Saturday, March 22, 2014

Where is Heaven?

Where is Heaven?

I remember like it was yesterday. We were sailing across the Sea of Galilee toward Capernaum. Off in the distance the guide pointed out the mountains toward the north by west. They were called the Horns of Hittim. They have figured in history a hundred times because of their geography. On the 4th of July in 1187, for instance, Saladin the Magnificent decisively defeated the Crusaders putting an end to the Crusader’s Kingdom in the Holy Land.

But what fascinated me was that for Jesus to go from Nazareth to Capernaum to set up headquarters,  he would have had to go through the Horns of Hittim. It was an area overrun by jackals, marauders and robbers. And if Jesus came that way, he would in all likelihood, have been set upon by this band of hoodlums. He was in all likelihood robbed and beaten and left to die. This is all conjecture, but there is a plausibility to it. A priest and a levite may have come by, but it would have been “ritually unclean” for them to touch him. They walked by on the other side of the road. 

But then perhaps, a Samaritan happened by and even though it is clear that Samaritans and Jews are utterly untouchable to one another, this Samaritan bandaged up his wounds, ministered to him, brought him to a nearby inn, and out of his own pocket provided for him until his recovery allowed Jesus to continue on his way.

What if the Parable of the Good Samaritan were an autobiographical account of a reality show moment in the life of Jesus. Does this explain how is it that Jesus has such a place in his heart for the Samaritans? Does this account for how Jesus came to understand that there are no outsiders and no outcasts in the Kingdom of God and in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

We know that the Samaritans and the Jews have nothing to do with each other. They consider each other “untouchable”. The name “Samaritan” literally means “The guardians of the Law and the Torah”. The Samaritans use a variant of Hebrew that predates the Hebrew used after the Babylonian exile. The spiritual one-upmanship of the two may seem foolish to us perhaps, but not to them. It was dead serious. People often take their religious differences to deadly extremes. 

Thus the parable of the Good Samaritan strikes me as all the more remarkable and especially if you consider it as perhaps a reality in the life of our Lord. And too, it makes this moment in the Gospel passage we read today all the more remarkable.

Here we are at the well at the noon of the day, a time when respectable women are home with their families. The time to get water is at the break of the day, when it is cooler. What is she doing at the well? What is he doing at the well? The event raises the eyebrows of the disciples and other respectable townsfolk.

Then Jesus crosses the great divide and asks her for a drink. The woman wonders why he crosses the divide?  Jesus doesn’t even have his own bucket. It would be scandalous for him to drink from the same backet or the same ladle as this woman, God forbid. But then, remember, a Samaritan had crossed the great divide to minister either to Jesus, or perhaps to someone he knew, the one who had been set upon by robbers.  So Jesus tells the woman, “Give me a drink of water, and then he says, if only you knew the Gift of God and the one who is speaking to you now, you could have the gift of living water and never thirst again.”

Now the woman is intrigued. “Tell me where I might get this living water”. So the conversation continues. 

“The kind of water I will give you will become a living spring welling up within you, in fact gushing up within you toward eternal and everlasting life.” Another intriguing statement. 

Quite reasonably, the woman says; “Yes, give me that water so I don’t have to come here every day and lug a heavy load on my shoulder in the heat of the day.” She doesn’t yet get it.

In Jesus' heart there are all these untouchables; Jews, Samaritans, and the woman at the well at the noon of the day. Jesus learned early on that there was no such thing as an untouchable. He cured the lame, he gave sight to the blind, he called the tax collector, and the fishermen, even the leper was the beloved of God to Jesus. The poor and the rich alike, those who both hunger and thirst for God belong to the fold in Christ’s flock.

Perhaps Jesus even said so. Perhaps she began to have an inkling as to what Jesus was driving at. You’re getting warmer now, here is the water that wells up within us to eternal life. In our own wilderness we may complain to the Moses in our midst; how are we to make do in this wasteland? Where and how are we to make provision for our lives out here in the nothingness of the present? How can we get water out of a rock?

Well, as a matter of fact you can. If you know where to strike the rock, you will discover that there is plenty of water underneath the limestone layer in the dessert, which, by the way there is. Strike the rock in the crevice in just the right spot and yes, it is a well known fact, you can get water out of a stone.

What now of this particular Samaritan woman, married five times and now the one she is with is not her husband, and here she is at the well at the noon of the day with this man Jesus. Interesting undertones going on in this story. But Jesus keeps his focus on eternal life for this woman and for the rest of us looking on. Shameful and scornful sin was no barrier to eternal life for Jesus. Forgiveness is that well gushing up to eternal life. He fixes his gaze on the water that wells up from within. That’s the kind of water she really thirsts for. It is the only water that will quench her thirst for life. How can she love a man? How can she find a man who will love her? How can we break through all the barriers that separate us from one another, find forgiveness, and reconciliation? How can we come to the eternal within, between, and among us?

This is what Jesus points us to. There is a way. And to tell you the truth, Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. Well, like I say, the disciples were astonished at seeing Jesus talking with this woman at the well. By now, he probably did have a drink. I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if he drank from her bucket and her ladle right there in front of God and everybody. As I say, they were astonished.

So then they encouraged him to have a bite to eat. But by now Jesus had their attention. This business of the untouchable quality of Jews and Samaritans and women who come to a well at noontime, poor, lame, blind folks, lepers and a host of other outcasts, brought Jesus and his disciples to this critical teaching moment. 

“I have food to eat you know nothing about.” You no doubt notice that Jesus is oftentimes quite abrupt and direct with his disciples. So while they were wondering if he had squirreled away something to eat when nobody was looking, Jesus tells them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work.” 

So then he goes on to say that the kingdom of heaven is not a harvest somewhere in the future. Look around you he says. Here it is here and now, among these Samaritan townsfolk and this Samaritan woman.

In the meantime the woman at the well goes to the village and tells them all about Jesus and about how he was a great prophet who had come into their midst, and about how he knew all about her and all her secret lives, and still he loved her. He forgave her. He gave her water to drink welling up within her to eternal life. Yes, Jesus said, look around you. Here it is right here, right now. 

The villagers came to understand who this Jesus was. They believed him and began to see that he was not untouchable and neither were they. In fact, we are all children of God, the beloved of God, the redeemed of God. 

For Jesus this learning is a matter of life and death as it was the day he or somebody he knew was set upon by robbers and left to die. The priest and the Levite walked by on the other side of the road but not the Samaritan. 

Look around you, Jesus said. Here it is. The kingdom of heaven is life a well gushing up within you.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Paul

1 comment:

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