Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2015: Day One, “It is necessary to go through Samaria”Jan 18th, 2015 | By Beth Turner | Category: Blog Posts
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. (John 4:1-42)
This year’s week of prayer for Christian unity focuses on the text of John 4:1-42, a lengthy dialogue between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. During this year’s week of prayer for Christian unity, we read it with an eye towards how Christians might engage in difficult dialogue with one another. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity is responsible for this practice, and there is material published every year to help Christians to meditate on and to pray for unity.
As most Christians know, Jews and Samaritans avoided associating with one another at the time of the ministry of Jesus. The religious dispute between them centered on the proper place to offer worship to God. In addition, after conquest by the Assyrians, foreigners had brought false gods to the region of Samaria. So the religion of the Samaritans came to be regarded by the Jews as impure.
This is often how Catholics and Reformed Christians view one another. We look towards one another as Jews towards Samaritans. The religion of the other is impure. Based on that observation, we adopt interior attitudes to hold each other at a distance. It is not long before we are exaggerating each other’s faults (either aloud or in our own minds) and nursing wounds inflicted in the attempt at dialogue. Behaviors which turn friendships cold and make conversation at family meals shallow and unpleasant often ensue.
The place from which we all begin, however, is a love of true and pure religion. Even more than that, we acknowledge that the truest form of religion and the best way of life is found in the person of Jesus. We also share the Scriptures, which witness to this Truth and this Way. For the Catholic, he may have the fullness of truth in the gift of faith given to him at baptism, but it is almost certain that he does not possess its fullness consciously and explicitly at every moment and in every detail of his life. Therefore, his religion – the religion which he is making his own, grasping ever more fully by the gift of God – stands to be purified. For the Reformed Christian, he has the witness of the Scriptures in his very hands. His religion also stands to be purified by deeper knowledge and understanding of these texts. It is our love of true and right religion that can be an occasion to prod us forward together, even though we stand at odds on many questions.
Taking Samaria to represent a land filled with people whose religion seems impure, and a land that reminds us of ancient wounds, we can see how this text calls Reformed Christians and Catholics to “go through” one another’s lands. We might begin by putting aside old wounds inflicted by a careless word or gesture in heated dialogue. For who of us has suffered an insult in dialogue with other Christians comparable to what Our Lord suffered when He was mocked on the cross? And He forgave! We might also begin by being certain of the faith we hold. Who of us has not been somewhat embarrassed to find that we did not understand the teachings of Jesus or the Catechism as well as we thought we did? And that we stood in need of correction? We can remember that each of us seeks a religion that is pure and true. Though some distance seems inevitable, we should try not to lose contact or cease communication with those whose faith we formerly shared. We should also not avoid speaking about matters of faith with each other. When we do speak about them, it should be done with great care, without haste, with discerning minds, and with charity.
We ask God to fill us with a love for pure religion and a love for one another, that our souls may soon enter a land of communion and remain there.
God of all peoples, give us strength and courage to go through Samaria to meet our brothers and sisters from other churches. Allow us to go with an open heart so we may learn from each other. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.