Learn from the ‘scandals’ Jesus caused
By Tim Irwin
Third Sunday of Lent/March 15
Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9; Romans 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42
I’m old enough to remember what it means to be scandalized. Something happens causing moral outrage in a large cross section of people leading to shock, surprise and disbelief. It’s difficult to imagine what it would take these days to cause a good old-fashioned scandal. Such was not the case at the time of Christ. Strict social conventions regulated every aspect of daily life. Those who violated these norms could expect sanctions ranging from being shunned to being stoned.
Was Jesus preoccupied with smashing these social conventions? He eats with sinners, touches leapers, heals on the Sabbath and in this Sunday’s Gospel, talks publicly with a woman to whom he is not related. Making this situation even more egregious, the woman is a Samaritan.
The Samaritans were the descendants of the 10 lost tribes of Israel who had broken away from Jewish practice centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. They were lost in the sense that their identity as Jews had been compromised when the Assyrians conquered them a couple centuries after the split. Jews viewed the Samaritans as traitors to the Faith and Samaritans viewed the Jews as corruptors of the Faith. Tensions between these folks ran high. Jews traveling in Samaritan areas, as Jesus and his disciples were doing, would not be afforded the gracious hospitality commonly offered.
This is the context within which Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. The ensuing exchange leads the Samaritan women to say, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”
Incredibly for these circumstances, the Samaritan woman entertains the idea that Jesus is in fact the messiah: “The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and came to him.”
In the meantime, the disciples returned with food. Jesus declines their offer to eat saying that he has food of which they are unaware. “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.” The evangelist John employs the consumption of food as a way of illustrating how we might be converted into our better more Christ-like self today and our best most Christ-like self in eternity.
The message of Jesus touched the townsfolk and they invited him to stay. He did stay for a couple of days before returning to Galilee.
So, was Jesus preoccupied with smashing social conventions? It seems more likely that Jesus sought to transcend social conventions. In other words, social conventions are a normal byproduct of a culture. These conventions, on balance, are good because they help make life in a society manageable, but don’t let them impede the message of eternal salvation.
Jesus willingly transcended the social conventions of his day and offered an invitation of salvation to the Samaritans. Amazingly, the townsfolk also willingly transcended centuries of contempt and embraced a Jew in whom they recognized the charism of a prophet and the fulfillment of the messianic promise. What a scandal that must have been.
Maybe we can’t be scandalized, but we can surely learn from the example of the Samaritan townsfolk and transcend social conventions that these days, more often than not, impede a Catholic lifestyle.
May we hear their words this Sunday at the Holy Mass: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Tim Irwin teaches theology and philosophy at Notre Dame High School in Peoria. He is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Morton.