A Paschal Intermission & the Meaning of Mid-Pentcost.
Acts 11:19-26, 29-30.
The Sunday of the Smararitan Woman.
A Post-festive Day of Mid-Pentecost.
The Holy Apostles Jason & Sosipater.
The Holy Martyrs Dadas, Maximus & Quintillianus.
Our Holy Father Cyril, Bishop of Turov.
Return to ByzantineCatholicPriest.com.
6:06 PM 4/28/2013 — Over the years, we've looked at this Gospel of the Samaritan woman a couple of different ways. Initially, we focused on the conversation our Lord has with her, on his ability to see the wretchedness of her soul, and the rather stern lecture he gives her about the immorality of the life she is living. While we don’t know if she, in fact, experienced a complete conversion as a result of her meeting with our Lord, we do know that she gave witness about him to the Samaritans, causing many others to be added to our Lord’s disciples.
But what was left unsaid about this particular Sunday was why it exists on our calendar at this particular time in the middle of Pascha, where it seems to be out of place. After all, there is no miracle here related to our Lord’s resurrection; there’s nothing in this episode to link it, directly or indirectly, with Easter. There is, of course, a reason, which I probably avoided in the past because the moral lesson to be learned from it, which we’ve spoken about several times, is much more practical. But at the risk of being dry or didactic, I do wish to speak about it today.
The reason for this Sunday being placed at this time—and for this gospel being read—is one of remarkable liturgical subtlety: the Wednesday prior to this Sunday is that very unusual feast which we call Mid-Pentecost, which marks the exact halfway point between Pascha and Pentecost; and, it’s more than just marking time. In Chapter 7 of John’s Gospel, we read about Jesus going up to the Temple in Jerusalem “in the middle of the feast.” The feast being referred to is the Feast of Tabernacles, which was a Jewish agricultural feast. In this same passage, which is read during the Liturgy on the day of Mid-Pentecost, we are told that “Jesus, on the last and greatest day of the feast, stood up in the Temple and cried out, ‘If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture says, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.’ But he spoke of the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive.” And here is where the link to the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman occurs, because our Lord says the exact same thing to her: “He who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks of the water I shall give, will never thirst again; for the water I shall give will become in him a fountain, springing up into everlasting life.”
The week of Mid-Pentecost, culminating in the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman, leads us to Jacob’s Well, where Jesus announces for the first time the doctrine of Baptism, the sacrament of Water and the Spirit; which, incidentally, is what the whole Paschal cycle is about. Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead and his ascension into heaven—which we are soon to celebrate—opened the gates of heaven and made salvation possible for us; and, the feast of Pentecost, which ends the Paschal season, commemorates our Lord sending his Holy Spirit, which makes this sacrament of Baptism work in the first place. By receiving the Holy Mysteries of Baptism and Chrismation, we receive the same Spirit that Jesus gave to the Apostles in the upper room in the form of tongues of fire. Hence, we become a part of the body of Christ and heirs to the Kingdom of Heaven.
So there’s a lot of theological depth in this Sunday of the Samaritan Woman which goes a lot deeper than the scolding that our Lord gives the woman at the well because of her immoral life. But that is not totally unrelated to it. Remember, the first time I looked at this Gospel with you, we reflected on the political situation between Judea and Samaria, and how our Lord even tells his own disciples not to the preach to the Samaritans because they’re not worthy of it. Our Lord breaks his own rule here; as a result, the woman goes and tells other Samaritans about him, and the Gospel ends with many of them becoming converts to the faith. And in two weeks, when we celebrate the Ascension, we will hear our Lord say what? “Go forth and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” thus giving the Church its missionary mandate. And this is where that rather awkward middle section of this Gospel comes into play: when the Apostles return from their shopping trip in town, they offer our Lord something to eat, and he refuses saying that his food is to do the will of his Father. What’s the will of his Father? To teach all the nations. They don’t understand what he’s talking about, so he gives them this beautiful speech about how they will reap the bounties of what they did not sew, and gather a harvest they did not plant. They couldn’t have planted it because they didn’t die on the cross and rise from the dead, but they will, as the first bishops of the Church, gather the harvest of the countless souls who will be baptized and saved as a result.
What does all this mean? It means that what we have received as Christians we must pass on to everyone we meet. Spreading the Gospel is not a choice, and baptism is not an option. The Church exists to spread the Gospel and extend itself to every nation on earth, because without the Gospel one does not know the truth, and without baptism one cannot be saved. That is very easy to forget in this age of celebrating diversity and respecting everyone’s religious sensibilities; and, it seems, sometimes, that even priests and bishops and other leaders in the Church are just a little too anxious about not offending people who don’t share our faith. But the Gospel is quite clear, and our duty is quite plain. The old Latin maxim of the Fathers is still true, which is why it is still in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: extra ecclesia nulla salus—apart from the Church there is no salvation. That is not a statement of self-righteousness or arrogance, it is a warning; and it’s a warning not to non-Christians, but to us. If we do not teach all nations—if we do not baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—then we have failed to bring them the salvation that our Lord died on the cross to provide. We, then, become guilty of making our Lord’s death and resurrection irrelevant.
When our Lord insulted the woman at the well and scolded her for her immoral life, was it because he wanted to offend her? No. Because he wanted to save her. Whether he succeeded we don’t know for sure. Probably he did, because we know she brought others to meet him, and they were converted; and, we can be sure that counted in her favor. The question is, how many others have we brought to our Lord?