"How is that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans)"
Many years ago when I was in the restaurant business in Toronto I made the mistake of nearly throwing out a man who came for a meal, even before he ever made it inside. He was unsteady on his feet, had wild hair, big glasses (it was the early eighties) and a rust coloured corduroy jacket of which I wasn’t very fond. He looked like trouble to me; he might have been drinking, he might be unable to pay for his meal, either way he wasn’t going to cause trouble in my restaurant. Until I spent a few minutes getting to know him at the door, I had no intention of letting him enter – I planned to invite him to leave even before he was seated! In the end I was glad I didn’t do any of that, and the man came in, enjoyed a meal and paid for it in full. I bade him farewell and wished him luck in his performance.
I later learned (through the power of Sesame Street) that he was a world renowned violin virtuoso in town for an evening with the Toronto symphony. His unsteady gait, far from being a result of over consumption of alcohol, was in fact because of a bout of polio he had suffered as a child.
This is not just a story about how I met Itzak Perlman and didn’t realize it, or a lesson learned about judging people on appearance, although it is both of those. This is a story of reconciliation, and a personal experience with Christ, which for the Samaritan woman in the Gospel happened at Jacob’s well. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions all associate the well with Jacob, and so it is a place of religious significance, and perhaps no coincidence that Jesus would welcome the Gentiles into the faith (through a conversation with a Samaritan woman) at that very spot.
The Samaritan woman judged Jesus on first impressions alone. He was different, a Jew. How she knew that the Gospel doesn’t indicate: perhaps his manner of dress, or accent or his choice of words gave him away. Perhaps because she didn’t know him to be a Samaritan she deduced he must be a Jew. However she arrived at the conclusion, she decided she shouldn’t be speaking to a man in public, and certainly not a man who was a Jew.
We judge people by their appearance and get it right just enough times that it is a hard habit to break. Even getting it right is not a good enough reason to use our intuition and preconceived notions as the sole measure by which another person is valued, even less so when we get it horribly wrong, as I nearly did with Mr. Perlman and I’m sorry to report, certainly others since.
"To be received and heard is a human sign of the acceptance and goodness of God to his children." Pope Benedict XVI
The woman at the well was received and heard, and learned the mercy of God. We too, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation draw into a closer, and personal relationship with Christ. When we confess, do penance and are forgiven, we reconcile with God and can truly unite with his body in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.