FEELING ALL ALONE
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Ever go through that experience of sitting alone in a cafeteria. Maybe you were new in school, like Katy from the movie Mean Girls - who transfers to a High School after being home schooled for years and is walking around the cafeteria, finds no one welcoming her, hospitable to her - in fact she finds quite the opposite, people seem incredibly hostile. She ends up sitting alone in a bathroom stall eating her lunch. Ever have that experience?
Or maybe it was in gym class when your gym teacher wanted the class to divide itself up into two teams. So he picks two of the best athletes in the world to be the “coach” and the process begins. Your classmates are picked one after the other... the pool of possible recruits shrinks. You hear the intense interest decrease as each draft selection is made as the teammates go from saying “yeah, pick him...” to sighs and “fine we’ll take so and so”. Ever been so and so?
Or perhaps it was having to partner up in class on a project, and not being able to find someone. Or maybe you wondered if you’d get asked to go to the prom (or get turned down by the person you were asking) – so you kept saying “I’m not going to the prom...” just to protect yourself from feeling that embarrassment.
If you never experienced things like this, consider yourself lucky. Most people go through this somewhat common and difficult “rite of passage.” A time in your life where you don’t feel like you belong or are not accepted by others. Unlike Katy in Mean Girls - it’s not something that’s resolved in a few early scenes of a movie. It can take some time, it can be painful and hurtful to feel like you don’t belong - simply because of who you are.
Then just to up the ante... imagine that those experiences happen not because you’re the new, unknown kid; not simply the result of some cruel randomness of life - but because of something you said, something you did...You don’t get picked on a team because you dropped the ball in the big game and no one has let you forget it.... No one wants to partner with you because they can tell you’re not good in that subject, that class... You don’t get that seat in the cafeteria because someone spread an incredibly embarrassing story about you....
Hate to break it to you guys, those types of things don’t end at Graduation. You can find the same things in the break room at work, or in the personnel office where supposedly “professional” colleagues are to work together. In some ways adults feel better able to deal with these cruel experiences. They’re really not... there is just an element of having gone through it before that people can develop a hard outer crust that seems like they’re unfazed. But honestly these experiences as an adult can be even more vicious and painful than anything you’d dealt with on the playground. I’ve just had three different people talk about how they got passed over for a promotion and one was simply fired because someone simply didn’t like them or they liked someone else better.
No one likes to be that person. A person who’s been rejected, isolated, mocked, left alone...
A person like the Samaritan Woman. Biblical Scholars are able to build a portrait of this woman by some details we heard in that Gospel Story that tell us how this was a person very much ostracized from her whole community. The women from her village would normally go to this well to draw water in the morning when it was cooler and easier to do. Yet, she’s going to draw water from this well at noon. She's there to get water, and because it's midday, she'll probably require more water than usual. Why would she put additional strain on an already difficult task? Well, the fact that she “had five husbands” probably had something to do with it. Having gone through the pain and public embarrassment of these poor choices; feeling abandoned and rejected by these 5 men; she probably found it hard to look at some of her neighbors, and more than likely, they weren’t exactly charitable either. Gossip and back biting isn’t a new thing. This nameless woman could probably understand any of our experiences of feeling rejected, isolated, mocked, left alone... which is perhaps one reason she’s “nameless” - because she represents all of us. Which is the good news for us, because of what happens to her. This Gospel tells us of a life-changing, a life-giving day for her.
Because this isn’t some random, chance encounter. It’s not just some coincidence that Jesus is hanging out at this hottest moment of the day by the well that this woman is coming to. It’s interesting hearing the back and forth she has with Jesus. So often in the Gospels we hear of people who are searching after Jesus - trying to get just a touch of his cloak. Begging for interaction with him, (which he generously gives). Not so with the Samaritan woman...She starts off a bit defensive. That’s what happens when you’ve been burned and humiliated numerous times before... You’re defensive, you have your guard up all the time... Learn not to trust anyone. You have to wonder as she was walking to the well if she wondered to herself, “Who’s this now? I specifically waited till noon now to avoid seeing anyone and now this guy is here - who is a Jew besides?” (No, she’s not some rabid anti-Semite...The Jews and Samaritans had long simmering hostilities, so that just adds another layer to this) When Jesus asks her for a drink and she reacts – Why are you asking me, a woman, a SAMARITAN woman for a drink - where’s your bucket...
Jesus isn’t going to let her defensiveness prevent him from reaching out to her. She is coming for some practical needs, simply attending to some daily chores. But Jesus sees the pains, the deeper longings that need attention. How separated, isolated, how alone she is not just from her townsfolk and neighbors... but what this has done to her relationship from God. With her life a mess, with daily reminders of her mistakes in life, with feeling disconnected from her neighbors and relatives - is it any stretch to think that she doubts that there’s a God who cares about her, loves her? Jesus sees that whether she can articulate it or not, she’s dying of thirst for God.
So he’s come to meet her. Reach out to her. Open her mind and heart to the possibility that things can be very, very different. Jesus who has come to bring all of us fullness of life wants her to experience that. And in meeting and talking to Him, something within her begins to stir up that she probably had not experienced for some time... Hope... Could this man be who He says He is? Could He fulfill what it is I’m longing for inside... She’s vulnerable and reveals this desire that she has for God. “Give me this water — I don’t want to thirst anymore...”
What Jesus does next is important. He asks her to call her husband, she reveals she “has no husband” and Jesus very matter-of-factly says, “You’re right, you’ve had 5 and the one you’re with now is not your husband.” The point is not to make her feel badly about the past, but Jesus is telling her and us that for this to be the life-changing, life-giving encounter that she so desires, we have to deal with those past mistakes and be rid of them. In her longing to for connection, acceptance, she had made mistakes. That’s what sin does, takes a good desire and twists it into something not so good. So she had gone from bad relationship - to bad relationship - to bad relationship - to bad relationship - to bad relationship and was now in another bad relationship. Jesus is casting light onto the darkness of her life. That’s the difference. Jesus isn’t condemning her to hell fires because of her past. In revealing her broken-ness, Jesus tells her that God does see her, does care about her. Jesus loves her right there at that moment, which is why he came to her. But here’s the difference, what makes this real love that Jesus has for her is that as opposed to the distorted love she had fallen for all those times before -- he loves her enough he doesn’t want her to remain in that life anymore. He knows she was created for a much more fulfilling life than she was living and He calls her to that. And in this loving invitation where Jesus offering her His living water - what happens? She finds freedom.
The isolation, the rejection, the mockery she’d experienced that kept her imprisoned in this dark cell telling her she was worthless is destroyed. She experiences freedom from her past, forgiveness from her sins and boldly goes to proclaim this good news. She finds a liberation from this past life of sin that kept her alone and disconnected. She knows that this authentic love she’s experienced from Jesus Christ is unlike anything she has ever experienced. Nothing had brought her more joy. Nothing had brought her more peace. How do we know this? Because the first impulse she has is to go to the very source of her painful experiences – she goes to the townspeople she had been avoiding, probably her ex-husbands among them – and shares that Love, share that Joy, share that peace with them.
On many levels, many right here, right now are struggling with the same feelings of isolation, feeling alone, feeling unwanted and maybe even feeling unloved. Our impulse when we experience those feelings is to blame others for it and ignore some of the obvious, but more painful things around us. The bad choices, the poor decisions we’ve made. The sinful actions and attitudes that diminish ourselves making us feel like something less than a Child of God. The dysfunctional relationships we invest ourselves in and spend so much time, so much energy that we lose ourselves in them.
Jesus wants to cast his light, his love into that darkness that makes us feel separated. Right now, He’s calling out to us as we walk through the cafeteria of life. Hoping that we will realize how the loneliness will continue to deepen if we try to find acceptance, validation, or try to fit in to a broken and sinful world. Will we be a bit more attentive instead and see Jesus Christ is right here, waiting for us to sit with him?
Posted by Fr. Jim Chern