I couldn’t help laughing during Mass a few weeks ago. We’d just returned from our second visit to Israel. My husband-the-deacon was preaching that day and he began his homily with a story about our older son’s response to our first Israel trip. When we shared our plans for that venture, our son turned to me with something between a grimace and a smile and announced, “Well, Mom, it’s been a good run.” Though I assured our firstborn that I’d never travel to an unsafe destination, I sensed that he was at least a little worried about his dad and me. The image of his feigned smile stayed with me until we arrived in Israel last year and found ourselves to be completely outside of harm’s way. Our Israeli guide and our Palestinian bus driver joined our tour director Nancy in seeing to our worry-free travel the entire time. This year’s adventure proved to be equally secure and enjoyable. After sharing all of this, Mike went on to the point of his homily. I missed the bulk of the poor man’s message because my mind drifted back to Israel. I couldn’t shake the notion that Jesus’ homeland hasn’t changed much since our first visit there. I also think that it hasn’t changed much since Jesus lived there.
Though Israel’s politics sometimes suggests otherwise, the variety of people who make up that nation’s diverse population cooperate on many levels every day. They do their best to secure peaceful and productive lives for themselves and for their families. Our guide Yossi often commented, “All they want is to work and provide a home and food and a life for their children. This is what we all want.” Yossi certainly supports this effort through his work as he guided us to an Italian mission, an Orthodox Jewish home, a tourist stop in Jericho, the Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy places, the Israeli Museum, Muslim shops, Palestinian restaurants and so much more. I’ve shared before that Yossi is a gifted musician. When he treated us to his selections in these venues, he included the best of his own Israeli pieces, Christian classics and the favorites of those who hosted us. Each of these encounters spoke to the people’s successful efforts to co-exist on the job, in their neighborhoods and as friends. How could my thoughts not turn to Jesus efforts in the midst of all of this?
On this third Sunday of Lent, the scripture readings speak to Jesus’ efforts, Yossi’s efforts and all of our efforts when we try to build community in our little corners of the world. In the first reading from Exodus (17:3-7), Moses deals with the grumbling Israelites who seem to have forgotten that they were led from the grips of slavery in Egypt and were on their way to the Promised Land. They complained incessantly throughout this journey and threatened Moses at the time due to the bitterness of the water at hand. With disgust and fear, Moses pleaded with God for help. In spite of the people’s complete lack of faith, God provided the water they craved. In his letter to the Romans (5:1-2,5-8), Paul invited his readers to seize the blessings which flowed like water from Jesus. Paul went on to tell them to find further sustenance in one another. Paul assured them that, all the while, God remained with them.
It is the passage from John’s gospel (4:5-42) which gets to the heart of what I discovered while among the people of Israel. John tells us of Jesus’ encounter with a woman of Samaria as he rested at Jacob’s well. Jesus surprised the woman by asking her for a drink of water. At the time, the Jewish People avoided association with Samaritans at all costs. Jesus’ request for water crossed a line better left undisturbed. Still, Jesus persisted in the exchange, offering the woman far more in return than a sip of water merited. When this woman ignored societal barriers and acknowledged Jesus, her life changed forever. Jesus extended the woman a second chance, or perhaps her sixth or seventh chance, for happiness. Jesus offered no lecture regarding her failed marriages or anything else. Jesus simply accepted her as she was and asked that she open her heart to something more. In the end, this conversation touched the woman so deeply that she couldn’t help spreading Jesus’ good news throughout her town. As it happened, many turned to Jesus that day because the woman from Samaria shared her good fortune indiscriminately with them all.
I never expected my visits to Israel to reveal so much of Jesus’ life and message to me. I would never have guessed that the efforts of Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Arabs, Christians and agnostics of every sort to live and work together would so clearly mirror Jesus’ work among his contemporaries. Though national politics sometimes gets in the way, Israel’s people work diligently to build community among themselves. It seems to me that Jesus asked the woman from Samaria to do the same. When she opened her heart to this Jewish Teacher’s message of love and mercy, the woman couldn’t help doing good in response. This Lent 2018, you and I are invited to open our hearts and to do the same.
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