By Fr. Rich, O.P.
Sunday, March 8, was International Women’s Day. Since Women’s Day was first celebrated in 1910, it has grown and changed into an occasion to honor and support women worldwide. It radiates energy flowing from the hearts and minds of women seeking honor, respect, equality, support, and protection from injustice and demanding a voice. That energy flows from the men who honor and support women as well.
Centuries ago, in a land faraway, Jesus Christ, in a simple, one-on-one conversation with an outcast woman offered those things and more. Examined closely, this encounter is relevant as never before in each of our lives.
The conversation with the Woman at the Well is likely the longest conversation Christ has with a single individual that Scripture records. It describes a moment of true catharsis, a moment of rebirth for this woman. Her personal encounter with Jesus begins with her referring to the law and customs that kept Samaritans and Jews from an interaction of any kind. Jesus, as usual, offers grace and love that supersedes Law and custom.
This conversation is the first hint that this encounter was not one of chance. Christ came to offer redemption to all who would respond; he came to invite those who were thirsty for God’s grace and love. In the first moments of the encounter, Jesus reveals his mission and his nature, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
The Woman thirsting for this “living water” is much like ourselves. We too yearn for God’s presence and grace to come into our lives and nurture us. Jesus unfailingly gently touches each of us, acknowledging our unique place in creation, caressing our bruised hearts. As with the Woman, he confronts our sins not with condemnation but forgiveness. He unfolds his identity, inviting us to encounter the divine in his Person. This living water — his presence, his gentle enfolding of each person that he encounters — respects and acknowledges the uniqueness that each of us is fundamental to God’s mission.
Jesus, in challenging the exclusionary customs of his time, gives us an example of how we are to respond to situations in our own time that are exclusionary, degrading, and prejudicial or grounded in hate. He always chose the way of grace, offering a compassionate, accepting hand to those he encountered.
In our world today, there are daily reminders of the disease that threatens to overwhelm us. Our 24/7, 365 news hunger elevates what should be minor conflicts into “events” that sometimes dominate cycles for days. They are frequently events that emphasize what divides us and spotlights anger, frustration, and differences.
In the midst of that is Jesus, an encounter with an outcast, and the healing presence of God personally in our midst. This moment, the moving past barriers of generations of hate and separation, shows us how to do the same thing in this time and this place. This place — Columbia, Missouri; St. Thomas More Newman Center — can be the presence of Christ.
As we continue to engage our Lenten commitments, Scripture supports us in story and example. How do we move past our own shortsightedness, our own vulnerability, to cultural and group pressures? We enter the world of Jesus. We stand, awed and overwhelmed, at Christ’s Transfiguration; we sit with Jesus and the Woman at the Well; we walk with him as he encounters, heals, and saves the blind man.
We can honor in our world those who Jesus honored and cared for in his. If we’ve not begun, today can be the day.