In today’s Gospel Jesus flies in the face of Temple tradition and has a discussion with a Samaritan woman alone, just the two of them. It is good to remember that Jesus was “a man like us in all things but sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He was learning gradually who he was and what he was being called to do, which was to live his Father’s love with everyone he met. The Story of the Samaritan Woman reflects this in his life.
The antagonistic mutual condemnation between the Hebrews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day was over which one worshipped God in the right way and at the right place. Two religious systems were fighting each other allegedly in the name of God. Each god agreed with them and condemned the other. Their self-serving images of god got in the way of their recognizing God moving among them. When people are taught to judge and condemn others in their life, a certain level of uneasiness and pain becomes part of their daily living. The Woman in the Story makes this clear.
Can we even imagine how the woman felt when she encountered Jesus? She had been taught that Hebrews were evil, wrong, and to be avoided at all costs, and that Hebrews saw Samaritans in the same way. Also, men were not to talk with unescorted women. And yet, here was this Hebrew man talking with her. She knew her own story of difficulties and suffering, and no doubt, like us, she was down on herself. Quite unexpectedly this man shows up and begins to tell her about her life and her secrets, not in a judgmental and condemning way, but in a caring, listening and healing way. In this experience she turned her life around.
Jesus didn’t have a judgmental bone in his body. His whole focus was on living his Father’s love with everyone he met. He lovingly accepted them where they were, helped them in ways that involved forgiveness and healing, urged them to see their own goodness and value, and didn’t turn them away.
It is good to remember that we are who we are – with our virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses -lovable and flawed. This is how God knows and loves us, as we are. We have come up with the “hate the sin and love the sinner” idea to make it easier on ourselves so we can judge others who, for whatever reason, make us feel uncomfortable. We go on to create a god who thinks like we do, and doesn’t like the same people we don’t like. That way we can keep praying to Jesus instead of imitating him. In our own way we reflect the way the Samaritans and Hebrews judged and condemned each other back then.
The only people Jesus was unable to reach were the ones who were wrapt in their self-serving ideas and would not let him into their lives. This was their choice and Jesus respected it. We have the same power in our own lives. We can be so firmly set in our own ideas, prejudices and judgements, our own image and expectations of Jesus, which always make us feel strong, comfortable, and in control, that we are unable to recognize Jesus when he comes to us in our life as he came to the Samaritan Woman in hers.
It seems that judging and condemning others whom we see as different from us comes from a need for power and control. We are not sure about who we are in the great scheme of things, so we come up with a system of defining ourselves by how we are different and who/what we are against. Anything that does not fit with our setup we decide is wrong, and therefore, to be condemned. Jesus faced this sort of thing many times in his life, and eventually this is what got him killed. He dealt with it by living his Father’s healing love, which he offered to everyone, including those in the system that condemned him and so many others. He could not ignore their free choice to refuse what he offered.
In our Catholic tradition, we don’t try to understand something so we can believe it, we believe first in order to understand. As Pope Francis teaches, we need to accept the reality that God is in everybody’s life in a manner God chooses, whether or not we agree with it. When we feel we have all the answers for everybody we leave no room for the God who is creating us, since we are focused instead on the god we create for ourselves who makes us feel comfortable and in control.
A legitimate question is whether we are open to letting Jesus into our life as the Samaritan let him into hers. Are we so set in our own thoughts and ideas and we will not let him show us God happening in people and situations we don’t like? We want things black and white while life is very gray. Jesus promised to send the Spirit who will help us see what it means for us to live as Jesus’ disciples in our own everyday life. If we are hearing things that go against what we believe now, are we willing to ask the Spirit to guide us without demanding any conditions? Can we trustingly be open? It could be quite a journey, as shocking to us as the encounter with Jesus was for the Samaritan Woman. Just sayin . . .