Out of all the presentations I heard at the conference I attended in February, I was probably most moved by an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who have become friends through their work in an association called the Parents Circle – Families Forum or “PCFF”. The PCFF is comprised of people who have lost an immediate family member in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and works for peace and reconciliation among the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Robi lost her son David, a member of the Israeli military, and Bassam lost his 10-year-old daughter who was shot by an Israeli officer while she was playing outside her school. What allowed them to cross the ideological, ethnic, and religious divide and overcome feelings of rage and revenge was recognizing the common humanity and shared experience they had with each other. Robi recounted the first time she met a group of Palestinian mothers who had lost children in the conflict. She said, “I looked into their eyes and realized that our tears are the same. We share the same pain.” She gives talks about peace and reconciliation in Palestinian grade schools and knows that it is probably the first time these children have seen an Israeli who is not in a military uniform carrying a gun. It is easy to justify the struggle if all you see is an “enemy” pointing a gun at you. Bassam, as a Palestinian youth, was taught that the Holocaust was a “big lie” used by the Western powers to justify taking their land and giving it to the Israelis. Serving a sentence in an Israeli prison, Bassam saw a movie on the Holocaust and began crying. Being open to the story of the other and recognizing that we participate in the same humanity and suffer the same wounds is what allows us to cross the divide. It is also what allows us as Christians to announce the Gospel, because without the awareness of our own need and woundedness, and our need for mercy, we approach the other from a position of judgment, prejudice, and condemnation – that we are somehow superior than the other. The Gospel is announced by communicating that we are part of one humanity and that we all need someone to heal us – to address the deep wound in our heart.
Jesus allowed Himself to be struck or deeply moved by the wounds of the people he met. We see this especially in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. There was an ethnic, cultural, and religious divide between Jews and Samaritans. This is made clear in the woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink.” John, the Gospel writer, explains, “for Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.” Not only would the vessel used by her be “ritually impure” for a Jew, it was contrary to religious and social norms for Jesus to even enter this conversation. Jesus does not focus on any of these legalistic considerations, nor does he reduce her to her sins – to what she has done or her potential for performance. Rather, Jesus sees the thirst for fullness in her even when it is buried under a life of sin. Yes, Jesus knows that she has had five husbands and the man she is with now is not her husband, but he doesn’t start with that. He begins by asking her for a drink and then speaking about the living water he will give that will satisfy her thirst – her thirst for eternal life. What awakens her is that she sees in Jesus what she was looking for in vain in all those relationships that were unable to quench her thirst – her thirst for happiness and fulfillment – her thirst for love. Deep down, everything we do, including many of our sins, is an attempt to respond to the thirst that defines us as humans. Until we meet Christ, we look for the answer to our thirst in things that cannot satisfy, and like the woman, live a life of failed attempts. This is often realized most not in failure, but “success”, when we experience that what we dreamed would make us happy – the job, the spouse, the new car, etc. – is not enough when we get it. The encounter with He who fulfills us is the only way to be freed from the impulse we have to possess people and things. This thirst is our common wound – the restlessness in our heart – the emptiness that can only be filled by God. When the woman recognizes or realizes that the Messiah – “the one who will tell us everything” – is the man speaking to her, she is freed from the shame of her sin that isolated her from the community. She becomes an evangelist – sharing with others – witnessing to others – how Jesus has answered her thirst. Jesus awakens in us the thirst that defines us, makes sense of that thirst, and satisfies it. “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” Jesus doesn’t begin the conversation with her with a teaching, a list of her sins, or a condemnation or judgment. God asks her for a drink. God thirsts for her. The divide is crossed, the healing takes place, and the wound is overcome, when the thirst of God meets the thirst of the woman and she recognizes that there is an answer to her desire. Where do we begin in our dialogue with the sinner, the one who has offended us, the wayward soul, the person caught in a cycle of poor chooses, or the one who is on the other side of the ideological or cultural divide? Do we begin with their sin or do we look at the thirst for fullness that rests in their heart and is our common desire? Are we aware that in our weakness, a grace has been given us? For any living of the moral life is a grace. As St. Paul says, “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died … for the ungodly…. God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” May we, like the Samaritan woman, share the grace we have received, so others can see how we’ve been changed and know that there exists an answer to the thirst of their heart.