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Church Talk: Bear with one another in love

Friday 15 March 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features


Church Talk: Bear with one another in love
The organisers, speakers and guests at the Cook Islands National Council for Women’s International Women’s Day event on Friday last week. MELINA ETCHES/24030814

While women and children are suffering in the war zones today, do we find our own women at peace or do we have wars happening in our own backyards? Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church writes.

On Thursday the 7th of March, churches in the Cook Islands were involved in the World Day of Prayer. This is an annual event celebrated in prayer every first Thursday of March here in the Cook Islands and 120 plus countries around the world. The programme was very much in the hands of the women members of our churches both here in Rarotonga and the Pa Enua. They came together at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) in Arorangi to pray together, conscious that this World Day of Prayer was also taking place in most countries around the world.

The World Day of Prayer 2024 focused in particular on the women of Palestine. The theme chosen by Palestine was “I beg you … Bear with One Another in Love”. Given what is happening in the Middle East at the moment with the war between Israel and Hamas at Gaza, I found the programme opening my mind to the hardships that ordinary people encounter when their land is under dispute and even taken away from them. One simple image continued to resonate with me long after the evening ended. It was when one Palestinian woman, Sara, shared in her story that her family still held the keys of the family home that they had been kicked out of years before. They were still longing to return to their ancestral home.

And then on Friday, March 8th was International Women’s Day. The programme associated with this was hosted by the Cook Islands National Council for Women and their theme was “Invest in women: Accelerate progress.” It was pleasing to see a good number of women gathered for prayer early in the morning on this day before the official speeches followed later in the morning.

As I casually glance around various organisations within the country, I see that Cook Islands women are actively involved in many of them. Whether one is looking at politics, the Ui Ariki, our churches, civil servants, businesses and the numerous organisations existing in the country, Cook Islands women are greatly involved. Perhaps some of our churches like my own are still grabbling with this involvement of women in official ministry in the church. Tradition has a strong hold on the thinking of many men. Certainly, our women shine in church administration. One group that I was associated with included police women. Previously such a profession would be a male stronghold.

The Samaritan woman at the well

In our Church, the scripture reading on the Sunday closest to World Day of Prayer and International Women’s Day, was the inspiring Gospel story of the Samaritan woman meeting Jesus at the well. This story is filled with symbolism, much of which the casual reader could easily miss.

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” John 4:5–7

To begin, it is important to prayerfully imagine the scene. Jesus was all alone sitting next to Jacob’s well around noon. Few women would come to the well at that time of the day due to the heat. But this woman came at this time because she knew that the other women would be avoiding the well at this time. We are informed she was a sinner, and many of the other women of the town knew it. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid them and so avoid feeling the shame, she came at a time when she would not be confronted by other women. So the first thing to consider is the suffering this woman was enduring because of her shame and embarrassment over her sinful life.

As she approached the well, the woman was surprised to hear Jesus ask her for a drink. She was a Samaritan. Jews generally considered Samaritans as ritually unclean. For that reason, Jews would not drink from the same drinking vessels as a Samaritan. But Jesus broke this unholy custom and looked at her as a daughter of God with innate dignity and value as he engaged her in conversation.

Within the heat of the day, Jesus spoke lovingly to this woman and said, “Give me a drink.” It is possible to see a double meaning in this simple request. Symbolically speaking, Jesus thirsted for her soul; for her salvation. He longed to give her the grace soon to be won through the cross. Her willing reception of this gift would also overwhelm her heart with the heart of Jesus. Jesus didn’t dwell on her past which he could have. He wanted to cleanse her by throwing aside her sinful past and to discover the dignity within. If she were to allow Jesus to offer her this mercy, she would receive true living water to quench her spiritual thirst.

The Gospel of John will return to the theme of thirst in Chapter 19, when Jesus fulfils his mission with the words from the cross, “I am thirsty!” His thirst for us is our thirst for him, the only source that can satisfy our longing for love.

The woman at the well, a double outcast by the Jews for her apostasy and by her village neighbours for her multiple marriages, is chosen by Jesus to be one of his first Apostles, an evangelist to the Samaritan community and a witness to all who read this Gospel story. She summons us today to bring our thirst to the well, never satisfied for anything less than living water, direct and intimate contact with the Source of life

“The woman put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people, ‘Come and see a man who has told me everything I ever did; I wonder whether he is the Christ?’ This brought the people out of the town and they started walking towards him.” John 4: 27 – 30. This story has an amazing end. This woman who at the start of the story has gone to the well at a time that she will not meet any other women turns around after the encounter with Jesus and goes straight to these people she is afraid of and tells them she has met the Messiah. One could claim this as the first disciple of Jesus to evangelise. She brings the people to Jesus and disappears from the scene presumably seeking out others to tell her story so they too can go to Jesus,

My personal observations from the two events celebrated last week are:

First, to see the good in one another rather than using negative attitudes to shut people out. Jesus was able to welcome the Samaritan woman into his heart. This was further highlighted in the World Day of Prayer theme, “I beg you … Bear with one another with love.”

Secondly, Jesus was prepared to break custom to save the Samaritan woman. Ask the question: “Am I clinging to unholy customs that prevent me from accepting women in leadership roles?” This question is not only for men but for women who could be bound by unholy attitudes too.

Thirdly, we should be deeply concerned about what women and children are enduring in war torn countries or situations such as Gaza. Frequently we now hear of women and children being killed in war zones. This challenges us too in peaceful countries like the Cook Islands to take note of what our police often remind us on White Ribbon Day: Violence against women and children locally needs to stop.

Fourthly, while women and children are suffering in the war zones today, do we find our own women at peace or do we have wars happening in our own backyards? Not brutally killed but scarred with shame like the Samaritan woman? When we encounter with Jesus, the war and shame will definitely be gone forever.

Lastly, we could ask ourselves the question: “What can I do to accelerate the status of women in society today? What can I invest in, “that will turn into a spring inside me, welling up to eternal life?” (cf John 4:14)