24 February 2008 3rd Sunday of Lent
Exodus 17, 3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5, 1-8; John 4, 5-42
Let us begin with a short background of the Gospel today. There were formerly 12 Hebrew tribes, corresponding to the 12 sons of Jacob, who occupied Canaan, the Promised Land. There were, however, other peoples occupying the territory such as the Canaanites and the Philistines. When the Philistines threatened to invade the tribes, the Hebrews clamored for unity under a king. The tribes of Israel and Judea were from the Southern Kingdom; while the 10 tribes were from the Northern Kingdom. Under the kings, the Southern and the Northern kingdom continued to be enemies. When the threat from the Philistines was controlled, they returned to their mutual hatred. In 721 BC, the Assyrians invaded the Northern Kingdom and its ten tribes and deported the Jewish elite, leaving only peasants and non-Jewish inhabitants. The elite trace their roots to the ten tribes, but they would never return.
In the time of Jesus, the Samaritans claimed to have descended from the original 10 tribes. and regarded the Jews of the South (Judea) as heretical because they regarded all the books of the Hebrew Scripture. The Samaritans on the other hand, regard only the Pentateuch (the 1st five books of the Old Testament). Moreover, the Samaritans regarded Mt. Gerazim in their area as God’s chosen place for sacrifice, and not the Temple in Jerusalem which Solomon built. The hatred was mutual. The Jews of the South would also regard the Samaritans as heretical calling them half-breeds (since they came from peasants and non-Jews who were left when the Jewish elite was deported). Thus, the Jews of the South would avoid the Samaritans and vice versa.
When Jesus gave the parable of the Good Samaritan and talked to the Samaritan woman at the well in today’s Gospel, He was making a strong statement. He said that the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and therefore it is not anymore important whether one worships in Jerusalem or Mt. Gerazim. In other words, Jesus was setting a challenge to rethink our basic attitudes of exclusivity. He invites us to focus on what unites us than what divides us.
The season of Lent is a time to look closely on our attitudes of isolation: when we would rather be exclusive than inclusive. Contemporary culture is moving towards an I-culture or a growing individualism. The earphone is its symbol. Once they put on their earphones and turn on their iPods or MP3 players, they’re off to their own world. You have to shout to remind them that there are others with them.
Let’s take the family situation. The gap between parents and children are like the Jews and the Samaritans; as wide as their regard to the Temple of Jerusalem and Mt. Gerazim. How do loving and concerned parents interact with their children who question or ignore family values, excessively self-absorbed, and actively hostile towards some cherished beliefs. They are like the Hebrews in the first reading who complained to Moses and who questioned, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” The children today tell their parents using the same form: “Are you with me, Mom or are you against me?”
There is no norm, as parents know. But we can get lessons from Jesus as He talks to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. First, the parents continue to love and support their children despite their differences and tensions. Love does not withdraw at the first sign of disagreement. Good parents continue to love even as they continue to challenge; but listens also to their children.
Second, good parents effectively walk in tension between saying too much and saying too little, between challenging and nagging, between supportive and losing one’s connection. Thus, the key is to be non-combative and non-proselitizing. Never to see another as an enemy, like a child who is not bad but unfinished. Jesus accompanied the Samaritan woman towards realization, mutually challenged and comforted her, and finally, helping bring her towards fuller maturity by refusing to make moral compromises. The arena then is Jacob’s well: dialogue and communication, which all generations need and share: check the top products and services of our age.