from the cup of living water

There is an expression, commonly known as the Chinese curse, which states “May you live in interesting times.” And it would appear as though we have been so cursed, for by almost any measure, we are most certainly living in interesting times. Within our communities, our nation, and throughout the world, ideological differences are sharply dividing us, alienating neighbor from neighbor and increasingly calling for the destruction of any and all those who are deemed ideologically impure or deficient.

The Samaritan woman at the well

The Samaritan woman at the well

Whether an ideology concerns religion or politics, race, gender, ethnicity, wealth, citizenship, life or death, or any of a myriad of strongly held beliefs, the combined ideological fervor has spread like a virulent pandemic, resulting in the widespread polarization of much of our world today. In short, we find ourselves living in a world of absolutes and rigidly held ideologies and in such an environment it is all too easy to harden our hearts, close our minds to all thought but our own, and seek to denigrate or destroy, by any means possible, those who would voice a demurral or dissent.

Voices who would speak of mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding are either drowned out or silenced by those promoting violence, hatred, stridency, and judgment. As sentient beings created by God we have lost our moral compass, replacing virtue with immorality, integrity with deceit, righteousness with corruption, acceptance with condemnation, and justice with judgment. Millions of voices scream out in anguish and despair, but no one is listening, for we have covered our ears and shut our eyes to it all. All that Jesus taught us, his sole purpose for coming into this world, would appear to have been forgotten, ignored, or dismissed.

Father Ron Rolheiser recently wrote of a conversation he had with an old priest he encountered shortly after his own ordination. He asked him “If you had your priesthood to live over again, would you do anything differently?” The old priest’s reply surprised him for he had expected him to have no regrets, yet he replied that he did regret one thing, “If I had my priesthood to do over again,” he said, “I would be easier on people the next time. I wouldn’t be so stingy with God’s mercy, with the sacraments, with forgiveness. You see what was drilled into me was the phrase: ‘The truth will set you free,’ and I believed that it was my responsibility to challenge people so as to protect something inside of them. That’s good. But I fear that I’ve been too hard on people. They have pain enough without me and the church laying further burdens on them. I should have risked God’s mercy more![1]

Father Rolheiser then asks, “Why are we so hesitant in proclaiming God’s inexhaustible, prodigal, indiscriminate mercy?”, and he then answers his own question this way: “Partly our motives are good, noble even. Concern for truth, justice, orthodoxy, morality, proper public form, proper sacramental preparation, fear of scandal, and concern for the ecclesial community that needs to absorb and carry the effect of sin, these are not unimportant things. Love needs always to be tempered by truth, even as truth must ever be moderated by love. But sometimes our motives are less noble and the hesitancy arises out of timidity, fear, jealousy, and legalism—the self-righteousness of the pharisees or the bitter jealousy of the older brother of the prodigal son. No cheap grace is to be dispensed on our watch[2] he says.

And, he continues, “God’s mercy, as Jesus revealed it, embraces indiscriminately, the bad with the good, the undeserving with the deserving, the uninitiated with the initiated. One of the truly startling insights that Jesus gave us is that the mercy of God cannot not go out to everyone. It is always free, undeserved, unconditional, universal in embrace, reaching beyond all religion, custom, rubric, political correctness, mandatory program, ideology, and even beyond sin itself.[3]

Read the Gospels, the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Gospels that recount the earthly life and death of Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, and you will rediscover, perhaps what most have long forgotten, that Jesus lived as he taught and taught how to live as God desires us to live. Jesus spoke of forgiveness, mercy, and love. Jesus taught us to show mercy, compassion, and acceptance toward all, even toward those who fail to reciprocate in kind. If you have any doubt concerning this you need read no more than the fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew.

Throughout the Old Testament we hear of God’s willingness and eagerness to show mercy and forgiveness to his chosen people. We read how repeatedly the Israelites lost their trust in God and how God repeatedly granted them his mercy, compassion, and love. When they complained that they were hungry, God gave them manna, bread from heaven.[4] When they grumbled to Moses that they were dying of thirst in the desert, God brought forth water from the rock in Horeb at a place called Massah and Meribah.[5]

And in the Gospel of John, while his disciples have gone into town to buy food, Jesus sits down at a well to rest when a woman comes to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink. This passage, filled with unimaginable occurrences for the time, is one of the most enduring examples of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and love. To understand how extraordinary this event must have been, we must consider it from an ancient Mediterranean cultural perspective:  Jesus asks for a drink from a Samaritan, a people despised and hated by the Hebrews. He asks for a drink from a woman who was neither supposed to be outside the home at midday nor outside the home unescorted. And the woman subsequently goes into the village marketplace and speaks to men, another place where she was not supposed to be whenever men were present.

During his conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus offers her living water, a metaphor for himself and his power and mission to bring salvation to everyone; he also admits to her that he is the Messiah. He further acknowledges that he knows all that she has done including the fact that she has had five husbands and is even now living with a sixth man to whom she is not married. Clearly, it would be easy to consider her an unrepentant sinner, unworthy to be in his presence or to be speaking with him. And yet, he neither condemns her nor does he judge her, but rather he offers her his unconditional mercy, compassion, and love. He treats her as an equal with no reservation or regard for her ethnicity, social status, or religious beliefs. Jesus remains among the Samaritans for two days, never offering condemnation or judgment, and many of them began to believe that he was “truly the savior of the world.”[6]

The question then for us might simply be reduced to this: “How would we react or behave under similar circumstances?” I ask you to reflect upon some person or group that holds some belief for which you find yourself in disagreement. To live as Jesus taught and to act as God desires we must rid ourselves of all judgment, condemnation, scorn, ridicule, hatred, animus, and ill-will. We must show mercy, compassion and love toward all. It almost certainly will prove difficult and your efforts may quite possibly be repulsed or rejected, but it is what we are called to do as Christians, as followers of Jesus Christ. And as Christians we are called to live the Gospel message, loving God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. And as Christians we can do nothing less if we truly wish to be called children of God.

 

 


[1] Ron Rolheiser, OMI, In Exile: Risking God’s Mercy, http://liturgy.slu.edu, The Sunday Website of Saint Louis University, March 8, 2015 The First Scrutiny
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[4] Ex 16:1-15.
[5] Ex 17:1-7.
[6] Jn 4:42.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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