The Sixth Hour


Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, May 14, 2023

When we are troubled, God draws nearer to us (if one can say God is ever not "near") it can certainly seem that way. Actually, as Rebbe Barukh taught, "Faith and the abyss are next to one another." Carl Jung added his two cents writing that mystics swim in the same water in which psychotics drown.

Before the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan Woman begins we get a clue that all might not be well with her from one little, seemingly insignificant detail. She went to Jacob's Well to draw water at the hottest time of day when it was most likely no one would be there. This is a sign of negative self-consciousness. Let me say a word about the problem of self-consciousness. 

If our shoes are well-made, then we don't have to think about them. If our eyes are in good health, then how much thought do we have to give them? We don't think about breathing unless we have a stuffy nose or are under water too long. The basic things in life happen without our thinking about them. Life simply flows. Seasons come and go, things are born and then they die, the heart beats, the lungs breathe, the world turns, the universe expands all without our controlling them. Life just flows and, unless we become side-tracked, we flow with it. Self-consciousness (not self-awareness) is a sign something is wrong, that we are not free to flow with life. No doubt this is the result of problems hidden under the surface. The disinfectant of God's love and light can turn self-consciousness into self-awareness and even more, God-consciousness. 

Alan Watts remarked on this saying, "A person can get in the way of their own existence by becoming too aware of ..." themselves. 

The dialogue reveals that she lived a promiscuous life. Her neighbors reviled her. Jesus happened to be there at the well at the blazingly hot sixth hour and he pointedly did not revile her. The Lord became her safe place as he did for all oppressed people. Stress and fear must have become a controlling part of her daily life in Sychar and Jesus sets her at ease. It is as if Jesus is saying, as he does over and over again in the Gospels, "All my favorite people are broken."

"My worldly past is nothing more than a short dream in a restless night...", writes. The Lord came to wake her from her fitful sleep and us from ours.

We easily become enmeshed in the stories we tell about ourselves as well as what others say about us true or false. But what about what Our Lord say about us? On our list of important opinions where does God's opinion fall? The great German poet Rilke illuminated God's opinion like this: 

Illuminated in your infinite peace,
A billion stars go spinning through the night,
Blazing high above your head.
But in you is the presence that will be,
when all the stars are dead.

Shocking her the first time by merely speaking to her, Jesus does so again by telling her that he knew about her five husbands and current lover. Still he makes no judgment of her. Despite common belief, the Lord is not a moralist placing moral platitudes above broken hearts. He is a healer not a prosecutor.

More revelations followed soon after, revelations so radical that, if followed, have the power to undermine religion itself. The revelations stretch all the way from the personal to the universal. That is from the head to the heart. Fr. Alexander Schmemann told us that Jesus Christ is the end of religion. Perhaps he was thinking of this Gospel when he said it and particularly this verse, "Truly, I tell you, the time is coming and now is, when true worshippers will no longer worship in Jerusalem or on this mountain, but in spirit and truth," that is with every breath (pneuma which means both spirit and breath) and with awareness (alethe, literally, "no sleeping"). Or maybe another where Jesus points to something beyond and greater than religion when he says , "The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath." And notice in the reading the first "I Am" statement from Christ. "I who speak to you am he." The Lord is beyond and greater than religion. "You search the scriptures because you think in them is eternal life...but they speak of me." (Mt. 5:39)

Clearly he put no particular stock in sacred geography. Prayer is an everywhere thing. If the kingdom is within, then we carry the temple and the mountain with us wherever we go. Worship in spirit and truth is woven into the very fabric of human existence. This was a wonderful and liberating message. And he gave it to a disreputable Samaritan Woman to whom most of us would be reticent to give the time of day.

Her blatant honesty and humility became the open door to the Spirit. She did not try and excuse or defend herself very much like Jesus did when he was on trial. There are several stories in the Gospels where honesty and humility, those two pillars of virtue, make a difference in the outcome. Think of Zaccheus for example. In all the ones I can think of, Jesus does not judge. Defensiveness always leads to more defensiveness, self-consciousness and paranoia. The ego cannot bear to be exposed. And yet when the darkness in us is exposed to the Light, everything becomes light.

At that point she was in awe of him. Abraham Heschel often spoke of wonder as what is missing in the religious life. He also coined the phrase "radical amazement" as a synonym for wonder. "Radical amazement" is one sure sign that contact with God has been made. After all, isn't "radical amazement" what caused Peter, James and John to tumble headlong down the Mount of Transfiguration? If we say we know God and are not wholly filled with awe and wonder, I daresay what we have met is not God, but rather a god of our own making.

I could go on for days on this most wonderful Gospel reading and you might generously put up with it. But let's boil it down in conclusion. The encounter between Photini (the Samaritan Woman) and the Lord Jesus shows us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, that he is always with us even in the hottest and darkest moments, that he sees us and knows everything about us and will not turn away no matter what baggage we bring, that ethnicity and gender and sin are never barriers to his love and compassion. To us they can appear as walls, but to Jesus they are doors. Finally, the spiritual life, like God himself, cannot be bound and packaged. Grace is everywhere. The wind of the Spirit is always blowing. Every moment is pregnant with the Spirit. 

We have only to put down what we are carrying and sit with him for awhile and listen carefully to what he longs to reveal to us.