Many of the authors of the Bible wrote for the
same reason: to help their readers live their faith in the everyday
situations they were experiencing.
The earliest inspired writer of the Torah,
called the Yahwistic author, noticed almost 1,000 years before Jesus'
birth that many who chose to follow God did so convinced that the
circumstances in which they found themselves weren't worthy of their
Some in the community longed for the days of
the Exodus, when Yahweh tromped through the wilderness with the chosen
people, as close to them as the column of smoke which guided them by day and
the pillar of fire which led them at night. Those were "the days."
Nothing they were experiencing in tenth-century Israel could compare to
those twelfth-century saving events in the Sinai. How easy it must have been
to be faithful Israelites back then.
That mentality prompts the Yahwistic author
repeatedly to describe the griping, complaining and frustration of those
"ideal" Jews during their 40-year trek through the Sinai (Ex 17:
3-7). "In those days," the sacred writer reminds readers, "in
their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, 'Why
did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?'"
So much for any idyllic past!
At the end of the first Christian century, the
author of the last Gospel seems to encounter the same situation in his
community (John 4: 5-42). Notice how frequently in the Gospel Jesus reminds
those He encounters that God is working in circumstances and situations they
tend to overlook.
As the passage begins, He dares to ask someone
for a favor whom the majority of His people presume is outside the
perimeters in which God works: a Samaritan woman. Next, Jesus informs her
that she's overlooking His significance. He assures her that He's able
to provide something far more important than what she's about to carry
home in her jug: living water, which will become a spring of life in anyone
who drinks it.
The author even carries the concept over to
places of worship. Jews claimed that Yahweh could only be worshiped in the
Jerusalem temple. Samaritans believed only the highest point on Mt. Gerizim
could fulfill that requirement.
"The hour is coming and is here now,"
Jesus announces, "when true worshipers will worship the Father in
Spirit and truth." In other words, worship takes place where someone
is, not where someone goes.
Jesus with us
It's important that the townspeople
eventually tell the woman, "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." Our own - not other peoples' - experience of the
risen Jesus assures us of His presence and actions in our lives.
Many of us overlook the underlying premise of
the whole passage: Jesus works through a sinner. "You have had five
husbands," Jesus informs the woman, "and the one you have now is
not your husband." She doesn't have to get a Church-granted annulment
before Jesus enters her life. He takes us and works through us, wherever we
Paul arrived at the same conclusion 35 years
before John wrote (Rom 5: 1-2, 5-8). If anyone doubted Jesus could cut
through the barriers that organized religion set up, the Apostle reminds the
Roman community of one overriding fact: "Christ, while we were still
helpless, died for the ungodly....God proves His love for us in that, while
we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
There's no ideal place or time in which to
live our faith. If Jesus entered our lives while we were enemies of God, why
would anything we'd do later take Him out of our lives? No place, event,
time or person is unworthy of God's salvation.
Perhaps our idealism is just an excuse for not
accepting the responsibility of acknowledging our God working in our