Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 14, 2017 at St. Mary Orthodox Church
Here is a most remarkable exchange.
Over the years what have we said about the Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan Woman?
We have talked about the Lord’s crushing of societal and religious norms in this remarkable encounter. Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans, Jewish men did not speak face to face with women, particularly sinful and impure heretics like this one, and certainly not about deep spiritual and theological matters. It is harder to say what rules he did not break than to enumerate the ones he did. Clearly, Jesus was not concerned about rules and regulations and restrictions, social, religious or otherwise, not as he sat speaking eye to eye with this strong woman, for she, as I think we can see, was no push-over!
There is a rare and beautiful mutuality in today’s reading. The Samaritan Woman and Jesus appear to be empowering each other, inspiring one another to deeper and deeper self-disclosure. She asks questions, Jesus replies, which encourages more questions. “Tell me more,” they seem to be saying to one another. The dialogue is mutually beneficial. They connect and in this connection they draw each other out, as writes Cynthia Bourgeault, into greater and greater self-disclosure, until, for the very first time, Jesus reveals his true identity. “He awakens,” writes the theologian Bruno, “that which lies at the core of my own being.” That, I would add, as he opens to us the core of his being. Bruno continues, “The knowledge of Jesus Christ is a unitive knowledge; it is the luminosity of my own true and eternal being.”
We have talked about the Lord’s attempt to alter the predominant view that God is far away and only to be worshipped in certain places, by a certain kind of people, and only in certain prescribed ways. “Not on this mountain nor in Jerusalem,” he says, “but in spirit and in truth.” By this he meant everywhere; not here OR there, but here AND there and in a new and different way, that is, not in ritual or sacrifice, but “in spirit and in truth.” Unfortunately, the Lord’s words have been largely misunderstood or, even worse, ignored. We still hold tight to the idea that God is not with us, near us, and in us always.
Let’s get to the bottom of this story. The thing that is revealed by Jesus to Photeini is that the temple of God is not a building, a city, a mountain or a shrine or even a religion. The temple of God is the human person. Paul says it. “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit?” How does Jesus say it? “Jesus breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” Pentecost came and the glory of God descended, not upon an earthly temple, but upon the multi-cultural crowd gathered in Jerusalem. The prophet Joel prophesied that the “spirit will be poured out on all flesh.” “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”
We have talked before about the meaning of the words “spirit and truth” as rather “breath and wakefulness,” for that is what these words literally mean in the Greek. “Spirit and truth” or “breath and awareness” are things that happen through the agency of mind and body. We breathe with lungs and noses, we become aware with our minds. The worship Jesus speaks of occurs in our bodies and in our minds.
Do we not, in the words of St. Paul, not “live and move and have our being” in him? Is God not everywhere and in everything? And do we not, in an action both continuous and involuntary, breathe continuously in and out; not only the air, but the God in whom we both live and move? How then do we escape him? How then can we depart from him? Only through ignorance and never in reality.
When we breathe we breathe God. When we eat we eat God. When we love one another it is God we are loving and God who is loving. All of life is sacrament. All of life is communion. There is nothing in life or in death that is separate from the One Who Is. This vision of the human person as temple changes everything. The burden of judgment is lifted. The veil of fear is drawn back. We can be free and confident in the knowledge that all things are well and everything will be well.
What is missing in these days is an awareness of this nondualistic and mystical truth. God is the heart and soul of all things and when we come to see this, we discover what it means to be saved, enlightened and deified. We see him everywhere. We see him in others. We see him in ourselves. Jesus led Photeini, possibly the first person to hear the radical self-disclosure of Christ from the Lord himself that he is the Messiah, into a deep and profound mystical experience and that is where he would like to lead all of us. This is how it can be for all of us.
Cynthia Bourgeault notices something else in the Gospels. People become disciples only after they encounter the Lord personally, not through heresay and not in order to get something out of him; only through a deep personal, heart-to-heart event of radical and mutual self-disclosure. That is the narrow gate. Those who attempt to come another way will not find him.
There is no substitute for this. No ritual, no formula that can replace this necessary encounter which gradually leads us to the same vantage point from which Meister Eckhart writes this, ““The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2017/the-beauty-of-mutuality.