Happy St. Photina’s Day! “Saint who?” you ask? Perhaps you know her better by her Russian name…Happy St. Svetlana’s Day! Still scratching your head? March 20 is the festal day for Photina, the name traditionally attributed to the woman Jesus met by the well on a parched day in Samaria. Let’s crack our Bibles open and look into that chance meeting. Hold on—let’s turn further back. I believe the book of Genesis might be the best place to start if we want to understand what is going on in John 4 between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Don’t believe me? Well, come along for the ride anyways, and you might be surprised…
It seems to me that in times of old, before online dating sites, shopping malls, or coffee shops, there was a shortage of places to bump into a future spouse. In fact, the options were quite limited, because as we see beginning with Isaac in Genesis 24, the well was the best place to pick up ladies. “Really? A well? You mean like a hole in the ground with a bucket to get water?” Yes, I mean that kind of well. Now will you allow me to continue with the story?
Genesis 24 tells the story of Abraham’s servant who was sent into the city of Nahor in search of a bride for Isaac. As the servant approaches the well outside of the city, he happens upon a woman named Rebekah whom the Bible describes as “very attractive in appearance” (Gen. 24:16). What is more, when the servant asks for a drink, she kindly draws one for him. Then, she quickly bustles about watering all ten of the man’s camels! You can see Abraham’s servant thinking to himself, “Isaac is going to be one lucky guy!” Eventually, Rebekah agrees to travel back to the tents of Abraham to become Isaac’s wife.
Isaac and Rebekah have a son named Jacob, and as he comes of age, he too ventures to the well to find a spouse. This account is given just chapters later in Genesis 29. When Rachel comes to meet Jacob at the well, he shows off his muscular physique, tossing aside the well’s lid. She swoons and is won over without so much as a word. Later in Exodus, we find Moses at the well in Midian, where he meets his future wife, Zipporah.
Fast forward to A.D. 30. As Jesus, tired and thirsty, leans upon a well in Samaria, by chance, a woman approaches him at the well. Hmm, we know where this is headed. Or do we? In John 4, we read that Jesus asks the woman for a drink—just like Abraham’s servant. But that’s where everything gets derailed. You see, the woman is rebuffed that he, a Jew, would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. What ensues from this misunderstanding is an argument worthy of any modern romantic comedy. Jesus explains that he surpasses every well, and that he can supply water that will quench thirst forever and well up to eternal life.
Then, Jesus drops a bomb-shell: he knows that this woman is immoral—she’s had five ex-husbands and a live-in boyfriend. Embarrassed, she redirects the conversation to—of all things—religion! Her efforts are in vain, because it is clear that Jesus knows much more about such matters. Finally, she retorts: “Well, I know that the Messiah is coming…When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus quietly replies: “I who speak to you am he.”
Can’t you just see her jaw drop! Here she is arguing with the Christ, the coming Savior of the world. Quickly she runs into town, bringing friends, family, and everyone she can to meet Jesus. John 4:39 tells us, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
You see, Jesus wasn’t looking for a perfect bride. He was looking for a Samaritan—a half-blooded bride, part Jew and part Gentile, with a dirty past. He was looking for sinners who needed a Messiah. The woman at the well is a picture of the Church. Jesus waits by the well for a Church filled not with those who think they are righteous but filled with sinners who see their need for a Savior. Take encouragement from Photina—Christ receiveth sinful men! Jesus is meeting a church that is filthy, sinful, and heart-broken; however, he “[cleanses] her by the washing of water with the Word so that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26-27).
Jesus meets the Church at her lowest point–an impure Samaritan woman by a well, but he is in the process of turning her into a Rebekah…