Sunday, March 7, 2010

The challenge of unconditional love (3rd Sunday of Lent, Jn. 4:5-42, The Samaritan Woman)

“Every hair on your head has been counted”, Jesus tells his disciples in Mt. 10:30. God knows us through and through. “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”, says God in the Book of Jeremiah (Jer.1:5). It’s a thought that’s both daunting and comforting. God knows everything about us: our strengths and weaknesses, our goodness and our sins. There are just no secrets with him.

In today’s Gospel, while Jesus was resting at a well, a Samaritan woman comes to fetch water. After a brief discussion, the woman says to him, “Sir, give me this living water which you speak of. So I won’t be thirsty anymore or have to keep coming here to draw water”. Jesus agrees. But he first asks her to call her husband and then come back.

Ashamed perhaps that Jesus would know her real situation, she responds to him with a half-truth: “Sir, I have no husband”. You can imagine her surprise when Jesus tells her: “You are right in saying, `I do not have a husband.’ The fact is, you’ve had five. And the man you’re now living with isn’t your husband either”. Jesus knew her story! There was no hiding from him.

She was stunned that he knew her sinful secret, and she was afraid of being condemned. And so she quickly changes the subject. “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet”, she says. “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” You can tell she was totally caught off guard by what Jesus knew about her. It was bad enough that he knew of her sinful past, would he now condemn and denounce her as well?

But Jesus didn’t do that! For he knew not only her sin, but also the fear that gripped her soul. And so instead of condemning her, he showed her compassion and gave her the chance to set things right.

“God knows us, through and through.” It’s a thought that’s both daunting and comforting. It’s daunting because it tells us that we can’t hide anything from Christ, especially not our sins. He knows us through and through. But it’s also a comforting thought, because it tells us that there’s no need for us to hide anything from Jesus, not even our deepest and darkest sins.

It is our greatest consolation as Christians, and our greatest source of strength, to know that God loves us, not as the perfect persons we sometimes imagine ourselves to be, but as the sinful and weak men and women we often are. Before God, we can simply be ourselves. The Samaritan woman did; and the forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, and love she experienced far surpassed anything she could have imagined.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)