Learning how God sees us

| Father Joseph Bambenek | March 12, 2020 | 0 Comments

Brescia, Italy – May 22, 2016: Brescia – Painting of Jesus and Samaritans at well scene in the church Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli by Enrico Albricci (1749 – 1754) iStock/sedmak

One of the most helpful insights I gained in seminary was learned from therapist Paul Ruff during a talk he gave on the importance of friendship in the priesthood: the deepest desire of the human heart is to love and be loved, to know another and to be known by one whom we love.

That insight’s reality is on full display in Jesus’ encounter with the Woman at the Well. Here was a woman who was known, in the biblical sense of the word, by a long list of men. And her behavior was well-known by the townspeople. That she was at the well, by herself, in the hottest part of the day would have been understood in Jesus’ time to indicate that she went to that place of social activity for women when no one else was there to avoid being ostracized. She would have done so, in her shame, to avoid the comments, to avoid the latest details of her life becoming known by people who most likely would have used whatever they learned to further shun and judge her.

Then her life changes: She encounters an unknown man who would have had no earthly way of knowing the details of her life. This man sees her not as an object of lust but a woman to be loved. When she makes herself slightly vulnerable to Jesus by admitting that she does not have a husband, she experiences what it is to be truly known, but not in the biblical sense by yet another man. Jesus shares what he knows about her and treats her with love and respect anyway. Oh how delighted she is: The deepest desires of her heart are met in a way that they probably have never been met before. In her joy, she shares her experience with those very townspeople from whom she had been hiding just minutes before.

This story is so rich it has many possible lessons; let me share just a few. First, is this not the cycle of many in our culture today? As we seek to meet our deepest desires of being reciprocally known and loved, how many today reveal ourselves in sexual ways not in keeping with what Jesus teaches: from immodest dress to inappropriate banter to sexual activity outside of marriage.

But rather than fulfilling those deep desires, those actions leave us ashamed and wanting to self-protect from future hurts after feeling used. The tragic irony is that those consequences make it even harder to fulfill our deepest desires.

Second, Jesus knows and loves us perfectly, better than we know ourselves. Because God does not force himself upon us, he will wait to act in our lives to bring healing only after we invite him. Lent is a good time to make ourselves vulnerable to him by bringing him our sins through the sacrament of penance, trusting that if we do, we can experience his love for us and be known by him in new and powerful ways.

Finally, I’m told that retreat master Msgr. John Essef, a priest of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennyslvania, sometimes tells his retreatants there are three “I am” statements: I am who others see me to be; I am who I see me to be; and I am who God sees me to be. And only one of those is true.

The latter is the truest. The latter is also the best as it leads us, like the Woman at the Well, to experience the deepest desires of our hearts and to share the good news of Jesus with others.

At the Pre-Synod Prayer and Listening Events, participants are invited to prayerfully reflect on how God sees us as we discuss how to spread the Gospel.

Father Bambenek is assistant director of the Archdiocesan Synod. He can be reached at bambenekj@archspm.org.


Sunday, March 15
Third Sunday of Lent

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Category: Sunday Scriptures