Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday of the Third Week in Lent

Numbers 20:1-3, 6-13 / John 4:5-42

For many of us, being rightly understood is a bit of a challenge. We can find ourselves drawn into arguments, often quite fierce and bitter ones, trying to make sure that the other party truly sees what we see and how we see it. Again and again our interlocutor's responses suggest that she does not indeed get what we mean, and so we press on, and harder, our frustration mounting as she continues holding her own view. We are convinced that, should she truly see things as we see them, she would abandon her error and happily embrace the truth we have come to know.

When faced with this kind of misunderstanding, we are likely to do one of two things. We might grow angry, our arguments fiercer, and the concern for the person sitting across from us becoming all the less, the victory of our truth being our sole concern. Or, we are tempted to regard either the person with whom we are speaking or the truth we want to share as of no account. Not wanting to live with our failure to bring about mutual appreciation of the truth we have seen and known, we resolve our frustration in a false way, pretending we do not care one way or the other.

In Jesus' meeting of the Samaritan woman at the well, we see quite a different model. It is certainly the case that the woman remains for quite some time in shades of error, grasping bits of truth about Jesus, but often mixed with other commitments to her people's traditions or the shame of her own problematic past and present with men. Yet, throughout it all, Jesus does not become frustrated or alarmed. He is not worried at her misunderstanding in the slightest. At the same time, Jesus is clearly committed to drawing this woman from error to truth, from unbelief to faith, from adoring what she does not know to adoring the Lord known by the Jews, and from that to the deeper goal, that she might adore the Father in spirit and in truth.

What we often forget as we present the Gospel to others is that it is Christ himself who is the best teacher, Christ himself who can lead others skillfully and patiently through their misapprehensions to his glorious truth. This is not to say that we, whether ordained ministers of the Good News of Jesus Christ or simply one of the baptized living out his vocation, do not have a role in proclaiming the Gospel, in making Jesus Christ known to our neighbor. Even so, it is not our skillful words of persuasion which will, in the end, remove the resistance of unbelief. It is, rather, the experience of Jesus Christ himself by the power of the Spirit that is the best, and indeed only, path to receive the new life of the Gospel. We can communicate to others what brought us to receive the truth of Jesus Christ, even as the woman did to her fellow Samaritans: He told me all things whatsoever I have done. Yet, in the end, it was not her testimony that brought the Samaritans to saving faith any more than it will be our convincing words.

Our hope, our joy, is that our words should direct others to attend to Christ, not that we could succeed in producing the gift of faith itself. May we long and rejoice to hear, as the Samaritan woman heard, that our arguments are no longer necessary, and that those who once did not believe can turn to us and say, We now believe, not for thy saying: for we ourselves have heard Him, and know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.

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