I thought I would take a break from the love and relationships posts and share a shorter post inspired by a homily I heard a few months ago about Jesus and the woman at the well from John 4:5-42. This is the story of Jesus' seemingly scandalous conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was out drawing water in the heat of the day, not wanting to be seen and knowing that no other women would be there at that time. Jesus stopped to have a private conversation with the woman of inferior breeding (such was the thinking at the time) and asked her for a drink of water. She was shocked that he would even consider drinking out of her cup. "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman," she said. "How can you ask me for a drink?" (This was one weird Jew.) Jesus then proceeded to tell her everything she had ever done. He knew her already without having met her. And so he offered her a drink from the spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Learning from Jesus: How to evangelize.
March 23, 2014
In today's homily, our priest pointed out the gentle way in which Jesus interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus spoke of her sins but not in a scolding way. He could sense that she was not satisfied with the life she was living. She wearily asked how she could receive the living water so that she would not have to be burdened by returning to draw water day after day. She was living in 'survival mode' as Mother Angelica calls it. She was too busy reacting to her many problems and burdens to reflect on her life choices, and she couldn't see a way out of that life anyway. Jesus showed her another way, a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light. He desired to give her the living water of faith, a fresh start in a new life that is free from the burden of sin which brings death. He wanted to free her from the prison she had made for herself. He offered her redemption.
Jesus knew that a genuine encounter with the Holy Spirit would change this woman's life forever and that she would repent and cease to live a life of sin. And he saw that she was open to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, there was no need for him to address her sins directly. This poor Samaritan woman knew that she was a sinner, and she was despised and rejected by the community because of her misdeeds. She needed love and hope and an encounter with the Holy Spirit.
However, there were those who committed grave sins and did not consider themselves to be sinners. The Pharisees and Sadducees were held in high esteem as models of righteousness. They presumed God's favor and took it for granted while committing a multitude of sins. There are two blasphemies against the Holy Spirit, the only unforgivable sin: 1.) to despair that one's sins are too great for God's mercy 2.) to deny one's sinfulness and persist in unrepentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees were in the latter group. While they obstinately refused to humble themselves before God, already perfectly righteous in their own minds, Jesus, who was literally free from sin, received John's Baptism of Repentance in the Jordan, in order to "fulfill all righteousness".
Unrepentant, the Pharisees and Sadducees would not benefit from the gentleness shown to the Samaritan woman. Instead they were faced with tough love, receiving frequent tongue lashings from John the Baptist and Jesus.
"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.'"
Sometimes tough love is the only way to shock someone into seeing their own sinfulness. This is one reason why the church has a process of excommunication, requiring one to produce good fruit (i.e. contrition and conversion) as evidence of repentance. Short of excommunication, other disciplinary actions can be taken to encourage repentance and protect others from scandal. It may not seem nice. But love is not always nice.