Over the opening couple of months of 2023, Glasgow City Mission’s daily reflections have focused on the book of Ruth. During one of my own daily reflections (Ruth 2:1-13) I commented on the way in which the vast gulf, which exists between Boaz and Ruth’s respective social status, is flattened the moment Boaz addresses Ruth. He acknowledges her fully, hears her, and has paid attention to her good reputation as carer of her mother-in-law. In seeing her and acknowledging her fully the distance between them socially is levelled enormously. It is a very compelling story telling device, it has power in this story, and it has power in cinema with, for example, My Fair Lady (Pygmalion) and Pretty Woman. Most importantly, it is a principle that has profound power in our everyday lives.
In the Gospel of John (John 4:1-42) we find Jesus, alone, at noon, at a location profoundly significant in the history of the Jewish people, and there is a woman. There is much to say about this passage but for the purposes of this blog I’ll highlight only a couple of things.
- The woman was alone, at noon, doing a task which one might expect be done in fellowship with others as the well may not be a place where it is safe to be alone. In addition, this is a morning task as at noon it is too hot. We also know this woman has no husband as such; the man she is with has not made a proper commitment to her. She has been married many times before; we do not know the details. Jesus on the other hand is a Jew, a rabbi; he is a man, alone also. He is not somebody who would be expected to tolerate the presence of a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation. These two should not be in proximity let alone in conversation.
- Jesus engages the women in conversation; she is surprised as she should be invisible to him. He defers to her to aide him with his thirst. He makes himself vulnerable. Jesus flattens the vast societal/cultural distance between them and proceeds to let her know that he knows her completely. All the ugliness and pain, all the shame and vulnerability, the disappointment and the longing. Jesus sees her, Jesus hears her, she is known so well she can never be the same again. She is permanently changed by the encounter and evangelises her community. The impact of the encounter is so great.
We have encounters with invisible people every day. People the world does not see. People the world does not want to see. People who have broken all social rules and norms and some who just got lost. In the worst cases, we only find out about these people, made in God’s image, when it is too late and the news reports a tragic ending to a tragic life. Many times, they do not make the news at all but simply slip into God’s eternity without fanfare.
We have the chance every day to really see, really hear, and to get to know the Samaritans of our age. What a difference it is to be seen, to be heard, and to be known by those around us. We can be strangers in our own homes but if we are seen, heard and known somewhere we may find the way to hope and healing, and to salvation.