Thursday 3 May 2018

Homily on the Samaritan Woman

By Saint John Chrysostom 


Whosoever drinks of this water shall thirst again. But whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life (John 4: 13-14).

Scripture often refers to the grace of the Spirit as ‘fire’ or ‘water’ demonstrating that these names do not describe the essence of the Spirit, but the energy; the Spirit, being simple and indivisible, cannot be made up of different essences. The Apostle John speaks of the first when he says: ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire’ (Matt 3:11). The second, Christ Himself declares when He says: ‘Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38). The Apostle John explains that here Christ is speaking of the Spirit which they should receive.

In talking with the woman, Christ calls the Spirit ‘water': ‘Whosoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.' He calls the Spirit ‘fire’ because of the energizing and warming property of grace, and its power of destroying transgressions. He also calls the Spirit by the name ‘water’ because of the cleansing wrought by it, and the refreshment which it gives to those souls which receive it. Water makes the willing soul like a garden filled with fruitful trees and allows the soul neither to feel despondency nor the plots of Satan; it quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

Observe, I pray you, the wisdom of Christ in leading the woman gently. He did not say straightaway: 'If you knew who it is that says to you, give Me to drink’ but only after permitting her to call Him a Jew does He refute this accusation by saying ‘If you knew who it is that says to you, give me to drink, you would have asked of Him' (cf. John 4: 10). He thereby compels her to to mention the Patriarch and allows the woman her own opinion. When she goes on to object by saying ‘Are you greater than our father Jacob?’ He does not say ‘Yes, I am greater’ (this would appear to be boastful, because there was, as yet, no proof), but by what He goes on to say he proves He is greater.

Christ does not say simply ‘I will give you water’, but having first set aside that given by Jacob, He goes on to exalt that given by Him. In doing this, He desires to show from the nature of the gifts the great gulf and difference between the givers, and His own superiority to the Patriarch. If, says He, you admire Jacob because he gave you this water, what will you say if I give you Water far better than this? You yourself have confessed that I am greater than Jacob, by arguing against Me, and asking, 'Are you greater than Jacob, that you promise to give me better water?' If you receive that Water, certainly you will confess that I am greater. Do you see the upright judgment of the woman, giving her decision from facts concerning the Patriarch and Christ?

The Jews did not act in this way. When they even saw Christ casting out demons, not only did they not call Him greater than the Patriarch but even said that He had a demon. Not so this woman: she forms her opinion in the way Christ wants, from the demonstration given by His works. For by these He justifies Himself, saying: ‘If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not; but if I do, if you believe not Me, believe the works’ (John 10: 37, 38). In this way the woman is led to faith.

Christ, having heard the question ‘Are you greater than our father Jacob?’ passes over Jacob and speaks concerning the water saying: 'Whosoever shall drink of this water, shall thirst again.' He makes this comparison, not diminishing the one but showing the excellence of the other. He does not say that that this water is nothing, or that it is inferior and contemptible, but simply declares the facts of nature when He says: ‘Whosoever shall drink of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever shall drink of the Water which I shall give him, shall never thirst’. The woman had heard already of this living Water (John 4:10), but had not known its meaning. After all, the water that bubbles up continuously from underground springs appears to be living water, and she thought that this was the water Christ meant. This is the reason that He explains more clearly by comparison the superiority of the Water which He would give.

What then does He say? ‘Whosoever shall drink of the Water that I shall give him, shall never thirst.’ This, and what was said next, showed the superiority, for material water possesses none of these qualities. And what is it that follows? ‘It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.’ For just as someone that has a well within him could never be thirsty, so neither can someone who has this Water.

The woman straightway believed, showing herself much wiser than Nicodemus and not only wiser, but more manly. For though he heard ten thousand such things he did not invite anyone else to hear them, nor did he speak of them openly, but she proved to be an Apostle, preaching the Gospel to all and calling them to Jesus, drawing a whole city forth to Him. Nicodemus when he had heard said: ‘How can these things be?’ Even when Christ illustrated his words with the clear example of the wind (cf. John 3:5), even then he did not receive the Word. Not so this woman. At first she doubted, but afterwards receiving the Word not by any regular demonstration, but in the form of an assertion, she straightway hastened to embrace it. For when Christ said ‘It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting Life’, immediately the woman says ‘Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come here to draw’.

Do you see how little by little she is led up to the highest doctrines? First she thought Him some Jew who was transgressing the Law; then when He had repelled that accusation, (for it was necessary that the person who was to teach her such things should not be suspected) having heard of living water, she supposed that these words concerned material water. Afterwards, having learned that the words were spiritual, she believed that the water could remove the necessity caused by thirst, but knew not yet what this could be; she still doubted, deeming it indeed to be above material things, but not being certain. She gained a clearer insight, but still did not understand everything. She now views him as superior to Jacob by saying ‘Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come here to draw.' In effect she says, ‘I do not need this well if I receive that water from you’. Do you see how she sets Him before the Patriarch? This is the act of a fairly-judging soul. She had shown the high opinion she had of Jacob, but when she saw One better than he, she was not held back by her former opinion. That this woman is not gullible is clear from the way she did not receive what was said carelessly. How can she be said to have done so, when she questioned with such exactness? Neither was she disobedient or argumentative and this is shown by the way that she asked Christ for the water.

In contrast, when Christ said to the Jews:‘Whosoever shall eat of My flesh shall never hunger, and he that believes in Me shall never thirst' (John 6:35) not only did they not believe in Him, but they were offended. This woman showed no such feeling but remains there and questions further. To the Jews Christ said ‘He that believes in Me shall never thirst’, but He speaks to the woman in a more unusual way: ‘He that drinks of this Water shall never thirst’. This is because the promise referred to spiritual and unseen things. Even after having raised her mind by His promises, He still uses sensory expressions because she could not as yet understand the exact expression of spiritual things. If He had He said, ‘If you believe in Me you shall not thirst', she would not have understood His saying, not knowing who it was speaking to her, or even of what kind of thirst He was speaking of. Why then, did He not do this in the case of the Jews? Because they had seen many signs, but she had seen no sign, but heard these words first. For which reason He afterwards reveals His power by prophecy, and does not directly introduce His reproof.

See the great wisdom of the woman! How meekly does she receive the reproof! Some may say, why shouldn’t she receive it meekly? But tell me, why should she? Did He not often reprove the Jews also, and with greater reproofs than these? Realizing the hidden thoughts of the heart is different from revealing things that were done in secret. The first are known only to God and to the person who has them in his heart; the second are known to both the hearer and to the sharers of his secret. Still, when reproved they did not bear it patiently. When He said ‘Why do you seek to kill me?’ (John 7:19), they not only did not admire as the woman did, but even mocked and insulted Him. Whilst they had a demonstration from the other miracles, she had only heard this speech. Still they not only did not admire, but even insulted Him, saying: ‘You have a demon, who seeks to kill you?’ (John 7:20) She not only does not insult but admires and is astonished at Him, and supposes Him to be a Prophet.
Yet truly this rebuke touched the woman more than the other rebukes touched the Jews because her fault was hers alone, theirs was a general one; we are not stung so much by a general rebuke as we are by a personal one. The Jews had an objective in view when they sought to kill Christ, but that which the woman had done was considered by all to be wicked; yet was she not indignant, but was astonished and wondered. And Christ did this very same thing in the case of Nathanael. He did not at first introduce the prophecy, nor say 'I saw you under the fig-tree' (cf. John 1:48) but only after Nathanael said ‘Whence do you know me?’ did He introduce it.

Christ at first hid his signs and prophecies from those people who later became near to Him so that they might be drawn closer by seeing what was done, and that He might escape the suspicion of vainglory. He does this here also. To have said to her straightaway ‘You have no husband’ would have seemed harsh and unnecessary, but to respond to her and then to set her right on all these points was fitting, and softened the disposition of the hearer.

Some might question the reason for saying ‘Go, call your husband’. This discussion concerned a gift and grace surpassing mortal nature. The woman was pressing to receive it. Christ says ‘Call your husband’, showing that he also must share in these things; but she, eager to receive the gift, and concealing the shamefulness of the circumstances, and supposing that she was conversing with a man, said: ‘I have no husband.’ Christ having heard this, at the right time, introduces His reproof, mentioning accurately both points. He numbered all her former husbands, and reproved her for the man she would now seek to hide.

What did the woman do? She was not annoyed, nor did she leave Him and run away, nor feel insulted, but rather admired Him, and persevered the more. ‘I perceive,' says she, 'that You are a Prophet.' See her prudence! She did not straightway run to Him, but still considers Him and marvels at Him. The phrase ‘I perceive’ means ‘You appear to me to be a Prophet.’ After having suspected this, she asks Him nothing concerning this life, bodily health, possessions, or wealth, but at once concerning doctrines. What then does she say?

‘Our fathers worshipped in this mountain (meaning Abraham and his family, for there he led up his son), and how say you that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship?’ Do you see how much more elevated in mind she has become? She who was anxious that she might not thirst, now asks questions concerning doctrines. What then does Christ say? He does not resolve the question (for He was not come to answer needless questions), but leads the woman on to a greater height. He does not converse with her on these matters, until she has confessed that He was a Prophet, so that afterwards she might hear His Word with abundant belief; for having been persuaded of this, she could no longer doubt concerning what should be said to her.

On hearing this we should be ashamed and blush. A Samaritan woman who had had five husbands was so eager concerning doctrines that neither the time of day, nor her having come for another purpose, nor anything else, distracted her from enquiring about such matters. On the other hand, not only do we not enquire concerning doctrines, but are careless and indifferent to them. Therefore everything is neglected. For which of you when in his house takes some Christian book in hand and goes over its contents, and searches the Scriptures? No-one can say that he does so. All our houses have a draughtboard and dice, but most have no books. Even those that have books have the same frame of mind as those who have none. They tie up their books and keep them in cases; they admire the fineness of the parchment and the beauty of the letters, but do not read the books themselves. For they have not bought them to obtain benefit from their content, but to show their wealth and pride. Such is the excess of vainglory. I do not hear any one boast that he knows the contents, but only that he has a book written in letters of gold. And what gain, tell me, is this?

The Scriptures were given not just that we might possess the books, but that we might engrave them on our hearts. For this kind of possession, the keeping the commandments merely in letter, belongs to Jewish tradition. This law was not given to us, but one written in the fleshy tablets of our hearts (cf. 2 Cor. 3:3). In saying this, I am not preventing you from owning Bibles! On the contrary, I exhort and earnestly pray that you do this, but also to absorb the letter and meaning into your souls that they may be purified by the writings.

For if the devil will not dare to approach a house where a Gospel is lying, much less will any evil spirit, or any sinful nature, ever touch or enter a soul which bears about with it such sentiments as it contains. Sanctify then your soul, sanctify your body, by having these ever in your heart and on your tongue. For if foul speech defiles and invites demons, it is clear that spiritual reading sanctifies and draws down the grace of the Spirit.

The Scriptures are a divine gift. Let us then apply to ourselves and to the passions of our souls the remedies derived reading them. For if we understand what we read, we shall also hear it with eagerness. I am always saying this, and I will not cease to say it. Is it not strange that those who sit by the market can tell the names, families, and cities of charioteers, and dancers, and the kinds of power possessed by each; they can give an exact account of the good or bad qualities of the horses, but those who come here know nothing of what is done here, but are unaware even of the names of the sacred Books? If you pursue those worldly things for pleasure, I will show you that here is greater pleasure. Which is sweeter, which more marvellous, to see a man wrestling with a man or to see a man contesting with a demon? To see a mortal body in combat with an incorporeal power and one of the human race emerging victorious?

Let us mediate on those wrestlings which are profitable for us to imitate, and through which we are crowned. Let us not emulate those which bring shame to those who imitate them. If you behold the one kind of contest, you behold it with demons; the other, with Angels and Archangels, and the Lord of Archangels. Say now, if you were allowed to sit with governors and kings, and to see and enjoy the spectacle, would you consider it a great honour? Here when you are a spectator in company with the King of Angels, when you see the devil cast out, powerless, even though he still strives to defeat us, why do you not run after and strive for a sight such as this? How can we achieve this? By keeping the Bible in your hands you will see the contestants, the long races, the struggles and the skill of the saints. By beholding these things you shall learn also how to wrestle yourself, and shall escape the traps of the demons. The performances of the heathen are assemblies of demons, not theatres of men. Wherefore I exhort you to abstain from these satanic assemblies; for if it is not lawful to enter into an idol's house, much less to Satan's festival.

I shall not stop saying these things and boring you, until I see some change; for to say these things, as says Paul, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is a safeguard (Philippians 3:1). Do not be offended at my exhortation. If any one ought to be offended, it is I who often speak and am not heard, not you who are always hearing and always disobeying. God grant that you may not always remain liable to this accusation, but that freed from this shame you be deemed worthy to enjoy the spiritual spectacle, and the glory which is to come, through the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

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