The Way of Metaphor


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 29, 2016

I have to carefully choose two themes out of the many that appear in today’s Gospel reading. The first theme is elucidated by this powerful quote from the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich. It is the theme of radical acceptance. The second is the theme of interior spirituality, the movement from without to within.  Let’s begin with radical acceptance.

“You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you and the name of which you do not know…Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” I quote the eminent Protestant theologian Paul Tillich.

Nothing ever stands in the way of God’s radical acceptance of us. We see this today as Jesus breaks down all barriers in the story of the Samaritan Woman. He ignores all social, ethnic, religious and political mores when he sits down at Jacob’s Well at the hottest hour of the day and asks for water from a heretic and gender-inappropriate Samaritan.  In his actions we learn that the only barriers to love do not exist in reality. These barriers exist only in our minds and we do not have to allow them to determine our lives.

One of Simone Weil’s very provocative statements was this, “To die for God is not a proof of faith in God. To die for an unknown and repulsive convict who is a victim of injustice, that is proof of faith in God.”  The confirmation of her remark is today’s Gospel. The Samaritan Woman was the “unknown and repulsive” one Jesus chose to love that day.  That is God’s way. He asks us to love our enemies and then shows us how: by listening to our hearts rather than our heads.

This leads us to the second theme, the theme of interior spirituality.  Here, as in the Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus leads the Samaritan Woman inward from things literal and external to things internal and metaphorical. From physical water to Living Water from temples built with hands to the interior temple of Spirit and Truth.

The conversation begins with ordinary and exterior things - with thirst and with a well. It begins with a connection on the level of basic human need. When we are thirsty, we need to drink. He was thirsty and she was thirsty.  Metaphorically, thirst is a sign of internal need. There was a wound inside of her in need of attention. Something inside of her was in want. Her physical thirst was a metaphor for internal disorder. In Jungian language, it was a sign of the shadow within her. In traditional Christian language this internal disorder is called sin which is, in Simone Weil’s language, always an attempt to fly from our own emptiness.

Taking the theme of thirst and water, Jesus begins to reveal deeper meanings. He tells her that he has a different kind of water to offer that will quench her thirst forever.  Jacob’s Well becomes a metaphor for the soul.  He directs her inward to the Well of the Soul which is the reservoir of Living Water. The Lord redirects her from her physical egoic concerns that always present themselves with the motto “I Want”, to something greater, something deeper, something eternal, that is to the Soul whose motto is not “I Want,” but “I Am”.

Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in the same way - of a new and metaphorical birth of water and spirit. He speaks to the Samaritan Woman of a worship not bound to mountains or shrines or temples or religions, but to the internal, eternal and glorious temple not-made-by-hands, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Today’s reading, like John 3, is also a Gospel about new birth ­- a diminishing of ego, of selfishness and an awakening of the Soul to spirit and truth.

It is interesting that not once does Jesus ask her to give up her identity as a Samaritan, renounce her heresies and become a follower of Judaism. He is not there to convert her from one religion to another, but to awaken her to the truth within. Once again we are reminded of the theme of radical acceptance.  He has come to speak to her of the things that really matter: the Soul and Truth and Spirit.  If we approached people with radical acceptance in mind, it is my conviction that we would be far closer to fulfilling God’s will in this world than we are. After all, this was the Lord’s way of doing things.

This movement from external things to the Kingdom within is not an easy one. Nicodemus is confused. The Samaritan Woman struggles to understand. Her remark, "Sir, give me of this water, so that I may never get thirsty or have to come here again to draw water," reveals that she is still stuck in her literal ways of thinking. She is still looking for earthly water to satisfy her physical need. She resists the movement to spiritual things just as we do.

It is at this point that Jesus changes the subject with this request, “Go and bring your husband to me.” There it is!  He recognized the shadow that bound her, the blockage that stemmed the flow of Living Water. The secret cause of her resistance  - her shame which was ego’s way to distract her from her deep sadness.

Jesus knew it and he went there, not forcing, not dominating, but inviting, opened the door and she, in her amazing and original innocence, walked through it. “I have no husband,” she confesses and Jesus gently acknowledges the truth she has spoken. “Yes, you have spoken the truth.”

Again, she resists, falling back on a discussion of the external differences between the traditions of the Samaritans and that of the Jews. “I see you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, while the Jews say that one must worship in Jerusalem.”

Undeterred, Jesus does not engage in that discussion but opens the door to the Soul and tells her that it doesn’t matter where one worships. What matters is that worship is done in spirit and truth directing her from exterior things to interior realities, gently and persistently like a father does his child.

“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…the hour is coming and now is when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants…those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.

When the spiritual journey begins and we turn our gaze within to the inner landscape, if even for a moment, we will meet resistance. We must not allow this to deter us. With compassion, with perseverance and patience, resistance will give way in time to acceptance. All resistance gives way to acceptance under the uncompromising power of compassion. This is what the Lord shows us today.

When resistance fades, new life begins and love appears as its companion, the shadow gives way to light and all our tears of sadness become tears of joy for then we know the truth that the Lord has done everything for us and all we ever needed to do was rejoice and be glad in it.  Everything we ever needed God tucked away inside of us and the keys to the kingdom was ever in our hands.

 A very wise man once said, "Instead of searching for what you do not have, find out what it is that you have never lost." Remember the Wizard of Oz? “If I ever go looking again for my heart’s desire, I shouldn’t look any further than my own backyard.”  “Do you not know,” writes St. Paul, “that you are the Temple of the Holy Spirit” and it is in this temple where true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth. That temple is inside of us. There we may enter at any time and anywhere.