Third Sunday of Lent
March 15, 2020
“Social distancing” is an expression that is becoming more and more familiar as the coronavirus continues to spread.
Besides avoiding large gatherings (even in Rome, public Masses are being canceled/limited…during Lent no less), people are encouraged to maintain a distance of at least 3 feet from one another. “Fist bumps” that became popular during ordinary flu seasons in years past, are considered unnecessarily intimate. Polite nods are becoming the new normal when greeting friends. If people feel that physical contact is absolutely necessary, some countries are introducing “shoe bumps.”
As silly or extreme as these measures might seem to some, we simply can’t pretend anymore, that we are not in the midst of a universal health crisis. And so “social distancing” is the order of the day. Even those who have convinced themselves that this is not a serious situation should respect the personal boundaries of those who are working for containment.
Any examples of “social distancing” employed as we deal with the current pandemic, seem minor when compared with the practices common to Jesus’s time. Consider the examples in the Gospel, as to how lepers were treated. To avoid contamination they were totally banished from the community. Today this might well seem heartless but at the time it was the only way to prevent the spread of the dreaded disease.
What was in fact, very heartless and difficult to understand, was the “social distancing” that observant Jews…religious people who believed they were doing what was right and proper in the eyes of God, employed when coming in contact with people of other faith traditions; especially women.
Although “cousins” of “the Chosen people” Samaritans clung to certain pagan traditions that observant Jews found totally unacceptable. And so, automatically grouped with other pagans, Samaritans were simply “shrugged off”…ignored…passed by as if they did not exist…especially Samaritan women. Physical contact with a pagan, rendered an observant Jew, spiritually contaminated; unworthy to even pray until they have been cleansed in a special, ritual bath.
John’s Gospel makes a point of explaining that Jesus’s disciples were not present when The Lord encountered the Samaratin woman and engaged her in conversation. Had they been present, it is quite likely that they would have tried to prevent this beautiful story of inclusivity, forgiveness, evangelization and conversion. It certainly was a break from the rules of “social distancing”. The woman herself was surprised and alarmed by the encounter with Jesus. She understood the rules. Had Jesus not taken the initiative, she quite likely would have returned home with her water jug as empty as her spirits.
But here we see how Jesus is a game changer…collapsing human traditions that distance people from one another. Had The Lord complied with “the rules” and not engaged this public sinner…the distance between her and God might have gone so far as to exclude her from salvation.
We also see here, that even the most unlikely of persons…the hardest of hearts, has within them the ability to hear God’s voice and repent. This woman was very courageous. She stood her ground. She spoke truthfully and she asked questions. Most notably after her conversion she became an evangelist.
“Social distancing” in times of crisis like we’re living through might well be unavoidable. But while safe distance and common sense are necessary, we cannot wall ourselves off from the rest of humanity. No virus could possibly be as lethal as distancing ourselves from Christ. Very often we find Christ in the midst of others, particularly those in greatest need.
So as we move into the final weeks of this Lenten season, we should continue to PRAY for a speedy end to the virus. We should also pray that these challenging times draw us closer together, rather than distancing us from one another.
Rather than panic buying and hoarding, we should be more committed to FASTING from the unnecessary, and appreciating and using to the best advantage, what we do have.
As part of our annual ALMSGIVING, we should make a point of looking beyond our own isolation, to see what we might share with others…especially the poor.
This might well be a time when “social distancing” is unavoidable. Still, this is a time to grow closer to Christ by drawing closer to one another.