Resources for The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and throughout the year 2015 (3)

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PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR PROMOTING CHRISTIAN UNITY 


Resources for 

 

THE WEEK OF PRAYER FOR CHRISTIAN UNITY 
and throughout the year 201
5

 

Jesus said to her: "Give me to drink" 
(John 4:7)

 

 

BIBLICAL REFLECTIONS AND PRAYERS FOR THE EIGHT DAYS

 

DAY 1 PROCLAMATION
It is necessary to go through Samaria (John 4:4)
   
Genesis 24:10-33 Abraham and Rebekah at the well
Psalm 42 The deer that longs for running streams
2 Corinthians 8:1-7 The generosity of the churches of Macedonia
John 4:1-4 He had to go through Samaria

 

Commentary


Jesus and his disciples travelled from Judea to Galilee. Samaria is between these two areas. There was a certain prejudice against Samaria and the Samaritans. The negative reputation of Samaria came from its mix of races and religions. It was not uncommon to use alternative routes to avoid stepping into Samaritan territory.


What does the Gospel of John mean, then, when saying, "it is necessary to go through Samaria"? More than a geographical issue, it is a choice of Jesus: "going through Samaria" means that it is necessary to meet the other, the different, the one who is often seen as a threat.


The conflict between Jews and Samaritans was old. Samaritan predecessors had broken with the monarchy of the south which required the centralization of the worship in Jerusalem (1 Kings 12). Later, when the Assyrians invaded Samaria deporting many of the local population, they brought to the territory a number of foreign peoples, each with their own gods or deities (2 Kings 17:24-34). For Jews, Samaritans became a people "mixed and impure". Later in John’s Gospel, the Jews, wanting to discredit Jesus, accuse him saying, "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" (Jn 8:48).

Samaritans in their turn, also had difficulty accepting Jews (Jn 4:8). The hurt of the past became even greater when, around 128 BC, the Jewish leader, John Hyrcanus, destroyed the temple built by Samaritans as their place of worship on Mount Gerizin. On at least one occasion, reported in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was not received in a Samaritan city simply because he was on his way to Judea (Lk 9:52). So resistance to dialogue came from the two sides.


John makes it clear that "going through Samaria" is a choice Jesus is making; he is reaching beyond his own people. In this he is showing us that isolating ourselves from those who are different and relating only to people like ourselves is a self-inflicted impoverishment. It is the dialogue with those who are different that makes us grow. 


Questions

  1. What does it mean for me and for my community of faith "to have to go through Samaria?"

  2. What are the steps that my church has made to meet other churches and what have the churches learnt from each other?

Prayer


God of all peoples, 
teach us to go through Samaria to meet our brothers and sisters from other churches. 
Allow us to go there with an open heart 
so we may learn from every church and culture. 
We confess that you are the source of unity. 
Grant us the unity that Christ wills for us. 
Amen.



DAY 2 DENUNCIATION I
Tired of the journey, Jesus sat down facing the well (John 4:6)
   
Genesis 29:1-14 Jacob and Rachel at the well
Psalms 137 How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 Each one of you says, "I am for Paul," or "I am for Apollos"
John 4:5-6 Jesus was tired out by his journey


Commentary


Jesus had been in Judea before his encounter with the Samaritan woman. The Pharisees had begun to spread the word that Jesus baptized more disciples than John. Perhaps this rumour has caused some tension and discomfort. Perhaps it is the reason behind Jesus’ decision to leave.


Arriving at the well, Jesus decides to stop. He was tired from his journey. His fatigue could also be related to the rumours. While he was resting, a Samaritan woman came near the well to fetch water. This meeting took place at Jacob’s well: a symbolic place in the life and spirituality of the people of the Bible.


A dialogue begins between the Samaritan woman and Jesus about the place of worship. "Is it on this mountain or in Jerusalem?" asks the Samaritan woman. Jesus answers, "neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him" (Jn 4: 21- 24).


It still happens that instead of a common search for unity, competition and dispute mark the relations between the churches. This has been the experience of Brazil in recent years. Communities extol their own virtues and the benefits that accrue to their adherents in order to attract new members. Some think that the bigger the church, the larger its number of members, the greater its power, the closer they are to God, presenting themselves as the only true worshippers. As a result there has been violence and disrespect to other religions and traditions. This type of competitive marketing creates both distrust between the churches and a lack of credibility in society towards Christianity as a whole. As competition grows the "other" community becomes the enemy.


Who are the true worshippers? True worshippers do not allow the logic of competition – who is better and who is worse – to infect faith. We need "wells" to lean upon, to rest and let go of disputes, competition and violence, places where we can learn that true worshippers worship "in Spirit and in Truth."


Questions

  1. What are the main reasons for competition among our churches?

  2. Are we able to identify a common "well" upon which we can lean, and rest from our disputes and competitions ?

Prayer


Gracious God, 
Often our churches are led to choose the logic of competition. 
Forgive our sin of presumption. 
We are weary from this need to be first. Allow us to rest at the well. 
Refresh us with the water of unity drawn from our common prayer. 
May your Spirit who hovered over the waters of chaos bring unity from our diversity. 
Amen.


DAY 3 DENUNCIATION II 
"I have no husband" (John 4:17)
   
2 Kings 17:24-34 Samaria conquered by Assyria
Psalms 139:1-12 "O Lord, you have searched me and you know me"
Romans 7:1-4 "You have died to the law through the body of Christ"
John 4:16-19 "I have no husband"

 

Commentary


The Samaritan woman answers Jesus, "I have no husband." The topic of conversation is now about the married life of the woman. There is a shift in terms of the content of their dialogue – from water to husband. "Go, call your husband and come back" (Jn 4:16), but Jesus knows the woman has had five husbands, and the man she has now is not her husband.


What is this woman’s situation? Did her husbands ask for divorce? Was she a widow? Did she have children? These questions arise naturally when dealing with this narrative. However, it seems that Jesus was interested in another dimension of the woman’s situation, he acknowledges the woman’s life but remains open to her, to encounter her. Jesus does not insist on a moral interpretation of her answer but seems to want to lead her beyond. And as a result the woman’s attitude towards Jesus changes. At this point, the obstacles of cultural and religious differences fade into the background in order to give space to something much more important: an encounter in trust. Jesus’ behaviour in this moment allows us to open new windows and raise further questions: questions that challenge the attitudes that denigrate and marginalize women; and questions about the differences which we allow to stand in the way of the unity we seek and for which we pray.


Questions

  1. What are the sinful structures that we can identify in our own communities?

  2. What is the place and the role of women in our churches?

  3. What can our churches do to prevent violence and to overcome violence directed against women and girls?

Prayer


O you who are beyond all things, 
how could we call you by any other name? 
What song could be sung for you? 
No word can express you. 
What Spirit can perceive you? 
No intelligence can comprehend you. 
You alone are inexpressible; 
all that is said has come from you. 
You alone are unknowable; 
all that is thought has come from you. 
All creatures proclaim you, those who speak and those who are dumb. 
Every one desires you, everyone sighs and aspires after you. 
All that exists prays to you, 
and every being that can contemplate your universe raises to you a silent hymn. 
Have pity on us, you who are beyond all things. 
How could we call you by any other name? 
Amen.

Attributed to Gregory of Nazianzus

 

DAY 4 RENUNCIATION 
Then the woman left her water jar (John 4:28)
   
Genesis 11:31-12:4 God promises to make Abram a great nation and a blessing
Psalm 23 The Lord is my shepherd
Acts 10:9-20 "What God has made clean, you must not call profane"
John 4:25-28 Then the woman left her water jar


Commentary


The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman shows that dialogue with the different, the stranger, the unfamiliar, can be life-giving. If the woman had followed the rules of her culture, she would have left when she saw Jesus approaching the well. That day, for some reason, she did not follow the established rules. Both she and Jesus broke with conventional patterns of behaviour. Through this breaking forth they showed us again that it is possible to build new relationships.


As Jesus completes the work of the Father, the Samaritan woman, for her part, leaves her water jar, meaning that she could go further in her life; she was not confined to the role society imposed on her. In John’s Gospel she is the first person to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. "Breaking forth" is a necessity for those who desire to grow stronger and wiser in their faith.


That the Samaritan woman leaves behind her water jar signals that she has found a greater gift, a greater good than the water she came for, and a better place to be within her community. She recognizes the greater gift that this Jewish stranger, Jesus, is offering her.


It is difficult for us to find value, to recognize as good, or even holy, that which is unknown to us and that which belongs to another. However, recognizing the gifts that belong to the other as good and as holy is a necessary step towards the visible unity we seek.


Questions

  1. Meeting Jesus demands that we leave behind our water jars, what are those water jars for us?

  2. What are the main difficulties that prevent us from doing so?

Prayer


Loving God, 
help us to learn from Jesus and the Samaritan 
that the encounter with the other opens for us new horizons of grace. 
Help us to break through our limits and embrace new challenges. 
Help us to go beyond fear in following the call of your Son. 
In the name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.




DAY 5 ANNUNCIATION 
You have no bucket and the well is deep (John 4:11)
   
Genesis 46:1-7 God tells Jacob not to be afraid of going down to Egypt
Psalm 133 How good it is when kindred live together in unity
Acts 2:1-11 The day of Pentecost
John 4:7-15 "You have no bucket and the well is deep"


Commentary


Jesus needed help. After a long walk, fatigue strikes. Exhausted in the heat of noon, he feels hungry and thirsty (Jn 4:6). Furthermore, Jesus is a stranger; it is he who is in a foreign territory and the well belongs to the woman’s people. Jesus is thirsty and, as the Samaritan woman points out, he has no bucket to draw water. He needs water, he needs her help: everybody needs help!