Sunday, May 14, 2017: Sunday of the Samaritan Woman; Isidore the Martyr of Chios, Holy Hieromartyr Therapontus, Holy New Martyrs Mark and John, Serapion the Holy Martyr, Leontius, Patriarch of Jerusalem
Christ is Risen!
Human beings are different from each other it two, broad ways.
The first is that we are created “male and female” in the words of Genesis (1:27).Though this distinction is under attack by some–even by some in the Church–it remains the most basic human difference. Before we are anything else, we are either male or female and this is a created distinction inherent to being human.
All the other differences in the human family–nationality, language, social status–are secondary. And these other differences are–again, broadly–God’s merciful response to human sinfulness. To see this we need to go once again to Genesis and the story of the Tower of Babel.
To summarize, after the Flood during Noah’s time, God makes a covenant with humanity:“I will never again curse the ground for man’s sake, although the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; nor will I again destroy every living thing as I have done” (Genesis 8:21, NKJV). As time goes on though, humanity begins, once again, to doubt God. Eventually, we simply no longer trust God to keep His word to us and so when we come to “the land of Shinar” we decided to “build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:3,4)
We exercise our creativity and technical genius in rebellion against God. Key to our ability to rebel is that we had “one language and one speech.” Seeing our rebellion, God destroys the Tower and confuses our speech and scatters humanity over the whole face of the earth so that, while we are one in our humanity, we become different peoples (see Genesis 11:5-9).
Again though, the differences in language, culture and nation aren’t a punishment but an act of mercy as God seeks to slowly redirect our rebellious spirit.
Today’s Gospel highlights for us the different differences in the human family. Not only male and female but between of culture, language and nation. To the surprise of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus doesn’t respect these differences. Or rather, it is more accurate to say, He doesn’t respect the way in which these differences are used as an excuse to divide humanity.
Just as from the covenant with Noah to the Tower of Babel, humanity lost sight of God’s promise, from Babel to the Well, we have lost sight of the fact that human diversity is given as a cure for sin. What God meant as a mercy, we have turned not just into an occasion of sin but a justification for sin.
Just as in the time of Jesus, the fact of human difference is an excuse for hatred, or at least indifference, to our neighbor, How easily we, I, can find a reason to ignore, minimize, degrade, or even reject, my neighbor’s humanity. How easy it is for me to deny that we share a common humanity not only with each other but with Jesus Christ.
And yet, it is that common humanity that the Son assumes in His incarnation. He becomes as we are, in the patristic formulation, so that we can become as He is. Notice please, the use of the first person plural pronoun. God becomes man not so I can become God but so that we, together, can become “sharers in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).
In being freed from slavery to the powers of sin and death, we are freed as well from the tyranny of loneliness and isolation that is its hallmark. We shouldn’t imagine that these experiences are somehow unique to modern phenomena; they aren’t. Likewise, with hatred and prejudice. There was never a time when we didn’t use our differences as a reason to turn our back on our neighbor or to deny someone else’s humanity.
To see this, look no further than the Gospel. There we see that the fear and division between the Jews and the Samaritans, while different in content, is as real as any racial, or economic, or social, or cultural division we see today.
And yet, as He did after the Flood and the Tower and at the Well, God is merciful and works to heal the divisions between us by reconciling us to Himself. This work of reconciling humanity to God, and so in turn with itself, is the fundamental work of the Church.This is why, though “man meant it for evil, God meant it for good” (see Genesis 50:20), even the persecution and scattering of the Apostles worked for humanity’s salvation.
Just as He did for the sons of Israel in the time of the Patriarch Joseph, God used the persecution of the Church to bring salvation to the Greeks. Before they were scattered, the Apostles only spoke to the Jews. But afterwards, as an almost natural result of their new situation, the Apostles found that they had Gentile listeners.
So what about us? How has God called us to share in the work of reconciling humanity to Himself and so to itself?
Let me suggest that to answer this question, we need to look to those parts of our life when we find ourselves on the margins. The ancient Irish monastic had an interesting take on this. As an ascetical and evangelical discipline they would voluntarily accept exile from their native land and people. For the sake of their own salvation and to spread the Gospel, these monks would become strangers in a foreign land (see Exodus 2:22).
My brothers and sisters in Christ! This willing exile, though undertaken for many reasons, is how the Orthodox Church came to North America. We are, all of us, spiritually, and more often than not biologically, the sons and daughters of exiles. Many of us, in fact, willingly left our native lands and came to this place and time.
And so, as the spiritual sons and daughters of exiles, we too need to go to the margins, to the edges, of our own lives. We do this not to bring Christ where He isn’t but (to borrow from the Fr Alexander Schmemann), to find Him there waiting for us!
Both the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles are clear. The Church grows and humanity is saved, because (like Jesus) Christians are willing to go where God the Father will lead them. And where the Father leads us, spiritually (and sometimes literally) is always to the margins of our own lives. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ always means to be an exile.
Let us become, willingly and joyfully, who we are!