Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)

They were the people that everyone hated. They were the Samaritans. The Romans and Greeks and other gentiles hated them because they saw them as just another group of Jews, only ones who could not benefit the empire much. The Jews hated them because they saw the Samaritans as half-breeds. The Jews believed that the Samaritans had polluted blood, part gentile and part Jew.

Back in the 8th century before Christ, the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and brought thousands to exile in Assyria. Many of those who remained in the Northern Kingdom married pagans and worshiped both Yahweh and the pagan gods.  These were the Samaritans. When two hundred years later the Jews of the Southern Kingdom returned to Jerusalem from the Babylon exile, the Samaritans offered to help them rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.  The Jews refused their help telling them that their very presence in the Temple would desecrate it. The Samaritans hated the Jews for looking down on them, and the Jews hated the Samaritans for their history of accommodation with the pagans.

The Samaritans were also looking for the Messiah, but they knew that the Messiah would come through the Jews. What chance did they have of being brought into the New World Order the Messiah would establish? On the other side of the dispute, as difficult as the Jewish had in accepting the concept that salvation would be available for the gentiles, the concept that salvation would be offered to the Samaritans was not even considered a remote possibility.  The Samaritans were lower than low.

And then Philip arrived at the capital of Samaria. He spoke about the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Could it be that the Messiah of the Jews would also be the Messiah of the Samaritans? The Samaritans were open to faith in the Gospel. Through Philip they witnessed the signs of the Messiah being worked right there among them.  Cripples walked. Demons came out of people. Everything that the prophets wrote about was taking place not just among the Jewish Christians, but right there among the Samaritans. They accepted Jesus with joy. They were no longer rejects, but one with the people of the New Way of Jesus Christ.

As happy as they were, the new Samaritan Christians were given an even greater gift as they could have ever expected.  Peter and John had heard about Philip’s work among them. The two great apostles went to Samaria. They prayed over them asked God to send the Holy Spirit upon them. They laid their hands on them and the Samaritans received the Holy Spirit the same way that the apostles received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. It was very clear to all the followers of Jesus, these Samaritans were equals in the faith, equals in the Body of Christ, and equals in salvation.

Have you ever had feelings like those Samaritans must have had before Philip visited them with the Gospel?  Have you ever felt that you were not good enough to receive the gifts of the Lord?  Have you ever looked at another person in the Church and wished you could be half as good as he or she is?  Perhaps we have all felt that way at various times throughout our lives! Perhaps some here are feeling that way right now. This reading tells us that in the eyes of God we are good enough. He makes us good enough. He calls us to faith, and then showers us with the gifts of faith. The joy that the Samaritans had is our joy. We are loved by God. He gave us His very life.  He gave us his very spirit, the Holy Spirit. We are precious in the eyes of God.  We are also precious in the eyes of all who truly proclaim God.

It is a mistake for me to compare myself with other priests.  It is wrong for you to compare yourselves with other people at whatever stage of life you are in. We are individuals, not clones. It is wrong for any of us to think, as the Samaritans must have thought, that we are not as good as others. God loves each of us for whom we are, not for whom we think we should be like, but for whom He created us to be. We are created in the image and likeness of God; yet in the mystery of God’s creation, each of us is a unique reflection of this image and likeness. He loves us for whom we are. We are not rejects. We are precious, precious in the eyes of God, and precious in the eyes of all those who really love the Lord.

And He gave us His Son. We possess Jesus Christ. In the Gospel reading Jesus says, I am in the Father. You are in me, and I am in you. We are not orphans. We are not alone in the world. We are not rejects from the society that matters. For the society that matters is called the Kingdom of God. Every other society has value only to the degree that it participates in the Kingdom of God.  We belong to God.  He belongs to us.

The Samaritans embraced the New Way, embraced Jesus because He first embraced them through the teaching of Philip. This is the way of Grace. Grace always begins with God’s gifts of love. It reaches its goal when we respond by loving God in return. We have received grace. God has showered us with His love. Now He calls us to give witness to the world that His love is real. We can do this. We can proclaim Jesus Christ with our lives. We are good enough, plenty good enough.  We are sons and daughters of God! ■

Y entonces uno se queda con la Iglesia, que me ofrece lo único que debe ofrecerme la Iglesia: el conocimiento de que ya estamos salvados –porque esa es la primera misión de la Iglesia, el anunciar la salvación gracias a Jesucristo- y el camino para alcanzar la alegría, pero sin exclusividades de buen pastor, a través de esa maravilla que es la confesión y los sacramentos. La Iglesia, sin partecitas.

laus deo virginique matris