|My very long poem in heroic couplets|
about the Samaritan Woman
"Go call your husband and come back."
The woman answered and said to him,
"I do not have a husband."
Jesus answered her,
"You are right in saying, 'I do not have a husband.'
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true."
Those who have the privilege to work directly with people -- bureaucrats, counselors, medics, ministers, police, politicians, salespeople, teachers, wardens, warriors and so forth -- are not doing their jobs if they're not taking risks. There is something about the human encounter that requires stepping beyond oneself into the unknown, into the mystery of another person.
In today's gospel, Jesus stepped into it in a big way when he told her everything she had done. I use that expression "stepped into it" intentionally because human interaction is messy. In the case of this lovely Samaritan woman, it's almost sordid. And yet there is no other way to accomplish his life and work.
If he were simply a teacher of truths like Plato, Buddha, Muhammad and Confucius he could keep to the high road, above the confusion and distress. He could hand down wise proverbs and people would be in awe of him. They would say, "What a wonderful mind that man has!" and "How superior he is to our messy ways." Some would emulate him, thinking they too might attain the high road. Others would despise him, though not openly, for distancing himself from human contact. They would say he doesn't understand real people.
Jesus certainly met both admiration and contempt but he was neither seduced by the one nor repelled by the other. In his own desire to know -- that is, to save -- each person, he was more interested in their well being than what they thought of him.
Isn't that what (I might add parents, children, family and friends to the list.) If they are genuine in their concern for others they're not especially worried about whether they're appreciated or despised. The best teachers are not always admired; the best ministers are often fired; the best politicians are respected only by an honest electorate, usually after they're dead. Which parents were never detested by their children?
The woman in this story also takes great risks as she accosts the stranger. First she approaches him alone without the protective security of other women; then, rather than silently answering his demand for water, she flirts with him. When he reveals that he knows way too much about her, she doesn't run. Instead she reveals her own secret longing for a messiah. Despite her reputation -- her life was probably the most entertaining event in town -- she has a deep soul. She wants more. That's why she has run through six men already and found no satisfaction. That's why she is chatting up Jesus, her seventh man. (Remember, 7 is a sacred number.)
As a chaplain in the VA hospital, I meet that longing in many ways. It may be a plea for relief from physical distress and pain. It may be thirst for alcohol, hunger for drugs or the sad loneliness of divorce. It is not satisfied with the ubiquitous television in the bedrooms and lounges. It is only met, if at all, by people with courage.
Mysteriously and marvelously, at the end of the conversation as the disciples returned to Jesus with food and drink, the Lord and the Samaritan were satisfied. She left her bucket by the cistern; she seemed to have no further need for water. And he declined to eat saying, "I have food to eat of which you do not know."
This meeting required enormous courage of both Man and Woman. She drank his living water; he said, "It is finished."