Holy Desire – The Samaritan Woman

John 4:5-42: The Samaritan Woman

One would expect that if  Jesus was trying to convert the world and make everyone be His followers, His disciples, that He would aim to meet with the most influential people around.  When he went into a town, you would think He would try to talk to the village chief, the mayor the town, the high priest or someone of some influence and importance.

Yet, the Gospels tell us that Jesus meeting with important people – The Governor Pontius Pilate, King Herod, and the High Priest – did not go so well for Jesus.

It seems Jesus was not much of a top – down thinker, but rather was  one to move from the bottom up.  Or maybe for Jesus there are no real important people contrasted with unimportant people.  For Christ, all people, whatever their age, gender, social rank, skin color, nationality or language are simple people – God’s creatures all of equal value, yet of infinite importance to God.

When Jesus begins talking to the Samaritan woman , according to history her name is Photini,  as he sits by the well in the village of Sychar, He is not being distracted from His true mission.  Christ is there to unite all humans to God.  It’s just as significant to start with one woman, and a sinner at that, as with some man of influence.   Christ redeems us personally as we all form a relationship with Him.

Jesus engages in a serious theological discussion with this “sinful” woman.  She is a  a social outcast.   First of course she is a Samaritan, a kind of people whom the Jews despised.  But then even within the Samaritan people she is an outcast:  Married multiple times, living with a man who is not her husband – coming to the well at Noon instead of in the morning when all the rest of the women of the town were there.

Yet, strangely, and God does work in mysterious ways, by avoiding the crowd, by avoiding the social life, she finds God.

But still, if Jesus wants to convert the world, why is He wasting His time with this social failure and misfit?   She’s not exactly His poster child, nor a good PR spokesperson, nor a person who respectable people would trust.

Jesus Himself is quite willing to speak with her, He is not distracted or annoyed.  He is on task, fully engaged, fulfilling His mission.   Speaking with this woman is not beneath His dignity.  He is not amusing Himself, or her.   He doesn’t leave this task of talking to this insignificant woman to His disciples.  He is fully engaged with her, and wants to give her what He has to offer.  No sense whatsoever that talking with this woman is less important to Him than talking to Jews or to His disciples.

He helps her become a disciple.  And in fact in the Orthodox Church Photini is given the title, “Equal to the Apostles”.  She is a martyr in our church.  A saint, an evangelizer.

Photini comes seeking well water to drink, goes away thirsting for living water.   She comes looking with her body, her feelings, her physical needs, her eyes.  She leaves looking for living water for her soul, seeing Jesus no longer as a Man, Jewish male, but as the Messiah.  Her heart, soul, mind have been awakened – given life.

She realizes that when it comes to the spiritual life, we cannot take every discussion at face value.  The discussion on water, on living water, is not about H2O  but about the Holy Spirit.

Living water.”    Not water having living things in it (like fish), but having life in the water itself, having the power of life, life-giving.  It is flowing, moving water from a spring – the source can’t be seen, it is deep and hidden, yet the water is flowing from it.  It is an image of God.

It is not pond water, or puddles of rain water.  Not even the purest bottled water.  But water that is forcefully moving, has vitality to it.  It moves and can move things.  Like all gushing water it makes sound – it is seen and heard.

Photini comes to know what each of us here has to come to know, a relationship with God is a spiritual relationship which requires me to think in a spiritual way about spiritual things.   Even words like heart, mind, eyes, ears, hands have a spiritual meaning, and we have to be able to move beyond the physical to understand the spiritual.

The Gospel lesson about Photini is about you and me and our relationship to Jesus Christ and to God.

And so we see in the Scriptures that God describes Himself as the fountain of living water:

O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You shall be put to shame; those who turn away from You shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the LORD, the fountain of living water. Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved; for You are my praise.  (Jeremiah 17:13-14)

If we want living water, we have to find God in our lives.  We cannot buy this living water, it’s not a commodity for sale,  for Christ gives it to us freely as a gift.  Our task is to know how to receive it.

And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment.  (Revelation 21:6)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let him who hears say, “Come.” And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.  (Revelation 22:17)

St. Ignatius of Antioch says this: “My love has been crucified and there is no burning love within me for material things; instead there is living water, which also is speaking in me, saying to me from within: “Come to the Father.”  I have no pleasure in the food that perishes nor in the pleasures of this life.  I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, from the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is imperishable love.”

The living water is tangible, yet completely spiritual!  Women and men, everyone is offered this gift by Christ.  Receive it!  Christ offers this gift to sinners, misfits, failures, people of any race or color, female or male, young or old.  He offers this to all people – to each of us, without exception.

As Isaiah the Prophet proclaimed:

You will say in that day:

I will give thanks to you, O LORD,

for though you were angry with me,

your anger turned away,

and you comforted me.

Surely God is my salvation;

I will trust, and will not be afraid,

for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might;

he has become my salvation.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the LORD,

call on his name;

make known his deeds among the nations;

proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;

let this be known in all the earth.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.  

(Isaiah 12:1-6)

 

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Christianity is Materialist!

“My faith, finally, is that if I am canceled by the power death has in our world, then God’s greater power can overcome it.”  (John Garvey, Death and the Rest of Our Life, p. 78)

On my first visit to Armenia in 1990, I visited the home of Anahid and Kevork Oynoyan. They had lost their twelve-year-old son, Armen, in the catastrophic earthquake of December 1988, and Kevork was profoundly depressed as a result. . . .  He got up and brought back a copy of the New Testament and a book that had been distributed by the Hare Krishna sect describing the transmigration and reincarnation of the soul. He asked if I would explain the difference between reincarnation and the Christian belief in the resurrection. He said that in his atheism classes years before he had been taught that Christianity is spiritualist.  If that was so, weren’t reincarnation and resurrection essentially the same?

I suggested that we read 1 Corinthians 15, where St. Paul defends the belief in the resurrection of the body and the soul.  In silence, visibly and deeply absorbed, Kevork read that chapter not once but several times.  Then joyfully shouted, “So Christianity is materialist!”  The darkness had lifted, because in St. Paul’s teaching Kevork had discovered what he had hoped would be there but had not found in the book on reincarnation: the assurance that he would see his son again, recognize him, and be able to love him in an embrace of the resurrected flesh.  In the person of Jesus Christ, God’s love is manifested as life. Jesus’ resurrection proclaims the triumphant power of love and life over death.

 (Vigen Guroian, Life’s Living Toward Dying, pp. 27-28)

 

Christianity is a Hope

“Christianity, claims Michel Quenot, is not a moral structure but a hope. It is a witness to the fact that ‘Christ, by his death, has conquered death,’ and that all are now able to participate in his eternal Life. This is possible to the extent that one is willing to welcome the Word of God into the very depths of one’s being, to open one’s heart to that which the eyes of flesh can no longer see and to fulfill one’s true nature as created in the image of God. The Church Fathers teach us that man is called to become a mediator for all that became separated through sin and which Christ reunited in his person: the heart and the mind, the soul and the body, matter and spirit, heaven and earth.”

(Maxime Egger in The Resurrection and the Icon by Michel Quenot, p x)

Finding Christ in the Mystery

Attend

Notice! Jesus stands just before you,

waiting in the tabernacle shaped

for you–shaped precisely for you!

He burns with great desire

to enter into your heart.

 

Ignore the yammering demon

telling you “not so!” Laugh in his pinched face

and turn without fear to receive

the Jesus of quiet calm and utmost love.

Partake of His Mysteries often,

often as you can, for in Them you find

your sole, entire remedy, assuming–

of course–you would be cured. Jesus has not

impressed this hunger in your heart for nothing.

This gentle Guest of our souls

knows our every ache and misery.

He enters, desiring to find a tent, a bower

prepared for His arrival within us,

and that is all, all He asks of us.

(Scott Cairns, Love’s Immensity, pp. 138-139)

Humans Were Created for Christ

St Nicholas Cabasilas  says that we humans were created by God with our unique set of characteristics precisely that we might know Christ. Adam was created with Christ already “in mind”  –  God didn’t send Christ into the world in response to a broken Adam, rather God created Adam in Christ’s image so that Christ could become incarnate as a human.   The human was designed to be capable of bearing God.   God knew where He was going with these creatures created in God’s image – with mind, desire, reason and memory.  God the Trinity was planning for the incarnation of God the Son from before the humans were ever first created.  Adam was not the model for Christ, but rather Christ was the Archetype which made the particular human characteristics necessary so that God could be incarnate as a human.  God knew what was needed in a creature for the incarnation to take place, and God created us accordingly to prepare us and the world for the incarnation.

“It was for the new man that human nature was created at the beginning, and for him mind and desire were prepared. Our reason we have received in order that we may know Christ, our desire in order that we might hasten to Him. We have memory in order that we may carry Him in us, since He Himself is the Archetype for those who are created. It was not the old Adam who was the model for the new, but the new Adam for the old, even though it is said that the new Adam was generated according to the likeness of the old (Rom 8:3) because of the corruption which the old Adam initiated.

The latter Adam inherited it in order that He might abolish the infirmity of our nature by means of the remedies which He brings and, as Paul says, so ‘that which is mortal might be swallowed up by life‘ (2 Cor. 5:4).”   (The Life in Christ, p 190)

Opening Our Eyes to See Christ

Excerpts from Luke 24:13-35 (emphases not in the original text):

4446232309_8850e4887f_nThat very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  . . .   

[One can only wonder why they couldn’t recognize Jesus if they had in fact spent the past 3 years as His disciples, following Him around daily, it would seem they should be able to recognize Him.  Some might think that perhaps God had blinded them for some reason . . . but I would purpose it differently and say that what Luke presents to us is that they cannot see Him with their physical eyes because they are in the presence of the incarnate and resurrected God.  No one sees God with their physical eyes – even in the Liturgy we say God is ineffable, inconceivable and invisible.  God isn’t blinding them but they cannot see what is invisible and ineffable!   Our physical eyes are incapable of seeing God.   They are not recognizing God, that is their problem.  There is nothing wrong with their eyes or their optics, but they need to see with their heart if they are going to see God in Christ.]

Moreover, some women … were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”   

[The empty tomb, the message of the angels, the testimony of the myrrhbearing women, none of these things convince the disciples.  There is evidence which they can see but it still does not help their understanding.  The eyes are not the problem – but using eyes alone is the problem for they need to see with the eyes of their heart.]

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

[Their eyes are closed from recognizing Jesus, and their hearts/minds are also closed to the meaning of the Scriptures!  Jesus opens their eyes and their hearts (or the eyes of their hearts) so that they can see/read/understand the Scriptures and with the eyes of their heart see Christ.  Their physical eyes are of minimal value – God after all is invisible and the words of the scriptural text must be properly interpreted for their meaning to be comprehended.]

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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[What happens to these two disciples of Christ brings to mind what happens in Numbers 24 with the Prophet Balaam when he proclaims:

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, but having his eyes uncovered…”   (Numbers 24:3-4)

“The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down, but having his eyes uncovered: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not nigh: a star shall come forth out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab, and break down all the sons of Sheth.   (Numbers 24:15-17)

[Like Balaam, the disciples needed to have faith – to have the ability to see with the eyes of their hearts.   Their eyes have to be “uncovered” – the veil has to be lifted, but this is an issue of faith not optics.   What happens to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is that they too have their eyes uncovered and they see the vision of the Almighty – they see Jesus as God, and in that instant he vanishes from their eyes, because He can only be apprehended with their hearts.]

But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.  (2 Corinthians 3:14-18)

[To lift the veil, to have one’s eyes uncovered, one needs to purify one’s heart as we sing in the Paschal hymn:

Let us purify our senses and we shall see Christ, shining in the unapproachable light of the Resurrection, and  we shall clearly hear Him say, “Rejoice!” As we sing the song of victory!

We can read the Gospel lesson of the doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31) with these same “eyes”. ]

10181883175_d8d0e73f7fThen, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

[The disciples see the wounds on Jesus, but they see the Lord.  They have moved beyond physical optics and now see Christ with the eyes of their hearts for this is the only way to see God.]

So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

[To me it is not completely clear what Thomas refuses to believe – does He not believe the Lord is risen or is he only saying that he doesn’t believe his brother disciples?  He wants to see for himself or he cannot believe their report.  Perhaps the issue is he cannot understand why would Jesus appear to the other 10 disciples at a moment when he (Thomas) was not with them?  Was Christ singling him out for some reason?]

And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”

[Thomas’ reaction goes far beyond what his eyes can see – he claims to be seeing God.  He too now sees with the eyes of his heart – he has come to faith in Christ.  He doesn’t see ‘Jesus alone’, rather He sees Jesus as one of the Trinity.]

Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

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What is written in the Gospel is not so that we might “see Jesus” but that we might believe Jesus is Messiah, Son of God, the incarnate God.  The entire Gospel is aimed at our hearts, so that we might see God.

We Await the Resurrection of Our Bodies

Bright Tuesday

Salvation is cosmic in its dimensions.

Our soteriology needs to be holistic.

It is the total human person that saved:

a human being is not a soul dwelling temporarily in a body

but an integral unity of body and soul,

and so the two are sanctified and divinized together.

As Christians we do not simply believe in the immortality of the soul,

but we await also the resurrection of the body. Nor is this all.

Through our bodies we relate to the material environment around us,

and so our sanctification implies the sanctification of that environment as well.

We are not saved from but with the world.

Looking to the age to come, therefore, we await not merely the resurrection of the body but also the transfiguration of the entire cosmos; there is to be a “new earth” as well as a “new heaven” (Rev. 21:1).  

Our human salvation leads in this way to the redemption of the whole created order, which through us ‘will be set free from its bondage to corruption and will enter into the freedom of the glory of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21).   

(Bishop Kallistos Ware, How are we Saved?, pp 80-81)

Pascha – The Resurrection (2018)

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For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”

who has shone in our hearts to give the light

of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

(2 Corinthians 4:6)

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A Christian parish has nothing to offer the world except Jesus Christ – the One in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  We have nothing to offer each other except Christ, and the love with which He loves each of us (John 13:34). When as a community we take our eyes off Christ, and make anything else our message or our concern, we are lost in the darkness of the world.    On Pascha, we see Christ risen from the dead, shining out of the darkness of Hades itself, calling each of us personally and all of us together to lay aside our worldly cares and way of seeing each other. Out of the darkness of the night, out of the darkness of our hearts, out of the darkness of our minds, the light of Christ shines.  That can only happen when “I” no longer live but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).

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Our Lord Jesus Christ said to us, “you (plural, collectively) are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).  We all together are to be that light which shines out of the darkness. We are to be a light to each other and the world.  Don’t ever let the light in you and us be darkness (Luke 11:34-35). To let anything come between you and Christ or between you and your fellow believers is to have darkness threaten us all with its chaotic return.  We must be able to love those whom we can see if we ever hope to love God (1 John 4:20-21). An ember removed from the fire quickly burns out, dies and goes cold and dark. We however are to have that light with which the bush was burning and yet not consumed (Exodus 3:2).  We will not lose our light, nor will we ever die if we remain united to Christ in His Body, the Church. Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25-26)

Christ is risen!    Indeed He is risen!

Holy Friday (2018)

Holy Friday

God entered into the human condition in the incarnation – in Christ.  In Christ, God experienced sighing, sorrow, suffering and death. God takes on our human condition in order to redeem and transfigure it – not to help us escape it.  The beauty of the human condition is found in the fact that God can enter into it, as we are. God loves us in our frailty, in our fears and fragility. It is what makes us uniquely human and yet the very beings with whom God wishes to share his Divinity and to whom God gives eternal life.  In God dying on the cross we see the Divine work of creation accomplished – God sharing every aspect of our human existence. God redeems everything in our existence and shares even in our suffering and death so that we might share in His eternity. God’s death on the cross is not the defeat of humanity, but the accomplishment of God’s will that He be fully united to us.

It is finished!

We are much happier with our god in the heavens than with the man lying before us: “I do not know the man” (Matt. 26:72). We want a god who conforms to our expectations: an all powerful and all-knowing puppet-master, not one who confronts us as all-too-human, serving others, crying, dying.  Show us the Father, we ask, and it will be enough for us.  We yearn for a god who will lift us from our uncertainty, frailty, and fear, to see things from his lofty and implacable perspective, with all things in his providential control, all problems solved as if by magic.  

And in so doing, we ask to escape not only from our frailty, our suffering, and our tears, but also our joy and laughter – all the things that make up the particularly fragile beauty of human existence.

(Fr. John Behr, The Cross Stands While the World Turns, p. 64)

Holy Wednesday (2018)

It was common in the early church to personify Death and Hell especially in contemplating the crucifixion of Christ.  Death, Hell and Satan were often portrayed having a conversation trying to understand what the death of Christ meant for them – their victory over God, or, as they belatedly realized, the dead Christ was the seed of their own destruction.  Life burst forth from the tomb of Christ, bringing an end to Death’s power over humanity.

Three crosses Pilate fixed on Golgotha,

two for the thieves and one for the Giver of life,

whom Hell saw and said to those below,

“My ministers and powers

who has fixed a nail in my heart?

A wooden lance has suddenly pierced me and I am being torn apart.

My insides are in pain, my belly in agony,

my sense make my spirit tremble,

and I am compelled to disgorge

Adam and Adam’s race. Given me by a Tree,

a Tree is bringing them back

again to Paradise.

(St. Romanos, On the Life of Christ, pp. 155-156)

The personified Death, Hades and Satan all become mortally wounded by Christ’s own wounds.  They become weakened and sickened by the healing power of Christ’s resurrection.  Simultaneously, for us humans, we are being restored to health by Christ’s wounds.  “Those who repent with all their heart and cleanse themselves of all their aforementioned evils, and add nothing more to their sins, will receive healing from the Lord for their previous sins...”  (Shepherd of Hermas, Similitude 8:77:1-5)  Far beyond forgiveness of our sins, God gives us the gift of healing of soul and body through the suffering of His Son.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  (1 Peter 2:24)