Contemplating Jesus


Posted on by Lucinda M. Vardey

After spending forty days in solitude in the desert (Matthew 4)) Jesus emerged, purified through temptation, and clarified by contemplation, to begin his three-year ministry.  He said that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15: 24)), to be a roving rabbi up and down the land of Galilee and Judea, where he gained a reputation for accepting invitations not usual for rabbis.  Such acceptances were eating  in houses of tax-collectors and frequenting the company of prostitutes and outcasts from society, such as lepers, and others tormented with grave afflictions.  Although viewed as revolutionary, Jesus’ openness towards the marginalized was purposeful: it was to educate, share wisdom, invite relationship with God and to heal the broken.  Through his actions, Jesus was saying that God wasn’t present only with the religious, law-abiding majority.  The God of Abraham, the God of the Jewish people, was like a loving parent, forgiving and merciful to those deprived of a privileged place in society.

The crowds that followed Jesus increased by thousands with such a welcome.   But somewhere along the way Jesus, himself, was converted to envisioning even wider possibilities than his original intended mission.  This happened through a spontaneous encounter with a Roman centurion and two non-Jewish women.  The centurion, requesting healing for his paralyzed servant, claimed to be unworthy to receive Jesus into his home.  Instead he offered Jesus an alternative.   Comparing his methods as a military man, where issuing a command would precipitate instant obedience, could Jesus not act likewise? The gospel of Matthew (8:5-13) states that Jesus was “amazed” at the man’s faith, the depth of which he had not found within his own people.  He went ahead and gave the command and the servant was healed within the hour.  

A Canaanite woman challenged Jesus further still.  Pleading with him to have mercy on her daughter, who was tormented by a demon (Matthew l5: 21 – 28), she would not let Jesus dismiss her, even when he exclaimed it unfair to take “the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Without missing a beat, she unabashedly parried his argument inciting that “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Exclaiming her to be great of faith, Jesus complied, and her daughter was healed.

By the time Jesus was resting by Jacob’s well in the noonday sun (John 4:5-42), he had no qualms than to ask a visiting Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  This time the attitudes were reversed.  “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me?” she said. And so the conversation continued where Jesus not only crossed the barriers of cultural acceptance, but broke down the boundaries of exclusion, separation and alienation by exposing the truths of her life, and requesting participation in the simplest, most vital element for all life – water.   In this encounter, he interpreted the everyday reality of water-fetching at a well as a doorway to the eternal source of grace.  He took the opportunity of not only opening such a door to a non-Jew but even more inappropriately, to a woman.  In such a meeting, this woman was to slowly recognize that a Jewish stranger who acted so differently, who humbly asked her for a drink, was no longer interested in upholding old laws of separation.  Could he be the Messiah?

 With the wisdom of experience, Jesus’ openness continued to widen and flow, like the waters of the Jordan, through the expansive Jezreel valley and out to quench the thirst of all humanity.  To this day, Jesus’ openness  “cannot be outflanked” * and begs us still to be continuously “amazed.”

                              * ref. Jack Costello S.J.

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