TWO WOMEN, TWO ENCOUNTERS
Fr Dimitri Cozby
The Fountain of miracles sat down at the fountain at the sixth hour to revive the fruit of Eve. For Eve had been cast out of Paradise through the guile of the serpent. Now the Samaritan woman comes near to draw water. (Vespers for Sunday of the Samaritan Woman)
The earth then was young and fresh to human eyes. Everything seemed new-minted, bright and sparkling. The world’s blues and greens were clear and bright, her reds and yellows sharp, even the browns and ochers had a translucent glow. The sounds of the first breezes still stirred the leaves. The gentle hills anticipated the first print of human feet. The voice of waterfalls and brooks fell for the first time on human ears. Animals gathered in expectation like servants awaiting the call of their new master. The earth, before an amusement to the angels, had now become a home to conscious, divinely-imaged beings, capable of knowledge, of joy, of delight, and of love.
The woman, our first mother, walked the Garden. She savored its beauty and the innocent pleasure of its life. There was another, the man, who also dwelt in the Garden. She had been formed to be his companion that there might be no isolation or loneliness here. The three-person God had molded these two in Their image. Like the divine Model they would possess a common nature each in a unique way, yet indissolubly united in love.
But at this crucial moment the woman is alone. We do not know where the husband is. Had they been together, perhaps mutual strength and caution might have led to a different outcome.
The woman walks and savors the day, the warmth of the sunlight, the cool of the shade. But in the shadows a figure lurks, sinuous and insidious. An insinuating voice hisses to her. It lures, it beckons, it promises with each syllable. It entices with questions, “Can you eat of all the trees? Did God withhold anything from you? How can He love you and yet stint of His gifts? Do you not feel immortal longings, a need to fulfill the divinity within you? I can tell you its source. Eat of the tree, taste its fruit, share it with your mate. Swallow its power and feel it well up like a fountain within you.”
Vain promises, empty of hope. Falsehood wrapped in lies. Can the serpent give what he does not possess? Can he share what is not his? But the woman does not understand. She is seduced as much by the fruit itself – the delightful color, anticipation of its sweetness, the promise of wisdom. Later a wise prophet will write out the tragic story: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.”
The glory of the world crashes down around them. Fruit acquired in disobedience brings neither nourishment nor health to body or to soul. There is no new insight or depth of understanding. Instead, to them the bright world dims under the shadow of shame, denial, and grief – of pain, estrangement, enmity, and guilt. Before the tragedy they were called to name the animals that they might have dominion over them. Now they must find names for new things, the emotions and passions which eat at the heart and corrupt the soul.
“She took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.” From that moment death entered into man and his world. The death of the body will come later, as a natural consequence. But from that instant the soul begins to shrivel. Our divine freedom succumbs to rebellious passion, our strength dwindles into weakness, our wisdom vanishes into the babble of foolish chatter, our joy and peace evaporate in sorrow and pain and insatiable longing. Finally, death will swallow up our gift of immortality, and sin will have the victory . . . .
The millennia pass and the new creation begins. Another woman walks in the midst of the day. She does not stroll in pleasure through a garden. Her surroundings are harsher, arid. She trudges down the dusty path from the old town, carrying a heavy jar. She seeks water for her household, for cleaning, for cooking, for mixing with the wine that “gladdens men’s hearts” in the cool evening at the workday’s end. Now, in the middle of the day, it is uncomfortably warm under the high sun. She too is alone. Unlike the first mother, she has no husband, although some might say, with a smirk, that she has had too many husbands. Five men have been her husband, but, for whatever reasons, all have gone. There is a man on whom she now depends for the things a husband provides, as he no doubt receives from her the benefits of a wife. But there is no sanction for their union, either from God or the community, and for that reason no doubt she bears a certain shame. She has a companion, yet there is an isolation here that no man can relieve.
As the woman approaches the well she sees Someone sitting quietly there. This encounter, however, will be different from that other one in the Garden. The Man asks her for a drink of water. She demurs at first, with a facetious remark bordering on rudeness. His response brushes aside her discourtesy and changes the tone and direction of their talk: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The sinister figure in the Garden offered Eve something material, the fruit of the tree, as if through it she might attain divinity. The Man at the well can bestow true godliness because in Him God has come in the flesh. He bears the gift of divine life itself through His very presence made real by the grace of His Spirit in her heart. “Jesus said to her, ‘ …. whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. “‘
As with the first woman, so here too, the One who offers the gift questions her, but these questions do not incite disquiet and sinful desire. Rather, they gently probe, like a physician’s fingers exploring the damage to an injured limb or those of a skilled surgeon seeking to separate a tumor from surrounding healthy tissue. She answers, sometimes candidly, sometimes guardedly. His responses amaze and puzzle her. Like His questions, they have a depth and an aptness which lead her to see her life in new ways and begin an uncomfortable process of self discovery. Their banter becomes ever more serious.
All the while, the Master pours His living water into her soul, simultaneously arousing and assuaging the spiritual thirst of which, till now, she was only dimly aware. Already the living water has begun its work, purging, cleansing and refreshing a soul shriveled and sere for want of righteousness. Already her heart opens and the streams flow within her.
A few weeks later He will offer to share this gift with us all. “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.””‘ As the first woman is precursor of all our sin, so the second heralds our cleansing and renewal.
A prophet marvels, “Thou givest them drink from the river of Thy delights. For with Thee is the fountain of life.” And again another suggests, “Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more.” Truly we all, the sons and daughters of Eve, are in bitter distress, impoverished in faith, sunk in the miseries of sin, perishing from lack of holiness. The Lord offers Himself as the true wellspring of renewal and relief. There is no stronger drink than the grace of the Spirit, no wine more inebriating than His sanctifying power. Like the woman we suffer dehydration of heart. Let us drink of the Lord’s fountain and never thirst again. Let us open our spirit that His Spirit may flow through us and well up within us to eternal life.