August 2012

The gift of God

Most of us deeply desire the ‘more’ of life, writes Good Samaritan Sister Catherine McCahill. For many that means facing fairly and squarely that which touches our deepest humanity.

BY Catherine McCahill SGS

“If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus says to the woman of Samaria who he meets at Jacob’s well (John 4:4-42). She has come in the heat of the day, in the full light of the noonday sun, to draw water. To her surprise, the tired and thirsty Jew, Jesus, whom she notices sitting by the well asks her, for a drink of water. The conversation that follows about life-giving water, her marital status, true worship and the possibilities of the Messiah is the longest sustained conversation between Jesus and another person in any of the four Gospels.

What is it that maintains this conversation beyond Jesus’ surprise request and her misunderstanding? Is it something about the compelling presence of Jesus? Is it her tenacity? Or is it her desperation? When the conversation apparently falters at her misunderstanding of ‘living water’, Jesus suggests that she call her husband. She has had five and now lives with another man! She speaks of this truthfully and is praised for her truth.

Whilst numerous commentators are fascinated by her marital history, Jesus appears unconcerned. Instead the conversation leads him to reveal himself as the long-awaited Messiah (who will “explain all things”) and she rushes back to the village to bring her people out to meet Jesus. Finally, the community, including this unnamed woman, proclaims Jesus as the “Saviour of the world”. The woman’s need for water and her desire for the ‘more’ of Jesus’ life-giving water, have indeed been met but in a way far beyond her expectations.

I return to this text often, as I encounter within myself the thirst for life. It reminds me ever so clearly that my God comes to meet me where I am, and the encounter is first and foremost deeply human. Whatever the conversation that I have with this Jesus, the text reminds me that it must be truthful. Elsewhere, Jesus will tell his disciples that the truth will make them ‘free’ (John 8:31). It continually invites me to bring to the conversation that which I most desire, that which most troubles me, that for which I most hope.

I suspect, indeed I know, that most of us deeply desire the ‘more’ of life. For many that means facing fairly and squarely that which touches our deepest humanity. It may be our relationship with others – children, partners or colleagues. Or for some of us it is the issues of our shared humanity – poverty, unending conflict, the desperation of displaced, stateless or homeless persons, or the forsaken mentally ill. Others of us care deeply about our ravished earth – an earth crying out in pain from continued exploitation and devastation.

This text also reminds me that God is known and experienced in hospitality and community. Firstly, Jesus asks the woman for a drink, thereby making himself her guest. The consequent shared hospitality is life-changing. She finds her life-giving water, Jesus is energised to go to Sychar and stays for two days. Her community is changed by this experience of offering Jesus hospitality. Together they recognise their Saviour.

Whatever our desires or the issues of our lives, this text invites us to allow Jesus into the conversation, to meet us where we are. Perhaps more importantly, it reminds us that we find Jesus or God in our shared humanity, in the experience of community. We are always more than the sum of our individual selves and our capacity to recognise and know our Saviour is only realised in community. Here, too, we recognise that each of us is gifted by God. No one, either by rank, position or endowed capacity, holds more of the truth than another. Only together can we acknowledge and welcome God in our midst.

As the story given in the Gospel of John unfolds, we behold the woman discovering the real ‘gift of God’. She no longer seeks water from the well because her deeper, inner thirst for living water has been satiated. Her journey from the truth and pain of her disrupted life, symbolises the possibility for all seekers of God. The ‘gift of God’ is life, the life that comes from truthful encounters with Jesus, God in our midst.

Sister Catherine McCahill will lead a reflection day in Sydney on Saturday September 22, 2012, 9:30am to 3:30pm at Mount St Benedict Centre, Pennant Hills where she will explore the topic “The Woman at the Well – Recognising the Gift of God: Exploring the Story of the Samaritan Woman and Jesus”. Cost $20 (morning tea provided, BYO lunch). Please make bookings by September 17, 2012 on Ph: (02) 9484 6208.

Catherine McCahill

Good Samaritan Sister Catherine McCahill is the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She has served on the Congregation's leadership team since 2011. Catherine has been involved in education for more than 30 years, in secondary schools and, more recently, at a tertiary level in biblical studies and religious education.

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