Summary: A lenten reflection on the dangers and implications of predjudices in our faith communities.
Today’s gospel proclamation reminds us that Jesus of Nazareth is the consistent lover of the unlovable The Saviors persistently disregards all socio- cultural norms and stereotypes of his day that differentiated between us and them. There was much about this itinerant Nazarene that was quite innovative. Instead of avoiding the lepers as unclean he touches them. He shows compassion and mercy to the adulterous woman about to be executed by a band of self righteous religious folk. He converses with the Goyim. He permitted a group of women to accompany him around the Galileans countryside . In all probability, he may have been supported by some of these women, which would have been quite scandalous in the very paternalistic and chauvinistic first century Palestine. Jesus eats with the despised tax collectors who were considered to be traitors and collaborators with the oppressors. He interacts with and even accommodates a military leader of the hated Roman occupying force. Throughout the gospel narratives, he associates with those who were labeled as moral failures, misfits and degenerates. His congregation was made up of the irreligious and immoral people who were politically and ethically suspect by the vast majority of good God fearing people of Israel. His disciples included the obscure, abandoned and hopeless that existed on the fringe of first century Judea. He elected to minister to. the outlaws of Palestinian society who were often judged to be without religion, morals or value.
Today’s gospel narrative is no exception; we hear of the thirsty and exhausted Jesus interacting with a Samaritan woman .At the time of Jesus, a rabbi was prohibited from teaching woman. A respectable rabbi would not speak with a pious Jewish woman in public let alone a Samaritan woman of ill repute. The fact that this woman was going to fetch water at high noon, in the heat of the day, implies that she wanted to avoid social interaction with other Samaritan women. It is the contention of many scholars that because of her extensive sexual history, she would have been considered an outcast among outcasts.
In first century Palestine, there was a deep rooted hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. The etiology of this mutual animosity stems from the Assyrian conquest of the Jews and the subsequent Babylonian exile. Between 597-582BC, there were three deportations of the Jews ordered by Nebuchadnezzar. But these exiles did not involve a relocation of the entire population. The conquerors left a remnant of Jews in Israel. During the time of the exile, the Samaritans who were among those who were left behind started to inter- married with the foreigners whom the Assyrian had also relocated in Israel. The Jews started their return in 520 BC. During the early post exilic period, political and economic factors precipitated the tension between the people of Judah and the Samaritans. This conflict eventually evolved into outright hostility. The people of Judah were convinced that they were the authentic people of the covenant and that the Samaritans were half breed schematics. The split between the Jews and the Samaritans gradually widened until the Samaritan eventually built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim. At the time of Jesus the hatred between the Jews and Samaritans was so intense that they did not speak to each other and most Jews would go out of their way to avoid the perceived ritual impurity of walking through Samaritan territory. But the Liberator disregards these prejudices and stereotypes simply because this particular woman has a very specific need that He alone could meet. Throughout his ministry, the savior was always wiling to go outside his comfort zone, beyond his social circles to meet the needs of his people. Can anything less be expected from we who bear his precious name ? But are we compliant with the example of our Blessed Savior.?
Prejudice is defined as an adverse opinion formed without just grounds and prior to sufficient knowledge. It is safe assume that a vast majority of us harbored biases toward others and entertain certain prejudices. However the universality and ancient history of prejudices in no ways justifies their continuation. If you are plagued with the bondage of prejudices in your heart than you are in desperate need of the saving grace of the Liberator.
The apostle Paul proclaims in Gal 3/28-29 that our faith in the Liberator makes us one. This belief in our universal need for the Liberator of mankind should eliminate all discrimination and prejudices. We. need to reflect upon just how radical this apostolic proclamation is. It was written by the inspired author nearly 2000 years ago when the Jews were convinced that they alone were the chosen of Yahweh, It was proclaimed when slavery was a part of everyday life. It was revealed at a time when women and children had absolutely no rights.