St. John Chrysostom on Evangelism

Yesterday in the Church the gospel reading was the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42). St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on this spans five of his homilies on the Gospel of John. In them he shares wisdom on how to evangelize by first describing Christ’s evangelism to the Samaritan woman, and then her evangelism to the town of Sychar.

In their conversation that begins with Jesus asking for a drink of water, Christ gradually leads the woman to raise her conception from ordinary water, to a miraculous water, then finally to the water which is the Holy Spirit. Christ is a model of gentle persuasion, not immediately telling her who He is (to avoid seeming boastful before giving proof) but slowly letting her draw conclusions. Because she is not well-learned like Nicodemus was, Christ does not argue from Scripture but uses the topic of their conversation (water) and on the basis of signs such as His knowledge of her living with a man who is not her husband. Importantly, even here He does not say it outright but lets her reveal it: “He desired to take the beginnings of His signs and prophecies from the very persons who came near to Him, so that they might be more attached by what was done, and He might escape the suspicion of vainglory. Now this He does here also; for to have charged her first of all that, ‘You have no husband,’ would have seemed burdensome and superfluous, but to take the reason (for speaking) from herself, and then to set right all these points, was very consistent, and softened the disposition of the hearer.” For her part, despite the rebuke the woman he still marvels at Him, saying “I see that you are a prophet.” St. John Chrysostom praises her desire to learn about God: “Let us now after this be ashamed, and blush. A woman who had had five husbands, and who was of Samaria, was so eager concerning doctrines, that neither the time of day, nor her having come for another purpose, nor anything else, led her away from enquiring on such matters.” And although Jesus is known for speaking in riddles, he eventually tells her clearly that He is the Messiah, on account of her humility.

Then, believing, the Samaritan woman returns to the city to tell of Christ. St. John Chrysostom remarks on her own evangelism:

Observe too how prudently she speaks; she said not, ‘Come and see the Christ,’ but with the same condescension by which Christ had netted her she draws the men to Him; ‘Come,’ she says, ‘see a Man who told me all that ever I did.’ She was not ashamed to say that He ‘told me all that ever I did.’ … ‘Is not this the Christ?’ Observe again here the great wisdom of the woman; she neither declared the fact plainly, nor was she silent, for she desired not to bring them in by her own assertion, but to make them to share in this opinion by hearing Him; which rendered her words more readily acceptable to them. Yet He had not told all her life to her, only from what had been said she was persuaded (that He was informed) as to the rest. Nor did she say, ‘Come, believe,’ but, ‘Come, see’; a gentler expression than the other, and one which more attracted them. Do you see the wisdom of the woman? She knew, she knew certainly that having but tasted that Well, they would be affected in the same manner as herself.

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