UCA News
William Grimm, a native of New York City, is a missioner and presbyter who since 1973 has served in Japan, Hong Kong and Cambodia.
Our unqualified, incompetent savior
Published: January 17, 2024 03:39 AM
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A wedding cake is displayed as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) community take part in the Zurich Pride on Sept. 4, 2021.

A wedding cake is displayed as members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) community take part in the Zurich Pride on Sept. 4, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Christianity operates under the handicap that it follows a man who never received a proper theological education. Jesus never attended even a minor seminary, let alone a pontifical university.

One result of his lack of professional qualifications was that when confronted with difficult situations, Jesus did not have at hand prepared and vetted responses. Consequently, he tended to ad lib his responses based upon his unqualified and unlicensed understanding of his Father’s wish or will and the situation of the person in front of him. Even when he knew the regular and regulated response, he often intentionally ignored it.

In the two millennia since Jesus acted without reference to precedent, regulations, canons, or magisterial texts, the Church has taken major and largely successful steps to outgrow his ad hoc ministry.

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well exemplifies the sort of disruptive behavior he engaged in. Just about everything he does, says, or fails to do or say is something he would have known to avoid if he had been properly trained.

John’s Gospel tells us “it was about noon” when a Samaritan woman approached the well. Jesus should have known right away that there was something intrinsically disordered about her since she came alone in the noontime heat instead of with the other women of the village in the cooler hours of morning. Her neighbors knew enough to ostracize her. Jesus did not. In fact, he even engaged in respectful conversation with her.

She was an unrelated female, a Samaritan, and as we soon learn, someone in an irregular sexual relationship — all species with which a religious teacher seriously committed to the dignity of his office would have nothing to do. Yet Jesus asked her to give him something to drink, a request that shocked even her.

Then he engaged the woman in a theological discourse, a conversation that exposed the fact that she had been in multiple marriages and was cohabiting with someone to whom she was not married.

If Jesus wished to continue to speak with the sinner, he should have done what any even moderately respectable religious leader would do, pointing out her sinfulness and calling her to repentance. But he said nothing at all about that. He noted her sinfulness and then ignored it. Did he condone sin? He certainly did not condemn it. Clearly, Jesus was worse than incompetent as a rabbi.

Instead of doing what he should have, Jesus in effect commissioned the woman to be an apostle. He sent her into the village where she announced his presence and the possibility that he might be the long-awaited Messiah, a claim Jesus had made during their conversation.

Despite her reputation, the villagers listened to her. “They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’”

This encounter with the Samaritan woman is not the only example in the New Testament of Jesus acting in ways that clearly disqualify him as a religious leader. It appears to have been his usual mode of ministry. Can it be that breaking the rules, especially the religious rules, brings about the salvation of the world?

The response in some quarters to Pope Francis’ allowing “the possibility of blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples without officially validating their status or changing in any way the Church’s perennial teaching on marriage” is a sign that some of those with the proper credentials are disturbed that precedents, regulations, canons, or magisterial texts are being ignored.

They are right to be disturbed, just as were the religious leaders two thousand years ago who went so far as to engineer Jesus’ execution because of the threat he posed to their control over the religious life of the people and even, in their minds, God.

They are right to be disturbed, but it is right to disturb them.

The good news of Christ is that God is not under the control of any religion’s or society’s rules or representatives. Our encounter with God does not depend upon anything except God’s wild love for each of us. Our weakness, our stupidity, our sin, or even our death cannot shut that love down and count as nothing when compared with that love. God will meet each of us just as God in Jesus met the woman at the well. No judgments, no admonitions, just a friendly encounter not subject to the norms of religion or society.

Looking at Francis’ latest move and some of his others in the light of Jesus’ ministry may help us to understand not only the pope’s vision of Church, but Christ’s as well.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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6 Comments on this Story
I think the author of the article on Jesus as an unqualified incompetent savior is on balance, rubbish. I know the point he is trying to make but he takes unwarranted liberty with his analysis of the event at Jacob’s well. Jesus knew from the start the irregular situation in which the woman was living. He was gentle in His approach to her, violating the common practice of Jews not to associate with Samaritans. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” She was taken aback. 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” You would have asked him (asked for His blessing? And He would have given you…all well and good. But Jesus proceeds not to give her the blessing but He exposes her irregular living situation. “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Before giving her anything He asks her to go bring her husband and in the exchange that ensued, He reveals to her that He knows she is living in an illegitimate relationship.. The conversation continues and Jesus reveals He is the Messiah. It is this uncovering of her situation, that she departs to her village exclaiming “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” The approach of the author is tongue in cheek at best. This story reveals several things: 1) Who is the Savior 2)One who knows the condition of the sinner 3) the offer of life. The woman is amazed and goes to tell the people. Christ did not send her to evangelize. She went because she was shaken to her core. She had to tell, could this be the Messiah? So blessing is available, acknowledgment of one’s sin is called for. What fiducia Supplicans does is to say that blessing is available without consequent upon acknowledging one’s state in life. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
You are right to be disturbed, and it is right to disturb you!
DICASTERY FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH’s Declaration Fiducia Supplicans on the Pastoral Meaning of Blessings is pretty clear. If some one is “DISTURBED” by one’s own understanding… there is little anyone can do to bring that person to perceive the truth thus, has to pay the “price” for misunderstanding the document which has been misread. That one is in darkness BUT the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:5 Leave redress to the light of the world.John 8:12
May be we need to stand lije the Woman before the Lord to know His heart,in our own hearts ,if we wish to be confronted by God's unconditional Love.In that burning Love all human endeavours fade.For "who can know the mind of God and who be His counsellor?
Thank you William Grimm for this perspective on the story of the Woman at the Well. Yes Jesus' disruptive behaviour disturbed the self-righteous teachers of his time, but that is the only way he could demonstrate God's love to sinners. "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners" Lk.5:32. Pope Francis is doing all he can to follow the example of Jesus. We are no one to judge! The anthropology of the Catholic Church is medieval, hence has refused to acknowledge the LGBTQI+ community as God created them. So let us not judge but rather try to understand the depth of God's love revealed thru Jesus.
This was a very helpful reflection. It comes to me at a time of estrangement from the dogmatic church, only partly mitigated by the beautiful example of Francis. Thank you Father Grimm.
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia
UCA News Catholic Dioceses in Asia