Archpastoral Reflections - February, 2009
Feb 13, 2009
Last month we began to reflect more deeply into what we precisely mean when we refer to “God’s Home” as the gathering place for His people, in view of the theme of our most recent Clergy-Laity Congress, “Gather My People to My Home.” In doing so, we began with identifying God’s Home as the Church, and specifically the Church as a man-made structural edifice; and we arrived at a clearer understanding of how the Church presents us with the very dwelling place of God on earth. At the same time, we also acknowledged that this strict definition of “God’s Home” is by no means exhaustive. Indeed, there are many other ways of understanding “God’s Home” that are not confined to physical, earthly places. This reflection piece will endeavor to describe these other ways of understanding “God’s Home,” as we anticipate the task of gathering His people to His home.
One particularly descriptive text that offers an alternative understanding of “God’s Home” is Christ’s dialogue with the Samaritan woman, which we read in the Gospel of John (John 4:1-42). In this text, Jesus is presented as sitting by a well in Samaria, and He is approached by a Samaritan woman who came there to draw water. In a dynamic conversation, the Samaritan woman challenges Jesus by raising a question referring to what was, at that time, a long-standing controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans as to the appropriate place where God was to be worshipped.
Christ responds to the Samaritan woman by entirely changing the level of the conversation with the following, astonishing words: Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship Him (John 4:21-23). By responding to the Samaritan woman in this way, and by reinforcing that God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (v.24), Jesus moves the focal point of discussion from the location of our worship of God to the manner of our worship of God.
This text greatly expands our understanding of God’s Home because Christ’s words to the Samaritan woman clarify the spiritual and unearthly dimensions of “God’s Home,” of God’s place of worship as located in the non-material realm of spirit and truth. Understood in this way, whenever we speak of “God’s Home” as a destination for the gathering of His people, we reference not only the physically accessible and identifiable Church on this earth, but also the spiritually accessible Kingdom of Heaven which is not of this world.
In our work of applying our Congress’ theme of gathering God’s people to His Home, the above mentioned text from the Gospel of John also is very helpful, in another sense, because it presents us with a unique example of Christ, Who as the Lord Himself, engages in the task of gathering the people to God’s Home. Despite the clear knowledge that His act of speaking with a woman, let alone a Samaritan woman, would be met with criticism, even from His own disciples; Christ nonetheless is the one who initiates a direct dialogue with her. By taking such initiative, Christ directly confronts the social prejudices and barriers of His day, and He takes the necessary, courageous, caring, and healing steps to transform a life and bring a human being to God’s Home. As a result, the repenting Samaritan woman speaks to the people of her village about Christ; and they come to Christ, believe in Him, and, in essence, are gathered in God’s Home (John 4:39-42). This is the task of “gathering” exemplified in the most superb of ways. It is this perfect example which we ourselves are called to emulate as we enter into genuine conversation and dialogue with men and women of other religious beliefs, ethnicities, national backgrounds and races.
This example offered to us by Christ naturally leads us to the topic of “gathering” God’s people to His home, a topic of immense and complex scope. By appreciating the nature of God’s Home as both earthly and heavenly, as both the Church on earth and the Church as Kingdom of Heaven, we stand more fully equipped with the tools that we need to gather His people to His Home. With the example that Christ offers to us today, we will continue our exploration of the theme of our last Clergy-Laity Congress, “Gather My People to My Home,” concentrating on the word “gather” in our next reflection.
Archbishop of America