What is the mission of the Church?
The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
How does the Church pursue its mission?
The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
Over the next three weeks we are going to hear long passages from the Gospel of John. Today it was the woman at well. Next week it will be the story of the man blind from birth. And on Lent 5 it will be the raising of Lazarus.
The season of Lent is, among other things, a season focused on reconciliation. Ash Wednesday reminds us of this when we are told of people separated from the body through notorious sins being reconciled and restored through their penitence. We are reminded of the Gospel's message of pardon and absolution. And the Exhortation, which we heard on Lent 1, reminds us to examine our lives and conduct, acknowledge our sins, make restitution, forgive others, and come to the heavenly banquet after being reconciled.
It is this theme of restoration that the Catechism and Gospels touch on. And it begins today with the story of the woman at the well.
The differences between Jews and Samaritans were real and they were divisive. We get a glimpse of this when John makes a point to say, “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.” The reasons for this are many and ancient, but they involve the following: foreign colonists from Assyria after the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 bc who intermingled with those not deported; the Samaritans' refusal to worship at Jerusalem; a Samaritan blockade at the time of the restoration of Jerusalem after the return of the exiles from Babylon; Samaria assisting Syria in wars against Judah; and the Jewish high priest burning the Samaritan temple to the ground. There was a lot of distrust and animosity between the two peoples, as you can imagine, and it was into this division which Jesus steps.
Jesus takes the bold step of first entering “enemy” territory. He is the one to make the initial offer of reconciliation. He doesn't require THEM to come to him, he goes to them. In his reaching out to the woman he doesn't judge her for having five husbands, nor does he condemn her for her current relationship status. What he does is accept her as she is and offers her another path. It is this acceptance, I think, that causes her to go and tell others about the man she has just met.
Now it is their turn to sit with Jesus' words, ponder their meaning, and decide for themselves if they want to be part of the movement. What they discover is that unity in Christ is a greater force than basing unity on who you aren't. And this is the key to the whole endeavor,.
The Jews and Samaritans had their differences – theologically, politically, and socially. But they are no different than anyone else in the world. Whether it is between Catholics and Protestants, rich and poor, Americans and Mexicans, men and women, black and white, Republicans and Democrats, we all look for ways to cast Those People as Others. Sometimes we do it to such an extent that we actually demonize those we consider outsiders.
And the longer we see outsiders as Other, as Not Us, and Demons, the easier it is to believe mythological stereotypes, rumors, and baseless tweets. This becomes how we live – isolated and afraid. And this ultimately encourages us to keep Those Others out.
But this way of thinking and living is antithetical to both the stated mission of the Church and the message of the Gospel. Our mission, according to the Catechism, is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. Our mission, according to the gospels, is to make disciples of all nations. This is hard to do when we allow our fears and prejudices to rule our hearts and minds and actions.
The first step we must make to living into our mission is to recognize others not as Other, but as equal to ourselves in every way, fully created in the image of God.
The next step is to follow in the steps of Christ, cross those boundaries and barriers that divide, and meet people face to face. Meet them as people who want the best for their children. Meet them as people who have dreams for a better world. Meet them as people who long to be treated equally and with respect and dignity. Meet them as people who are children of God.
This is hard work. It is often unpopular work. But it is what we are called to do as Christians first. And we need to remember to present Christ not as conqueror, but as reconciler.
For it will only be when people see Christ not as conqueror but as a unifier that we will begin to make strides. Only when we begin to tear down the walls that separate us will we begin to see unity. Only when we, like Jesus, make the first move towards reconciliation will we begin to see the healing of the world.
The mission of the Church is restoration.
The focus of Lent is reconciliation.
This process began with Jesus and the woman at the well.
How are you working towards these goals of Christ and Church?