The Gospel reading (Jn 4:5-42) for the Third Sunday of Lent is one of my more favorite passages of scripture. In fact, when Archbishop Allen Vigneron held a consultation for priests recently, he asked us, “What is your image of priesthood?” Mine was Jesus in today’s passage. In the encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus is both pastoral and direct. He pulls no punches. He tells it like it is. But Jesus does so without making judgments or accusations. In other words, he calls the woman out in a pastoral way.
Jesus engages the woman and allows her to recognize (and more importantly to respond to) God’s invitation to salvation. Sometimes we are so caught up in ourselves and our mundane existence that we cannot see the bigger picture. We are myopic and short-sighted. We forget that there is a whole world out there of which our lives are but a microscopic sliver.
God helps us to see how we relate to the rest of the world and how the world relates to us. Notice that in the Gospel passage, Jesus the Jew is in Samaria. That would be like one of us Yankees going down to the deep South. We would be out of place. Yet despite being a stranger, Jesus is able to preach the message. Why? Because he was honest, direct, engaging and pastoral. He didn’t let the woman ignore him and she didn’t let Jesus push her around. They came to mutually respect one another and in the process, the Gospel message was preached.
When the disciples came back, they wanted Jesus to follow the rules of convention and propriety of first-century Palestine, but Jesus knew that the message needed to be heard. His tenacity, honesty and genuineness allowed Jesus the opportunity to engage with the entire people of that town.
This image of Jesus bringing about conversion is something we should keep in mind. People are not going to be evangelized or converted to the Gospel if we yell and scream at them and toss out flippant and trite statements. People are going to be attracted to the message because of the demeanor of the messenger. Jesus engaged the woman where she was at and allowed her to question his teaching. Through honest interaction, mutual respect was fostered and the message was heard loud and clear.
In our proclamation of the Good News, how do we present it to others? Are we honest, forthright, and direct or do we try to schmooze others with cute sayings, sound bytes, and pious platitudes?