Thought for the week - 12 March 2023
We all know of people who have been marginalised or excluded from something. I don’t mean that acquaintance who always has too many at a social gathering and goes on and on, or the person on the bus going to work who’s just a little too chatty at eight o’clock in the morning – exclusion and being a pain in the neck are two quite separate things!
I am talking about a more deliberate act which an individual has committed which has ramifications leading to their status as ‘separate’. An easy example is a murderer who by their action is locked away so that they might not kill anyone else, leading to a separation between them and the rest of society. A different example might be someone who has upset their family so much that they no longer communicate with one another, and this happens in places of worship as well. Some well documented examples are among some very strict sects such as the Brethren, or Jehovah’s Witnesses who ‘shun’ their friends and family if they no longer adhere to their regulations, I once lived in a town with a sizable group of very strict Brethren who would worship in a windowless building with high fences around it and only trade with each other and in the town were a number of their family members who had left the cult and were completely ignored by their family – it was impossible to understand how this could make them feel, and impossible to comprehend a faith in Christ that depended on very specific rules but allowed you to completely ignore your own child and disown them if they decided to worship Him in another way. A family member once lived in the Scottish Highlands and nearby was a large compound with very high fences where people leaving another faith group were sent to ‘think over’ their decision to leave. Madness, and antithetical to the practice of our faith, naturally. But not so uncommon as you may think or hope.
In the Gospel today, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who is excluded – but the level of exclusion and the dynamic between the two groups is extreme. The Samaritans were Israelites who had been taken into slavery in Egypt but unlike the majority of them, they had left their faith and integrated with the Egyptian life style and religion, presumably in the hopes of making their lot a better one. At the liberation, they also left Egypt and travelled through the desert seeking the Promised Land, but when they arrived, they were given a piece of land which came to be called ‘Samaria’ to live in, and contact between them and the other Israelites was strictly forbidden. This may seem a little unfair, after all, the Golden Calf did not create itself and the moaning of the Israelites in the desert is well documented, but this separation, or exclusion, led to very exaggerated tensions between the Samaritans and the other Jews, and one would never cross into the territory of the other, indeed, lepers would often live on the borderlands where nobody else wanted to dwell.
It's part of our unfortunate human nature to divide and categorise, and so we can surmise that the woman at the well was a semi-outcast even among the Samaritans, as she was out at the hottest time of day filling her heavy stone water jar at the well, and, we have to get into the mindset of the time, she was a women, so of lesser status than half of the population. This is a description of somebody completely at the end of the social spectrum, the outcast of the outcasts, at the most unpleasant part of the day.
And this is exactly who Jesus chooses to close the separation between two parts of the same family. This is exactly how Christ decides to make things new again, by seeking out the most rejected of all people and offering her a key moment in the plan of God for humanity, for in Christ there is no division, no favoured or less favoured, no rich or poor, no resident or refugee – just those who have chosen to respond positively to His call and those who have chosen to reject Him – and see what He will do with you if you choose to respond to Him – this most hopeless of all people brings healing and renewal to a rift which seemed impossible to heal. As we often find in Lent, it’s the broken who heal and the cracked who restore.