It isn’t out in the open most of the time; we have too polite a society to leave it out in the open very often. We don’t speak of it out loud, in a public forum, in front of hundreds of people, some of whom we don’t know and who will take their impression of us from what we say. We never; or almost never write it down, never leaving a trail that might lead back to our house, to our life, to our reputation.
It’s the kind of thing you aren’t allowed to talk about at the dinner table or in front of your crazy uncle Bernie at holiday time. It is the stuff of fights and harsh words and heightened tension. It alienates children from their parents and it can make marriages shatter like so much spun sugar.
One of our problems as a society, heck as a species is that we cannot seem to rid ourselves of it. No amount of analysis, psycho analysis or sociological analysis will make it go away it persists from generation to generation, always there on the edge of our perception, always there on the edge of what we will or will not say.
When I was trained in premarital counseling I was told to watch out for it, to warn against it, to tell people that when it appeared the situation was dire. Hope was fading when people started speaking to each other, seeing each other with disdain.
It doesn’t seem like much, such a small word, an even smaller concept. Google defines it as “the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect; contempt.”
It is not hatred. We are familiar enough with hatred that we ought to know the difference. Hatred is what we might say out loud, what we might wear on a t-shirt if we are brave enough to be known by our viewpoint.
Hatred is what makes wars and causes nation to rise up against its neighbor. They make a calculation, they do some figuring; they presume that they can win. Hatred allows for the planning of events and parades and demonstrations. The world recently lost Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church who made famous the notion that God’s hatred is as important as God’s love when you seek something to guide your actions and guide your viewpoints. Hatred seems to be a unifying principle for them.
That’s what I love about hatred, it is easy to spot. Hatred makes you carry a sign, march around, make a lot of noise and draw a lot of attention to yourself.
A classmate of mine asked, in a pastoral care class, what to do with someone who professed a hatred of God, most likely because of a loss that they had suffered; a child had been killed or a beloved parent snatched away far too early, a cancer diagnosis, any of the things that might push someone to fish around for someone to blame, for someone to point to and to make the focus of their pain and their rage.
“Stay with them” was the answer. It was explained to us that hatred was far from the worst thing to ever come into a relationship, even a relationship with God.
“You see,” it was explained, “you have to value the person you hate; you have to acknowledge their power and their meaning and their ability to hurt and harm you in some way.” Oddly enough, in hating someone you concede to them some power over you, some ability to make decisions that affect you, spiritually, emotionally, physically. You have to admit to a relationship when you hate and any relationship is better than none at all, is better than disdain or contempt because in disdain and contempt you have severed the channels of relationship and are left with nothing to work with, nothing at all.
Chaplaincy is great for finding out the truth in that little nugget of wisdom. You run into the idea that God is in charge all the time, but is apparently drunk at the wheel, asleep at the switch, you pick your own metaphor, the essence being that God is God in heaven but is failing somehow to do the divine business, to heal my mom, to save my uncle Joe, to reduce the bleeding in the brain of my second cousin Maddie.
It is easy to see how in those moments love for God, trust in God can become disappointment and then hate.
Or at least it looks simple.
It looks simply like someone asking to be rescued form their pain being denied release and turning bitter, that sounds about as simple as it can get, right? But how many of us really want God to take away all of our agency, all of our will, all of our individuality and just take care of things for us? It sounds good, like being a kid again and having someone pay our bills and clean up our messes, but when we get all misty eyed about those days we tend to forget the frustrations, the anger at being denied any decision making, at being entirely at the mercy of someone else, them making the decisions, them pushing you around.
It’s easy to beg God for healing, trusting that God could heal us in those moments if God wanted to. It’s easy to try and manipulate God, if you truly loved me you would heal me, if you truly wanted what’s best for me you would take away my pain.
To pour your trust into your picture of God at that moment is no testament to faith; that is the foxhole conversion, the confession under duress.
What is harder is choosing God when things are not at the bitter end, to choose to follow and to obey when things are going great for you, when you are on the top of the world. How many of us bring Jesus into the conversation when we are lighting up the cigarette and wishing we could stop? How many of us think that Jesus wants us to smoke?
How many of us think that Jesus is in favor us taking advantage of the laborers who tend and tidy, who lift and toil for us just because they have little or no power and we have much and more?
Why is it we expect Christ to hear our cry when we are in distress when we find it so easy to ignore His cry when things are going our way?
And when things do not go our way, we get bitter. Ask the Israelites. Under duress they prayed to God for release and God sent to them Moses. Moses, under the direction of their Lord delivered them from the house of bondage and into the great Exodus, until things started turning their way and they started whining and complaining and trying to go their own way, beginning to despise the God of their deliverance because the road was not padded and the food was not USDA prime, organically raised, milk-fed, etc. etc.
But at least they were out in the open about it, they grumbled and griped and wore their displeasure on their sleeves.
The contempt we wear, the disdain we do not show is a far subtler beast. It is woven into our speech and into our culture and becomes like a part of us. I don’t know where the meme of the lazy Mexican came from, I suppose it is from the old western movies where they are perpetually on siesta, dozing the day away, chair tipped back against the adobe building, sombrero pulled low over the eyes.
I have never, ever met that person. Maybe they have everything that they want and are taking a well-deserved rest, but I have never met that person. But that contempt, that disdain informs the debate still when it comes to the debate on immigration. It doesn’t matter what side you are on in that debate, we need to fix the system it is clearly broken, but shouldn’t we start with a realistic picture and not contempt when we enter into the debate? Shouldn’t we at least acknowledge that when we hire a day laborer, it is us leaning back in our chairs dozing while someone else works for us?
It is those ideas, that cultural contempt that the woman at the well is expecting. After all, in this time and in this place, that is how the Jews treat the Samaritans. That is pretty much the definition of unclean, isn’t it? Beneath notice? What was the definition I used earlier? “the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect.”
Verse nine in John this morning reads, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” John kindly explains to us in parentheses that (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
Not hate. No wars need be fought, no banners flown. We will simply ignore that they are people, ignore them entirely, pretend that they are not there, have no congress with them.
Jesus parries her expectations, meets her suspicions with surprising kindness, grace at each turn.
He mentions that she has had many husbands and commentators have made a big deal about how she is a woman of low morals and that is the grace that Jesus is showing, by not condemning her.
She is certainly right to expect that some condemnation might come from the Jews; they have a strict code about these things, they live by a set of standards and those who fall short are not allowed to slide.
She expects many things, but most of all she expects disdain because Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans, it says so in the Bible.
Who are your Samaritans?
Don’t fool yourself, everyone has someone. Liberals have Neo-cons, Conservatives have socialists, Hindus have Muslims, conservative Christians have Muslims, liberal Midwestern Christians have Muslims; I’m sensing a theme here.
The thing is, we are willing to be all loving and caring and accepting when we are here in the midst of the things of Christ’s body, among friends. When we are in a confessing mood we are all about asking God for acceptance and forgiveness and care and concern and we are generous with reaching out and greeting one another in the name of Christ.
Why is it that the rest of the time we find it so easy to set aside the calling of the same Lord whom we beg for forgiveness and then fail to see everyone, everyone especially people we disagree with, especially people we give exactly no thought to at all, why is it we fail to see those people the way that Christ calls us to in today’s Gospel, as the Samaritan woman?
It would be kinder if we just hated them because if they will know we are Christians by our love, they will also know what we are by our hatred.
But when we fail to concede to them any humanity at all, when we just dismiss them, disdainfully, a door closes on relationship and it will not just open by itself, disdain, contempt are powerful locks against relationship.
You have to open it yourself, on purpose, with intention.
In doing so you add into your life the possibility of another mother and father, brother and sister in Christ.
Samaritans were outside the realm of redemption. They had their own worship, their own ways that placed them beyond the realm of attention or concern to the nation of Israel. Nobody in Israel gave them a thought and so for all intents and purposes they didn’t exist.
Jesus crosses the boundary, the border both geographical and spiritual between them and opened them up to the love of God, the larger family that is the body of Christ. And the idea had its own power, once the woman heard it she went and told others and they too came to hear a different word and became a part of the family.
What will we open ourselves to if we set aside the disdain, recognized the humanity in everyone without exception, and sought to see them as Christ would have us see them? Will we find new brothers and sisters in Christ? Will they?
What will we add to ourselves this Lent is we took that risk?