My Dear Parishioners:
Shocking!! That’s what it was! The gospel story we have today is absolutely, unequivocally shocking! Jesus, who was a Jewish man, was sitting there by a well having a conversation with, and even requesting water from, a Samaritan. Not only that, but this person with whom He was conversing was a woman. And furthermore, it appears they might have been alone. And it was high noon, not the usual time for women to be out gathering water. Some scholars speculate she may have been coming to the well at this unique time (a location which was typically a social gathering place for the women of a community) because, given her long, and some suggest sordid, history with men, the other women of the village may have been shunning her — after all, when she later left the well, returning to the city to advise the residents of the person she had met, we are informed that she went to the men (vs. 28). What on earth was He thinking?! Wasn’t He aware of the cultural norms of His day? Even John felt the need to comment on this rather remarkable incident, pointing out in a parenthetical statement that “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (vs. 9). His disciples, with whom He had been traveling, weren’t around — they had gone into the village to find food (vs. 8). However, when they returned to the well, and took in the scene, “they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman” (vs. 27). The Greek word the apostle John employs in this particular passage is thaumazo, which means to be filled with astonishment, wonder, and amazement. Behavior such as was being evidenced by the Lord Jesus on this occasion was unheard of. It was radical … extreme … scandalous! It could get you “talked about” … it could get you “written up” … it could even get you killed in certain circles.
Well, welcome to the wonderful, wondrous world of Jesus! He came to seek and to save souls, and no “cultural norm” was going to stand between Him and a sincere seeker. Jesus came to break down barriers between the races, the classes, and the sexes. There was no more rich or poor, slave or free, male or female, Jew or Greek… or even Samaritan. All were equally precious in His sight… and still are. Oh, that we could learn that lesson today!
The first thing that genuinely impresses me, as I reflect upon this account from John 4, is that there was an open and honest dialogue taking place. And it was happening between persons one would least expect to be engaging in such — a leading Jewish teacher and a Samaritan woman of perhaps questionable repute. As noted, this dialogue shocked the disciples of Jesus. It even shocked the woman herself (vs. 9). But, that was the nature of our Lord’s ministry. He reached out to people that “the religious elite” regarded as beneath them. Although Jesus was truly above all men, NONE were “beneath” Him!! This fact generated considerable criticism of Christ and His ministry. “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them'” (Luke 15:2). Shocking. What was Jesus thinking?! “And it came about that He was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, and many tax-gatherers and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples” (Mark 2:15). Unheard of. Outrageous. Not overly insightful, was He?! Not very discriminating! As one Pharisee observed, when, during the course of a meal being hosted at his house, a particular woman anointed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped them with her hair, “If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).
Well, guess what… Jesus is still doing it. He still is meeting unworthy characters at the ‘well’. Every time we gather around His altar, every time we gather to reflect on his Word, every time we receive his Body and Blood in the Most Holy Eucharist, Jesus is meeting with US! Jesus is in dialogue with US! We are no more worthy than the woman we hear about in today’s gospel.
This Sunday and the next two, those who are seeking entrance into the Church and the reception of the Sacraments will be experiencing the Rite of Scrutinies. They have for months participated in study, reflection, and conversion. For months they have been doing what this season calls each of us to do over and over.
God is compassionate, God is forgiving, God is merciful. Are we not created in his image? Would he not expect the same from each of us? This is the ‘season of change’. This is the ‘season of mercy’. If we desire God’s mercy… we must first show mercy to those who are daily around us. I dare say… it would be shocking!
Blessings, Fr. John