24 Feb 2008
“‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’” In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is heading from Judah back to His home province of Galilee. To get there, He has to pass through Samaria. We’ve made mention of it many times before, but the Jews of Jesus’ day do not much like the Samaritans. The Jews would consider them imposters, their faith a forgery. And after centuries of facing this kind of animosity, the Samaritans grew none-too-fond of the Jews either. This conflict becomes immediately clear when Jesus asks for a drink of water from the well. A Samaritan woman had come down from her village. She’s performing one of her daily tasks: lowering the bucket into the well and drawing out water to then carry back to the village. Without a bucket, though, the well is useless. Without a bucket, Jesus is at the mercy of this woman when He asks for a drink. I think there’s sarcasm in her reply to Jesus because she sees this. “How can you a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan-woman for a drink,” she asks Him.
She’s taking a verbal shot at Jesus here, not because He’s Jesus but because He’s Jewish. She had a sense that the Jews thought themselves superior to the Samaritans, but now in His desperation this Jewish man comes begging for a favour from of all people a Samaritan woman. The Jews had a tradition of treating the Samaritans with contempt and now she was ready to return the favour. Her anger was a part of who she was, and as soon as she had her opportunity it came out in her chance encounter by the well. How many people today carry around that latent anger that’s just waiting for a chance to get even? On the large scale, I’m amazed by our world politics. All over the world we’re seeing that one people cannot live with another people under a shared roof. Majorities mistreat minorities, and minorities resent majorities. Pretty soon we’ll only be able to have neighbourhood nations where everybody has to be exactly the same. We’re loosing the ability to let go of old, sometimes I mean very old, insults and hatred. We’re hanging on to our anger as a badge of pride. We won’t forgive as a sign that we won’t forget. And just look at the mess this pride in anger has wrought.
The conversation between this woman and Jesus continues in John’s Gospel. Off in the distance, the disciples are now returning. They see the scene in front of them. The disciples, likewise, immediately give hints of their intolerance, but theirs is of a different flavour than the Samaritan woman’s. Their gut reaction doesn’t focus on the sight of Jesus speaking with a Samaritan. The disciples’ first reaction is that Jesus is talking with a woman. It would have been morally scandalous for an unmarried woman to be talking with an unmarried man in an unsupervised setting. It was that way then, and in many places in the world, it’s that way still today.
Women are too often treated as things rather than as people. In many Muslim countries their rights are greatly restricted. In many Western countries, America included, we likewise trivialize women. In last Sunday’s Parade Magazine, Emily Procter of CSI: Miami complained that directors made her police-detective-character wear low-cut sweaters. Pornography is a huge enterprise, and is the most lucrative segment of the internet business world. When a porn shop was moving into North-ampton next to our church, I was asked to write a letter to the landlord, a lot of good it did though. I asked him just to think about the women who have to sell their bodies in pornography. What is their background? Were they sexually abused? Was there violence, poverty, drug abuse? I can’t help but think that the vast majority of these women did not choose this profession as their first career choice. Pornography takes advantage of their desperation, and it doesn’t care about them or their situations. All it cares about is them as an object. And sadly, maybe because of the prevalence of pornography, sexual violence against women is everywhere, from the street, to the home, and even recently it has made the news on our local college campuses.
Jesus in this morning’s Gospel is surrounded by examples of human behaviour that have not changed much with the passage of time. Both the Samaritan woman and the disciples come into this story ready to judge and condemn. Jesus was surrounded by this behaviour, and easily could have done the same Himself. John tells us that this woman is not a pillar of virtue. That she has gone through five husbands and is now living with a man outside of marriage, does not speak well of her moral standing. Jesus as a moral teacher has every opportunity at this point to lambaste the woman, to make moral judgments about her, to condemn her. She came to Him with her preconceived notions; the disciples are approaching with theirs; and now Jesus has the chance to do the same. Instead, He speaks with her, treats her like a person rather than a symbol. She’s not a Samaritan or a woman; she’s one of the people Jesus was sent to. This may be what Jesus means when He says that true worshippers will worship God in spirit and truth. They will be able to see beyond the physical, and when they can start looking on other people as more than symbols, then also they can worship God in the same way.
That Samaritan woman becomes the most successful apostle in John’s Gospel. It’s said that it’s easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live just one. Jesus could have preached a heck of a sermon at her expense, but instead He lived the gospel message by treating her as a person, beyond categories and beyond judgment, and John says the entire village came out and believed in Jesus. Maybe this story is our Lenten meditation. Maybe it’s our path to better understand why Jesus went to the cross rather than return hatred for hatred, judgment for judgment. Maybe it’s our challenge to be more like Jesus so that we see people in spirit and truth rather than only as symbols and in categories. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)