Third Sunday of Lent
Today we turn to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. Jacob’s well was the setting for Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman. The woman had come to the well at midday to draw water; and, in the process discovered Jesus was the Messiah. She believed Him, and returned to her town to tell others who came to see for themselves. We understand in the Gospel of John 4:5-42, that Jesus had just left Judea and started back to Galilee; but, He had to go through Samaria. Well, not really. Every other Jewish group traveling from the Judean wilderness to Galilee went another way – they took the longer, safer route to the West; avoiding Samaria all together. Now, in this land, of what is the present-day West Bank, live people who today are reminiscent of the tensions and division, the misunderstanding and fear that the peoples of this land have had since before Jesus, who made the intentional and yet ill-advised decision to go there. John tells us that “…Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” A true understatement, as in they hate each other and have for hundreds of generations. It is this centuries-old division that Jesus confronted head on. The divisions still run deep. Today, the majority of Israeli Jews do not know any Palestinians personally, and therefore many Israelis are fearful of all Palestinians. It’s very similar to how many Americans don’t know any Muslims personally and therefore many of us are fearful of Muslims.
Let’s return to our story. Jesus came to the Samaritan city called Sychar. Jacob’s well was there. It’s a humble position that Jesus puts himself in. He is in her town, clearly in enemy territory, and yet he shows up hot, tired, thirsty, and alone. His disciples had gone to look for something to eat. So with a whole lot of humility, Jesus walks into her neighborhood and asks for a drink of water. She wondered why a Jewish man would speak to a Samaritan woman – Jesus was breaking a cultural taboo because of both race and gender. Jesus then offered her “living water”. This totally confused her, and she responded “Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself..?” This provided an opportunity for Jesus to present Himself as the life-giving Messiah to a Samaritan woman and later to her whole village.
We can only guess that the disciples came up with a numerous reasons why they didn’t have to go through Samaria, and yet Jesus led them right into enemy territory, without enough food and water to get through on their own. Because Jesus had to go through Samaria in order to teach them (and us) how to confront prejudice and polarization. Now, you might have found yourself wondering what your role should be in our society that seems to be increasingly polarized. We feel our differences more in this past bizarre election season. It seems like our national conversation & politics, our religious views, our media sources, and even our own family interactions seem to be more and more polarizing. So, in these days of increased polarization, I have to ask: Where are we headed as a nation and as a society? What is it going to take to pull us out of this polarization? And more personally, what is my role as a Christian, in trying to bridge the divide – or at least in trying not to widen the gap between whatever sides? Seriously, what is my role in this polarized world? Thankfully, in the Gospel of John we can see a case study of how Jesus chose to confront this classic polarization in His society. That’s our work – to talk to one another and invite others to begin and stay in the conversation. It’s exactly what Jesus did with the Samaritan woman. It’s Jesus’ model of fighting against polarization. So, our charge this week is to introduce yourself to someone whose skin color is different from yours, or accent is different from yours, or political views are different from yours, or education level is different from yours, or socio-economic sphere is different from yours. For that’s how Jesus has taught us to be human, and to be transformed and to combat polarization.
Dick Palazzolo, OblSB, Ridgely, MD