When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water, he initiated contact with a triple threat to propriety: a Samaritan, an unescorted woman, and apparently the town tramp. She came to the well to get water at noon to avoid the other townspeople, who would have come in the cool of the morning. The woman was probably surprised that anybody–especially a Jew–would talk to her.
When Jesus asked her to get her husband she said she had no husband. I wonder if she was flirting with Jesus. As Jesus then responded, she had had five husbands. She probably wasn’t shy about talking to men. Maybe the only way she had ever been able to get attention was by using her feminine wiles. After Jesus saw through her deceptive response, the woman realized Jesus was relating to her on a much deeper level. He touched something deep inside her, something her heart craved. Nevertheless, it must have threatened her to have someone probe so close to her heart. She turned the conversation to theological debate about sects and places of worship. Jesus did not take sides but spoke about true worship for all people through God’s Spirit.
Unlike many self-righteous religious and community leaders, this outcast did not miss the Messiah when he revealed himself to her. She trusted the evidence of her own experience. Jesus had approached her without looking down on her. He ws not thrown off track by her manipulations. He spoke with insight and genuine concern for who she really was, apart from her affectations and the community’s assessment of her. He cut to the heart of her being and her heart responded.
This woman knew the truth when she heard it and the news was too good to keep to herself. She hurried to share it with the townspeople she previously avoided. Jesus met her in her isolation and shame. What she had been wasn’t as important as what she had the opportunity to become–Christ’s ambassador. She acted on that and the people responded.
It’s easy to think we have to cover up our shortcomings in order to be effective or set a good example. Maybe the best example we can set is to be honest about our weaknesses and struggles. As we come to know Christ and experience unconditional love, we will enjoy the freedom of being authentic without fear of rejection. Like the Samaritan woman, we will lose the need to protect ourselves from shame by isolating or clinging to false fronts. We don’t have to broadcast our secrets, but when guided by the Holy Spirit, we can prudently risk sharing our faults to ask for help or when it might help others. Trusting God to meet us exactly where we are and bring us forward is truly good news worth sharing.
Reflection: When Jesus brought the interaction closer to her heart, the woman retreated to theological debate. How can dwelling on religious dogmas obscure authentic spiritual development?
Adapted from “Fools, Liars, Cheaters, and Other Bible Heroes”
Have the salt of friendship among yourselves, and live in peace with one another. Mark 9:50b
Salt makes food taste good. Like salt, friendship enhances what nourishes our hearts. Of course, sharing laughter and good times with friends is enjoyable, but friends make the hard times more bearable, too. When I was bed-ridden, when family members were hospitalized, when depression had me in its clutches, friends who loved me couldn’t take away my pain. Still, somehow knowing they cared helped me face each day, when days seemed like an endless stream of pain. In God’s beautiful efficiency, it’s been a bittersweet joy and privilege to stand by my friends when their loved ones passed away, when their hearts were broken, when fear or discouragement loomed large for them. Powerless to take away their pain, I was able to do what I could and trust that the salt of friendship in some small way, helped make their trials a tiny bit more endurable.
When I was a child, I had trouble making friends and my Mom quoted the old adage to me: To have a friend, be a friend. That started me thinking about what I might have to offer someone else. Because of course, much of my hesitation about approaching others centered on fear of rejection, fear that I somehow wasn’t good enough. It helped to focus on what others might need instead of my own issues. I made several friends by “being a friend” to someone in need.
I was also on the receiving end of generous friendship. In high school, I was not “in crowd” material. By a stroke of luck, several neighborhood girls started including me in their group. I belonged. I had friends to walk home from school with and hang out with. Mutually rewarding, beautiful friendships developed among us. It wasn’t until years later that I found out those girls reached out to me because one of them felt sorry for me.
Although there is give and take in friendship, it’s not a commodity to be earned and paid for by good deeds and favors. It’s a life-enhancing gift that we are free to offer and accept.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of friendship.
Reflection for sharing: How can I invest some time in my friendships today?
“No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lamp stand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 4: 15-16
Think of your top five flaws. Now think of your five best qualities. Which list was easier to come up with? If you’re like me, it was probably the list of flaws. Where did we get the idea that being humble meant being a shrinking violet or thinking negative things about ourselves?
Jesus tells us we’re supposed to let our light shine so that others will see it. But isn’t that being a conceited show-off? Not if we look at the rest of the passage.
First, Jesus says no one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl. We have a light to shine not because we created it ourselves, but because God “lit” us with His light. We all have talents and skills, but those are gifts from God. We are not being conceited if we use the abilities He gave us. Hiding the gifts God gave us in the name of humility is counter-productive.
Second, we are right where we need to be to let our light shine. Whatever “lamp stand” we have been put on—whatever our present circumstances—we are right where God wanted our particular light to serve His purpose.
Finally, what is that purpose? Not to impress others with our inflated egos, but to “praise [our] Father in heaven.” St. Francis said to preach the Gospel always and if you have to, use words. What we do coveys a powerful message. We can share the Good News about God by using our gifts. We can appreciate our gifts in healthy humility by gratefully acknowledging the Giver. We can help others by letting our light shine in the here and now.
Prayer: Lord, show me my gifts and how you want me to use them today.
Reflection for sharing: How am I hiding the light within me? What can I do today to let it shine?