Monday, March 18, 2013

anno domini

The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A Scrutinies) tells the story of Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan woman at "Jacob's well" as he passes with his disciples through Samaria on his way back to Galilee where his messianic activity had begun. In a 2011 sermon, Fr. Robert Barron (of Word on Fire) said that "we are all meant to identify with this woman in this archetypal encounter with Jesus, we are all in her place, we are all being drawn into the power of what Jesus offers." Benedict XVI, too, has called our attention to the interpretive task of identification:
One must read and meditate on it personally, identifying oneself with that woman who, one day like so many other days, went to draw water from the well and found Jesus there, sitting next to it, "tired from the journey" in the midday heat . . . she represents the existential dissatisfaction of one who [has not, until now, found] what he seeks.
The difficulty of this particular task of identification has to do with the delimitation of that place in which, according to Fr. Barron, we can be said to dwell along with the Samaritan woman, namely, the place from which "we are all being drawn into the power of what Jesus offers." For Barron and Benedict this "being drawn," along with the experience of an "existential dissatisfaction" that bespeaks a restless heart (implicitly desiring God), makes manifest the indwelling and unifying imago dei as the genuinely archetypal site of the encounter with Jesus and, thereby, of the "true worship of the Father in Spirit and truth."

Yet there is a kind of Old Testament residue in the Samaritan woman's conversion that is difficult for us to identify with. On the same path that generations of Samaritans have taken before her, the woman finds Jesus resting at Jacob's (Israel's) well within sight of Mount Gerizim where they have their temple. If the Samaritans "worship what [they] do not understand," at least they walk where Jacob walked and draw water out of the rock of the promised land (and that without needing the staff with which Moses struck the Nile). Fr. Barron jokes that a woman with five husbands has been "looking for love in all the wrong places," but the great stumbling block for Samaritan and Jew alike is that, once Jesus appears, they are somehow in the right place and the wrong place at the same time! How can this tired prophet offer more than that "permanent possession" which was given by God to Jacob? Would Samaritan and Jew alike not be justified in wondering whether the Lord was in their midst or not (cf. Exodus 17:7)?

The strangeness of the Christian's approach to Jesus, on the other hand, seems to be a matter of time rather than place. We can identify with the Samaritan woman insofar as our "existential dissatisfaction" occurs after Christ has already appeared and offered us a living water. In his 2008 General Audience on St. Paul's eschatology, Benedict XVI describes the historical situation in which Christians find themselves:
[after the Resurrection] the last things have already begun and, in a certain sense, are already present . . . As believers, we are already with the Lord in our lifetime; our future, eternal life, has already begun.
Elsewhere Ratzinger has written that "the turning point . . . of time is already here, though it does not coincide with the end of world history." How is it possible, then, that it is still necessary for us to be "drawn" to the Lord in anno domini nostri Iesu Christi? It is as if the paradigmatic question of the believer has become not "where are you staying?" (cf. John 1:38) but "how are you staying?" and "how can I stay with you?"

I'll close with another excerpt from Benedict on Paul's eschatology:
Another element in the Pauline teaching on eschatology is the universality of the call to faith which unites Jews and Gentiles . . . as a sign and an anticipation of the future reality. For this reason we can say that we are already seated in Heaven with Jesus Christ, but to reveal the riches of grace in the centuries to come (Eph 2: 6f.), the after becomes a before, in order to show the state of incipient fulfilment in which we live. This makes bearable the sufferings of the present time which, in any case, cannot be compared to the future glory (cf. Rm 8: 18). We walk by faith, not by sight, and even if we might rather leave the body to live with the Lord, what definitively matters, whether we are dwelling in the body or are far from it, is that we be pleasing to him (cf. 2 Cor 5: 7-9).
And one from Jose Granados' Communio article on the Ascension:
What is the role of the Ascension in the history of this bond between the flesh and the divine? The body of Christ, already glorified, is now bound to the rest of creation in a new way. This mystery communicates to the cosmos the state of the glorified flesh of Jesus, insofar as it places the definitive goal toward which all of creation is tending in the Father himself. A new horizon is thus opened within creation: all created being is already in heaven, because all things are now moving toward the very heart of God. On the basis of the Ascension, therefore, the body acquires a new language; the body’s capacity for proclaiming God is raised to a new level. This is the language of the sacraments, in which material creation expresses a more fulfilled relation with the transcendent.

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