God in Disguises: Sunday of the Samaritan Woman


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 10, 2015

Nikos Kazantzakis is one of my favorite writers.  I came across this wonderful quote of his that illustrates an important aspect of the message of today’s Gospel reading.

“God changes his appearance every second. Blessed is the man who can recognize him in all his disguises.”

Today Christ meets the Samaritan Woman and sees in her the icon of himself. She is one of the very least of the brethren and, as we know, he and the least of the brethren are one.  What does that mean?  “As you have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”  Think about that.  Could it be that Christ saw himself in her?  Yes, I believe it is so.  Everyone we meet is Christ in disguise and if we cannot see it, it is because we are blind.  To be like Christ we must  “approach everything made by God with love and live in harmony with everything.”  (St. Porphyrios)

This is the first thing I want you to see as difficult as it may sound.  We are all icons of God, images of the Divine and our neighbors, all of them, are also images of God.  “God in disguise.”  If we love our neighbors, we are loving God.  And don’t forget yourself.  Jack Kornfield writes that compassion that does not include yourself is incomplete.  Repentance means that we recognize that we are the “least of the brethren,” too. 

Why do we not see the image of God in the people around us? Perhaps because we have not learned to see it in ourselves. Or perhaps our vision is blocked by our minds clouded with passions, fears and an attachment to a safe ignorance that we prefer over a knowledge that challenges us to love, to grow and change.  Whatever it is, we must repent and nurture compassion instead of fear within and become open to receive God as he comes in all his disguises for, as Fr. Gregory Boyle  writes, “There is boundless power in the practice of compassion.”

The second thing I want to point out here is that Jesus takes her on a journey from her head to her heart.  It is the pilgrimage that we all must take.

At first, Jesus focuses on her and then he moves her from mountains and temples to the inward temple, the inward Christ, where true worshippers worship in spirit and truth.   At the right time, that is when Jesus intuited in her a rising spirit of curiosity and openness, he asked her questions that invited her to reveal herself and the source of her suffering.  He invited her to go inside and, as the late Fr. Roman Braga put it, explore the inner landscape.  She did and later exclaimed, “Come see the man who told me everything I ever did.”  Without her allowing it, Jesus would not have done it.

She opens to his compassionate intuition and reveals herself.  A line of communication opens between them.  A safe refuge is created. No judgment. No condemnation. No resistance. Once this spirit of vulnerability rises, Jesus is able to speak to the deep heart of this Woman and she is able to answer honestly.  This encounter is an example par excellanc e of what good pastoral care looks like.

A beautiful communion takes place between them. A metaphorical Eucharist.  Heart opens to heart. Her openness responds to his openness and he tells her mysteries. He gives to her Living Water.

The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that Thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and Thou sayest that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”

And then she recognizes that this man is unique among men.  The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming [He Who is called Christ]; when He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I Who speak to you am He.”  And she believed in him.

All this occurred not on the holy mountain or in the Temple in Jerusalem or in a synagogue.  The truth cannot be bound by architecture or geography nor to anything else.  “Spirit and truth” can be found everywhere God is and He is everywhere.  He moved her from form to spirit, from law to grace, from head to heart and that is the movement we must all make if we are to become one with God who is spirit.

There is a message here for us personally and to us collectively as church and I quote the Elder Thaddeus in this respect, “One must never attack or oppose anyone.” Hear the words of the holy prophet Isaiah,

…these people draw near to Me with their mouths
And honor Me with their lips,
But their hearts are far from Me,
And their reverence toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…

There is only one way to preach the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman and that is to abandon the Gospel of Pharisees.