I did not grow up loving college basketball. We were more of a baseball family. So, when I moved to Missouri, I had to do some quick catch-up on the long and heated rivalry between the beloved Missouri Tigers and the hated Kansas Jayhawks. It’s called the “Border War”. The roots of this war can be traced back to the time of the Civil War. Like most sports rivalries, there is no shortage of disdain shared between die-hard Tiger and Jayhawk fans. Even the coaches have gotten into the act. Legend has it that long-time Missouri Men’s Basketball coach, Norm Stewart, would refuse to spend money in Kansas. Allegedly, when his team had a game in the State of Kansas, he would wait to have the team dinner until after they had crossed back over into Missouri. Now THAT’S dedication.
Sports rivalries are one thing. They can be kind of fun, actually. Human rivalries are quite another thing. All of us experience them. For whatever reason, we all have that one person or group that we just. can’t. stand. And, if the animus is strong enough, our behavior toward those people or groups can lead to truly ridiculous behavior. Take that famous story from the Gospel of John, the one about the woman at the well, which most of us heard at Mass yesterday. Did you know the conversation that begins that passage, the one between a Samaritan woman and Jesus, should probably never have taken place? It’s true. Here’s why: First off, John mentions that Jesus was passing through Samaria. But why was he there? Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews. Jews refused to set foot in Samaria, let alone travel through Samaria, even though doing so would significantly shorten their travel time. Typically, if Jews needed to go back-and-forth between Galilee and Judea, they went around, through the Jordan. Secondly, according to Jewish custom, it was considered improper for an unmarried man and an unmarried woman to speak to each other privately. Third, since Samaritan women were considered ritually impure, it was against Jewish law for a Jew to drink from a vessel handled by a Samaritan woman.
Jesus went through Samaria anyway. Jesus spoke to the woman privately anyway. Jesus took a drink from her anyway.
By example, Jesus shows us how to handle those we’ve come to see as enemies or in the case of the woman, those we’ve come to consider as less than. Jesus reminds us that laws and customs aren’t always just. Jesus calls us to recognize in everyone a God-given dignity and humanity. Show kindness, mercy, and understanding. Initiate reconciliation. Love. Maybe this isn’t what we feel like doing when dealing with our enemies, but Jesus didn’t come to appease us. He came to save us from ourselves, from our sin. He came to show us what true justice looks like.
You might ask: What does any of this have to do with justice? Consider this. How often do we think of justice as a punishment for bringing harm or hardship to someone or something we care about? We talk about this or that person being “brought to justice”. As Jesus demonstrates, a Christian’s view of justice should be altogether different. The Catholic website, newadvent.org defines the word justice as “…a moral quality or habit which perfects the will and inclines it to render to each and to all what belongs to them.” Regardless of her social, religious, or political status, the Samaritan woman at the well deserved to be treated with honor and respect. Jesus did that, and showed the rest of us what was possible. Now it’s our turn.
Think for a moment. Who or what makes you angry? Is it a person, school, place of employment, public figure, political party, religion? How long have you held on to this anger? Whom do you think it harms the most, you or your enemy? The answer may surprise you. Be free of this unnecessary anger, as Jesus is free of it, so you can be an agent of true justice for others.