Additional Notes: There was some concern, since I didn’t post the reading, so I’ll clear it up: Jesus does heal the woman’s daughter.
We’re going to meander a little bit on a Journey through some of the readings. As we know, Jesus’s mission was a journey. A journey that includes learning and growing and evolving.
We’re gonna stop for a little bit with the Woman at the Well. In the reading (John 4: 3-9), this is a moment of “stepping in” for Jesus. Let me explain (or meander a bit).
Stepping in is a kind of “level two” (or four or five or six) level of practice. We all know it’s important to list the things we are grateful for each night (whether that is an actual list or a prayer of blessings). This trains the mind to notice the good and the kind and the things to be grateful for…even if life’s a bit messy. We see what we look for. By making time each day to notice our blessings, not our problems or what’s wrong, we cultivate a sense of noticing the Good.
The stepping up of this is not just to work on ourselves, learning to notice the blessings in the messiness of our lives, but to engage in society with gratitude. Not just: I notice this wonderful thing (blessing), but to notice it out loud. Noticing when someone does something kind (even if it’s simply opening a door or really great customer service) and acknowledging it with a thank you or even a gift. Sending a thank you card to someone to whom you are grateful. Taking the time. Taking the time to thank one another and to say the blessings/gratitudes out loud.
Often, we’re not bad people. We’re just so darn busy and self-focused that we don’t notice or take the time for those around us. Sometimes, this means we trample on one another, often without even noticing. Stepping up is taking the time to really notice one another. To see and acknowledge, to help other people see the Good/Gratitudes. To let others know that they are seen when the world is so busy and we all feel so isolated, alone, and un-seen.
In the reading of the Woman at the Well: Jesus had to go into Samaria. Had to. That’s an important phrase, because, actually, geographically, he didn’t and he wouldn’t have. Going into Samaria was not the normal route for a Jew to take. A Jew would go around Samaria. But Jesus had to go into Samaria. Enemy territory for a Jew (brings new meaning to the Good Samaritan story as well). It was dangerous to go into Samaria. And the Samaritans were not Jesus’s people.
So, what’s with the “had to”? PAUSE
It was time to practice love and teaching in a place where he would not be welcome. Where it was harder. To move beyond teaching the choir and opening the door to see “others” as part of the whole of humanity. And for others to see him. Perhaps, this was Jesus learning. Perhaps this was Jesus teaching. Perhaps it was a little of both.
He asks the Samaritan woman for water at the well. She is the enemy. He is the enemy. Depending on your viewpoint in the story. And yet, he bridges the disconnection to…connect and unite as human beings. Even to those “other” people on the “other” side. This is like us going into a convention with the “other” political party (maybe not a dangerous for us) and having a drink together and…talking and listening.
We are taught that if everyone is God’s creations then it’s all good and you can’t see others as others. We all belong to one creation. We all carry the same divine spark. That’s a huge burden, or blessing, or both, to carry as Christians or those who follow the path of Jesus, the path of love. PAUSE.
It’s not about what others believe, but what we believe. It’s not about changing others, but changing ourselves. Stepping into “enemy” territory and pausing at the well to ask for a common need of drink and to talk and listen. To see one another.
Jesus is learning to grow or learning to teach us to learn to grow. There’s lots of different ways to look at the stories. But what is asked of us is to love. And to…step in and step up when we’re ready.
Our reading, when Jesus comes across the Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15: 21-28). Another “other”. Not his people. She begs him to heal her daughter. She has a common human need of healing. Jesus ignores her. Tells her she’s not on his side. Then he compares her, her people, and her daughter to dogs. PAUSE. Notice how she responds.
There are many ways to interpret the stories, but perhaps she teaches Jesus something. And definitely us. When we’re tired and frustrated, we often respond in ways that we’d rather not respond in. Ignoring those in need. Separating ourselves from other’s needs. Saying unkind things to those in need.
In some ways, this mother is the teacher. She doesn’t get angry when he calls her a dog. She tells him that even the dog is worthy of notice. Worthy of food. Worthy of care.
Sometimes, we’re surprised that deep down, people are just like us. With human fears. Human failings. Human anger. Even the people who do bad things. Even people on the “other” side.
It’s not about them, but us. Our journey and meandering toward learning and change and growing. It’s not our job to change people or punish people. It’s our job to love them, even when they have wronged us.
Not conditionally. If they apologize. If they pay us back. If we can retaliate. But love them now. Love them unapologetic.
Love them enough to hope for their sake they get beyond the fear and hate and greed that pushes them to do the bad things people too often do. Perhaps this is where love and forgiveness intertwine. Love as the really hard practice. To accept the situation as it is. No “fix” for us, but we still give a gift of love. (And remember, forgiveness doesn’t mean we’re inviting people over for tea or putting ourselves in harm’s way).
Jesus forgave. Nailed to a cross.
Jesus going to Samaria is stepping up to the challenge. Jesus with the Canaanite woman is growing in challenge. To put himself in the path of conflict, danger, dislike, “others”, the enemy. Confronting it. Perhaps it’s not even to confront and change those he will meet, but to confront and change himself. To prepare himself. To outgrow his prejudices so that his love can continue to ripple. Not just within his own circle and his own people, but into a wider vision and a wider world. That’s why Jesus is still relevant today, because opening to that wider circle of all humanity.
Stepping up love is stepping to to put ourselves onto and into the path of conflict (not danger, conflict). And yes, it starts within. Often love and forgiveness begins with forgiving and loving ourselves and allowing ourselves to make mistakes, to learn, and to grow. And to listen for the time, the opportunity, the call, when it’s our time and our turn to step up and love bigger.