Insiders and Outsiders

Third Sunday in Lent

At that moment his disciples returned and were amazed that he was talking with a woman.  John 4

The gospel reading for this Sunday is commonly called “The Woman at the Well.” Jesus and his disciples are walking and come to the town of Sychar, a Samarian town, where Jacob’s well was located. The disciples go into town to buy food and leave Jesus resting beside the well. A Samarian woman comes to draw water and she and Jesus have a dialogue, one could even say a repartee.

Scholars doubt that this event took place: men and women didn’t talk for one thing; another is that as an observant Jew, Jesus probably wouldn’t have gone into Samaria to minister. However, there is evidence that Samarians were part of the Christian community during John’s time, near the end of the 1st Century, and this story served a useful two-part function: welcoming outsiders, in this case Samarians, into the community; and showing women as having new roles in the community.  What John is showing is an obvious culture change.

When the disciples come back from town they are “amazed that he was talking to a woman…” She was the other, the outsider. Jesus’ disciples often try to keep outsiders or those not worthy away from Jesus. Other well-known stories of Jesus and women show the same kind of compassion – he treats women with respect. The outsiders are welcomed whether they are sinners like the woman who anoints his feet with oil or tax collectors. He treats outsiders as he does his friends.

Our cities, our countries, our entire world has become like 1st Century Judea: we are a world-wide culture of insiders and outsider. And we certainly are in a culture change, one could even say an epic change. We may have compassion at times for the outsiders, for example, we have compassion for the people of Japan and their suffering; or we have compassion for the people of Libya and their suffering. But they are the outsiders, they aren’t us. 

But we don’t even have to go as far as Japan and Libya to find outsiders. They are the people on the streets, homeless; the people at the food lines, hungry; they are the people down the street who leave their dog outside to bark; they are the neighbor who plays music too loud. We are surrounded by outsiders. And, in turn, we are the outsiders to them.

We are even outsiders to ourselves when we put ourselves down or beat ourselves up when we make a mistake.

Take a moment and consider who your outsiders are. They might be family members or neighbors or co-workers. Perhaps the ill or lonely or those in need financially. Perhaps those who disagree with us politically. And of course, we make them the other so that we can feel like the better.  

Today, think about switching roles. See if you can see yourself as an outsider to someone else. How does that change our perception of who we are? Can changing our perception change the way we relate to others?

Can we learn, as we set down our judgments and pick up our crosses, to love one another?