Archdiocese News - The Samaritan Woman [English/Arabic]

[Arabic Version]

Four weeks after Easter the gospel read in church is St. John’s account of Christ’s extraordinary conversation with a Samaritan woman. According to the gospel, Christ stops at a well near the town of Sychar while his disciples go into town to buy food. A woman comes to the well to draw water, and Christ asks her to give Him a drink. They strike up a conversation, and at one point the woman questions Jesus, saying: “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place we ought to worship” (Jn 4: 20). Which is right and which is worng?

There can be no doubt that these verses from John’s gospel are crucial for our understanding of Christianity. These words express and eternally proclaim a genuine religious revolution, a revolution in the very concept of religions; in these few lines, we see the birth of Christianity. In spirit and in truth! Religion, until then, and for centuries, had consisted of rules, laws, and statues, and thus religious observance consisted entirely of blind, unquestioning submission to these rules. Not on this mountain, but in Jerusalem; not here, but there; not that way, but this way. Thus, offering to God thousands of such prescriptions, human beings protected themselves from trouble, from fear, and from painful searching introducing their own ideas needs likers and dislikers. They built themselves a cage in which everything was clearly and carefully defined and there were no demands other than precise observance. And all of this is now erased and overturned in a few words: worship is not on this mountain and not in Jerusalem, but in spirit and in truth. In other terms, not in fear and blindness not out of anxiety or distress, but in knowledge and freedom, in free choice, in love, as of a child for his father and mother.

Now, at the centre of religion, at its very heart, is not law, not submission, not prescription but truth: “You will know the truth”, Christ said: “and the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). At its heart now is the very process of seeking: “seek and you will find” (Mt 7: 7). Not appeasement, but thirst: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mat 5: 6). Not slavery, but freedom: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing” (Jn 15:15). “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”(Mt 9:13); “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another”(Jn 13: 34). This what Jesus asking us today to do; to put Him in the Middle or in the Centre of our life.

Yes, of course, in the history of Christianity people have often forgotten Christ’s words about spirit and truth and turned back to the religion of fear and ritualism, to arguments over the mountain and Jerusalem. And from outside, Christianity too often can appear to be just laws and prescriptions. But it must be judged not by externals not by defeats and distortions, but by its inner inspiration.

Despite all of its historical falls and failures, Christianity never erased these words from the gospel, and by them, therefore, it judges itself. With results much more them, therefore, it judges itself. With results much more tragic, antireligious propaganda, in its blind hatred of religion, ignores these words as if they were never said, and, to dispatch religion with greater ease, equates it with externals, superstitions and fear. Yet Christianity, first and foremost, is Christ, His teaching, the gospel. The gospel recounts how people preferred their own, their own opinions, their own ideology, their own laws, to “spirit and truth”, and how intolerable was this call to liberation.

Even now, Christianity’s one threat to any ideology is this “in spirit and in truth”. These words are an eternal gesture of defiance to every idol, religious or ideological; and as long as the words are not utterly uprooted from memory, the human being will never totally accept a teaching that enslaves him to matter and makes him nothing more than a cog in an impersonal process, a servant to a faceless collective. And therefore, when followers of such ideologies, new age secularism attack religion on grounds of stamping out superstition, this is only for show. No, religion as superstition, as law, as slavery, is even useful to them, because it proves their argument. What scares them, more than anything else in the world, is that someone will discover the true meaning of religion, of those remarkable and liberating words of Christ: “In spirit and in truth”. The conversation that started by the well that hot noon-day still goes on, for human beings will never stop asking, searching, thirsting and discovering again and again that this thirst, this seeking, this spiritual hunger cannot be satisfied by anything but God, who is Himself Spirit and Truth, Love and Freedom, Eternal Life and the Fullness of all.


Metropolitan Archbishop Paul

Primate of Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines

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