All of us have done things or permitted things done to us that we are not proud of or are below our dignity. Although we all share this same brokenness, not all respond similarly. There seem to be four types of responses: denial, distraction, sadness, or despair. Some despair and thus give up on mercy altogether. Most thirst for mercy. But not the kind of mercy that denies our wrongdoing or past hurts. Nor the kind of mercy that distracts us by recounting the good we have done. Not the kind of mercy that distracts us by artificial piety or dogmatic religiosity. Our souls thirst for the kind of mercy that heals the sadness and brokenness of our hearts, the kind that is described in the psalms: “My guilt towers higher than my head; it is a weight too heavy to bear. My wounds are foul and festering, the result of my own folly. I am bowed and brought to my knees. I go mourning all the day long.”
The Samaritan woman thirsts for something that can heal her sadness. She possesses a set of sad memories of past broken relationships so painful that she tries to hide it from Jesus, “Sir, I do not have a husband”, when she in fact has had five. Sadness isolates and this is what she chooses to do, not only in words but also in action: she fetches water at the noon hour when everyone stays inside to escape the heat of the sun. Jesus meets her where she least expected and patiently invites her to discover him by walking back into her past. In the longest one-on-one conversation in the whole bible, Jesus’ patience led the Samaritan woman to healing and conversion, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.” Based upon the dialogue, it was the Samaritan woman who revealed herself to Jesus, but Jesus was the cause of her self revelation. Jesus’ presence, patience and love allowed her to confront her sad memories, rediscover herself as the beloved daughter of God, and experience true joy and freedom. Some of us have had the privilege of being in the presence of friends who are the very incarnation of this patient and loving Jesus. Their affection and compassion invites us to reveal our guilt without shame, recount our brokenness without despair, release our tears and find acceptance, consolation, and healing. These friends see through our faults and bring our true self to reality.
Adel Bestavros, the Coptic deacon, once said, “Patience with others is love, patience with self is hope, patience with God is faith.” If you have been loved like the Samaritan woman, then be patient with others. If you have not experienced this love, then be patient with yourself. If you have not experienced the patient and loving Jesus, then be patient with God. Remember that even as you thirst for him, he thirsts even more for you.
*Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington
By Fr Marion Nguyen, osb*