This tension between the loftiness and spaciousness of God’s Word and our own dullness of heart and small-mindedness is felt most strongly during the Paschal season. On Pascha night itself, we hear the most exalted teaching of the Word’s eternal generation, and the aftershocks of this thunderous proclamation reverberate through the rest of Paschatide as John’s Gospel is read, and we receive anew our initiation into the most profound mysteries of the Church’s life. We begin the season prepared by long weeks of fasting and prayer, our senses purified, our mind sharpened, our heart softened. But no sooner has the season of repentance ended and the Church calls us into the glorious liberty of the children of God, than we submerge our freedom in trivialities. We sell our birthright for a bowl of candy or a block of cheese. We learn quickly every year that feasting well requires more discipline than fasting well. We struggle each year to learn the ascesis of rejoicing—the struggle to preserve the joy of the Resurrection throughout Paschatide and into the rest of the year. We find out that indulging in all the things we abstained from during Lent doesn’t actually make us happy. We look for some solid ground, some basis in ourselves for lasting change, so that we don’t simply go through the same cycle every year, giving up our cherished comforts and passions for a time during Lent, only to return to them with renewed fervor once the Fast is over.

This deeper, lasting change is what God’s word is calling us to during the Paschal season. God speaks to each and every one of us as He speaks today to Photini, the Samaritan woman at the well. He calls to us in the midst of our earthly occupations and carries on a surprising and unexpected conversation with us. Unexpected, because we are sinners and are deeply estranged from Him. We don’t suspect His true identity until we set aside our worldly concerns and listen to what He has to say. And He is always saying the same thing: My thoughts are not your thoughts, your ways are not my ways.

Like Photini and so many others in the Gospels, we want Christ to satisfy all of our earthly desires and put and end to our toil and suffering in this life. Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw (Jn. 4:15). And similarly, when the people came running after Christ, after He multiplied the loaves, He could see their hearts and told them, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat and were filled (Jn. 6:26). So they wanted also to make Him their King. Even the Apostles, after forty days of instruction in the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven by the risen Christ Himself, as the Lord was ascending into heaven—even then, the Apostles imagined a political triumph and asked Christ, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? (Acts 1:6). All of these responses to Christ are confined to the horizon of this world.

But Jesus ever has something else in mind. I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly (Jn. 10:10). If any man thirst let him come unto me and drink (Jn. 7:37). My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me (Jn. 4:34). Because man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Mt. 4:4). And His kingdom is not of this world (cf. Jn. 18:36), neither does it come with observation, for the kingdom of heaven is within you (cf. Lk. 17:20-21). Christ came to show us that the wellsprings of eternal life lie buried deep in the human heart, when it is regenerated and quickened by His life-giving Spirit. He did not come to satisfy our earthly desires and carnal yearnings, but rather, through their crucifixion and mortification, He shows us the path to true, heavenly peace and incorruptible joy.

It’s a lesson we are slow to learn. The Samaritan woman is representative of our state. Just as she went from husband to husband, so we move from pleasure to pleasure, from passion to passion, never abiding content with the true Bridegroom of our soul, Jesus Christ. And so our hearts remain forever restless, forever in search of the next thing, the next fleeting satisfaction that will mask the profound poverty of our soul, that will distract us from the deep hunger and thirst that we have for true life, divine life, the abundant and inexhaustible life of the Spirit that God pours out upon those who seek Him with their whole heart. It’s not only obviously sinful passions that keep us from tasting this life, but also lawful pleasures and legitimate responsibilities carried too far. We can get carried away by the current of everyday life. We never remain still for long enough to really come to know ourselves, to find out who we really are in Christ, to acquaint ourselves with the unique person He created us to be in His image. Instead, we falsely identify ourselves with our various passions and earthly pursuits, and serve this idol of our own making more than the image of Christ in ourselves and our neighbor.

Our predicament is expressed beautifully in a passage from “The Way of a Pilgrim.” The Pilgrim explains to one of his hosts on his journey how it is that man can cultivate his own innate power of understanding. He says, “The trouble is that we live far from ourselves and have but little wish to get any nearer to ourselves. Indeed we are running away all the time to avoid coming face to face with our real selves, and we barter the truth for trifles. We think, ‘I would gladly take an interest in spiritual things, and in prayer, but I have no time, the fuss and cares of life give no chance for such a thing.’ Yet which is really important and necessary, salvation and the eternal life of the soul, or the fleeting life of the body on which we spend so much labor?”[1]

This choice between ever-proliferating earthly cares and desires, and the vast expanse of never-ending divine life is what is constantly set before us, in today’s Gospel reading and throughout the whole of Paschatide. So let us heed the hunger of our deep hearts for the true bread of eternal life. Let us put aside the false masks of the old man, and come to learn who we truly are. Because the terrifying possibility is that we can go through life ever tossed about in the prison of our passions and never come to know our true selves, the new man inside of us, the hidden man of the heart, created by God in holiness and true righteousness. And so I leave you today with a quote from the French Catholic novelist Leon Bloy. “The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

If the Samaritan woman is an image our fickleness, our shallowness, and our restlessness, then she is also an image of our conversion and redemption. When she met Christ and learned who He really is, she left her waterpot behind and became an apostle—first to the Samaritans, and then to the whole world. She became a saint. That means that we can too, if we wish. Let each of us apply ourselves then to sainthood. There is no more urgent and important task in life. Amen.

[1] Anonymous. The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way. Trans. R.M. French. HarperOne, 2010.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.