19 Mar 2017
“… Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by [Jacob’s] well. It was about noon.” (John 4:6) In the name …
So the other day a mother comes by the rectory and we were spending some time talking in the living room. She had a young child with her at the time, and after a while you could tell that the child was not as fresh and smelling of flowers as she could be. Not a problem. At least not for me. When mom and baby left, however, I couldn’t immediately find my dog Mason. I had put him in the kitchen behind a baby gate. Usually when people come to visit, Mason wants them to know that he lives in the rectory too so he’s right there begging for attention. But when I opened the gate and looked for Mason – nowhere to be seen. Then I found him. He was sitting a bit apprehensively over in the far corner by the basement and porch doors, as far away from the living room as he could move. I think what happened is that Mason got a whiff of what was going on in the living room with the baby and he didn’t want to be blamed for it. I think he was making absolutely clear to me that he was not responsible for whatever had happened in the other room.
So today we hear about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman of Sychar. This is a woman who has been blamed for a lot in her life and she’s trying to avoid any more problems. The chore of going to the well and drawing water was women’s work in Jesus’ day, and the women of the village would walk out to the well in the coolness of the early morning. This had a double benefit. It sure beat carrying the water back to the village under the hot sun, but it was also a time to socialize. All of the women would be there, and there were not many opportunities in their daily lives to talk to others outside of their homes besides this one time of the day. But the woman Jesus meets is out drawing water at high noon. It sure seems like she’s going out of her way to avoid meeting the other women of the village.
We know why. She had gone through five husbands. This didn’t have to be her fault, but we can imagine how easy it would have been for others to blame her whether the failed marriages were her fault or not. And on top of this she was not married to the man she now lived with. This all adds up to scandal. This could have been the kind of material that may have made the rounds down at the well at dawn. The woman Jesus met was drawing water at noon so that she didn’t have to be there with the others, and the others probably didn’t want her there either.
But now Jesus enters the story and her life. John’s Jesus is not as shy about His supernatural gifts as He is in the other Gospels, and on this occasion Jesus has the gift of supernatural knowledge. He knows this woman’s story even before He meets her. Jesus knows why the others shun her. But not Jesus. He breaks every social and moral convention when He talks to her as a person. Even she is amazed that a Jew would talk with her – a Samaritan, and when Jesus’ disciples return they are amazed not so much by this odd scene in front of them as they are by the fact that He is talking with a woman. There was every reason for Jesus to avoid this person: she had moral improprieties; she was a detested Samaritan; and she was a woman. But Jesus saw a person there beside the well, not an adulteress, not a Samaritan, and not a woman. Just a person. And Jesus treated her as a person. All of the reasons for separation and judgment melted away because Jesus chose not to let them define this person as automatically other. He refused to reject her because of categories, and simply talked to her by the Well of Jacob as a person. What if it’s as simple as that?
What if as Christians we could learn this lesson of Jesus? While there is so much talk in the world today of separation, what if we chose not to listen to all of the arguments about why we should not associate with this or that person, this group or that one, and instead followed Jesus’ example of looking past the categories and simply started talking to each other?
When you heard today’s Gospel, did you take notice of the detail that Jesus and His disciples were making their way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north, but to do so, says the Bible, they “had to go through Samaria”? The only reason they stopped was because Jesus was tired. This wasn’t a planned stop; they didn’t want to stop; they needed to stop. And then did you hear that the disciples left to buy food? There was a Samaritan village right up the hill, but the disciples went someplace else. They must have purposefully avoided the Samaritans or else they would have gone into the town of Sychar.
The disciples had chosen separation, not because they knew and disliked the people of Sychar, but because of the category of Samaritan. And notice what they overlooked. Where Jesus’ disciples would not go, and this woman did, a whole community came to believe in Jesus. And remember this woman was hated in that village. It couldn’t have been easy for her to go back to them and convince them about who Jesus was, but she did anyway. In this sense, she, not the Twelve, but she was the apostle, the one sent out to bring others to Christ.
Fear, distrust, dislike of others just because of their category led nowhere. But when Jesus chose to talk to that person by the well, and when she then followed Jesus’ example and went back to a town that despised her and she talked to them, then Jesus rejoiced in the harvest of people who came to believe. Maybe part of doing the work of God is as simple as talking to others as people and not avoiding them as categories. That we may be open and receptive to these encounters in all parts of our lives, and that we may fight against the tendency to treat others as categories and not people, for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo