First, let me be among the first to let the poor Hebrews off the hook for Massah and Meribah in the freaking desert. Why is it that we Christians, even homilists, tend to be so judgmental about a people who have been wandering in a desert, and are thirsty and complain about unkept promises for a land flowing with milk and honey? Don’t you think it would get a little old being thirsty all the time, not knowing where the water for your next scotch and water was coming from? Forty years. We criticize them for not remembering all the things God did for them bringing them out of Egypt — news flash — some of them might not even have been ALIVE for the fire and water show. I mean, yes, people are stubborn and ungrateful. That’s the human condition. Put them in the desert for forty years, they’re going to get cranky. Cut them some slack.
Of course, the point of the story is the answer to that eternal question: “Is God with us, or not?” Answer, yes. But I think it’s worth remembering that God must have been with us in the thirsty times too. Why wait to give the water? Why this day, and not yesterday for instance? Why “forty years” in the desert, and not four days? Why “three days” before resurrection? I don’t know.
Then I think, why do we have to put the people in the story down, even though it’s just a story, to make ourselves look better? Six million Jews died in the Shoah for being Jews. Their heritage and faith meant something to them. How many Christians are willing to die (not kill!) for their faith?
I was thinking about the movie Crash when I musing on the gospel about the Samaritan woman, and remembering all the ethnic and religious rancor that is the back-story in the latter, the issues between Samaritans and Jews. It had gone way past prejudice long before Jesus to antagonism and loathing. Crash was a movie about prejudice, all kinds of prejudice. (There are two movies called Crash, I’m talking about the one with Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, and Julia Roberts from 2005, not the bizarre Cronenberg fetishism flick from 1996). What was so intriguing about it was that you saw prejudice from all kinds of points of view: not just white people being prejudiced against blacks or hispanics or Arabs, but blacks against whites, rich against poor, poor against rich, all kinds of levels. All the while, you’re passing judgment on everyone about how prejudiced they are; in a way, the prejudice should make a thinking person squirm in their seat. But the genius of the film (it won Oscars both for Best Picture and Best Screenplay) was that in a masterful climactic scene, it tears off the mask of the watcher’s respectability, and reveals the watcher’s prejudice as well. In this, it was much like the parabolic storytelling of Jesus, particularly in the Good Samaritan in the gospel of Luke.
This made me go back over a conversation with my internet group of pastoral musicians a few years ago. A member from a city in the east wrote about an incident at a local Catholic school that was preparing a prayer service in Arabic which was translated into English, part of "foreign languages week" at this particular institution. The student who prepared the prayer was an American Catholic youth of western European (Irish-German) descent. S/he ended the prayer, in English, using the phrase “in the name of Allah” for God.
The headmaster, within a minute, descended on the classroom and went ballistic about “praying to other gods” in a Catholic school. What were they thinking they were doing? He was afraid of losing his job if the Chancery found out. I wonder how “foreign languages week” felt as a means of affirming the variety of groups within the school, including Hindus and Moslems, at this point?
Within minutes, however, the cooler heads of this internet group already submitted many examples of the use of Allah as a name for God in Christian, even Catholic, prayer in the Middle East. The Trisagion, the Good Friday prayer during the veneration of the cross, in Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian Christian traditions is, “"Quduson Allah, (Holy God), Quduson Elqawi (Holy Mighty One) Quduson Ulladhi (Holy Immortal One)”. Ten to twelve million Arab Christians today have been calling God ‘Allah’ in their Bibles, hymns, poems, writings, and worship for over nineteen centuries. And yet a scholar in a school in one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world goes ballistic, without a second of research, and reveals, what? I guess a Catholic prejudice against the name of the Muslim God, to whom at least we pay a lip service of unity by claiming an Abrahamic connection.
Anyway, I was surprised too. I felt bad for everyone in the story, but mostly for the student who wrote the prayer, did what s/he was supposed to do, prayed out of Catholic tradition, and was still embarrassed in front of everyone by the headmaster. Sigh.
Water from a rock. A God named Allah. An enemy who asks for a drink, and finds a pail-order bride. When we were still sinners, Christ loved us.
God is a surprise. When I think all is lost and my life has been a series of bets against a rigged machine, may I have the grace to wait three more days before giving up.
"How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" (Jn 4:9)
“Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.” (Ex. 17:6)
My song “Mystery” is out of print and not available any longer. But I thought some of you might enjoy listening to it anyway. I loved this song. From about 1986 or so: at least my answer to the theodicy question was in the form of a question! ☺
What we're singing at St. Anne's this week:
Entrance: Lead Us to the Water, by Tom Kendzia
Psalm 95: Harden Not Your Hearts by Rory Cooney
Gospel response: I Long for You, O Lord by Michael Balhoff, Gary Daigle, and Darryl Ducote We sing a short antiphon during the gospel proclamation to interact with the story of the Samaritan woman.
Scrutiny: Litany for the Scrutinies by Rory Cooney, followed by an antiphon from Psalm 116, "I Will Walk in the Presence of God"
Gifts: As a Doe by Tom Kendzia
Communion: Turn to the Living God by Lori True
Closing: Healing River Fred Hillerman etal
More about the Woman at the Well story on Lent 3A, from 2014. Also, the original, from 2013.