February 10, 2011 - Memorial of Saint Scholastica, virgin

Today’s Gospel is disturbing, which is to say that from the rest of the Gospel we have a certain image and understanding of Jesus and today’s Gospel disturbs that. If this were the only story we had about Jesus, our whole image of him would be very different. There are various ways of making sense of this passage, but few of them make any sense at all. We know that Jesus was fully human and Scripture tells us that he grew in wisdom, age, and grace. Growth in virtue implies someone not already perfect in it. So, Scripture tells us that Jesus, according to his human nature, his human mind, was not always perfect in wisdom and grace. This is a mystery which we will never fully understand, but let us think about it and try to understand partially.

Perhaps Jesus was just grouchy; he was trying to take a nap, but even in a foreign city where he “wanted no one to know about it”, he just cannot get a break. No! Jesus who died meekly upon the Cross, who came to serve and not to be served, who loved us so much that he died for us, was not grouchy.

Perhaps what Jesus said was just a saying in his time, and it was not as offensive as it comes off to us. No! Jesus always was careful about what he said, and, actually, the phrase is far, far more offensive in the original than it is now.

Perhaps we should take the words at face value: Jesus was racist. He grew up in a certain culture that hated foreigners, and he had just learned to disrespect them too. Those who defend this idea suggest that the woman here taught Jesus a valuable lesson. No! Jesus was not a man of his time, and, when he grew up, he grew in wisdom, age, and grace, not in prejudice, selfishness, and hatred.

Perhaps Jesus just knew what words would be perfect here. Whether he is speaking to the woman at the well or inviting a new disciple, Jesus always knew just what to say to elicit the response he was looking for. Yes, this is possible. God does test us. He puts challenges in our way so that we might grow as we deal with them. We should follow the example of this woman when God tests us: be persistent, humble, and just a little bit clever.