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Breaking Down Barriers

Fr. Luke A. Veronis

Breaking Down Barriers.  How often do we create barriers which hinder us from coming closer to God?  We can create barriers through our sin, with our pride, through certain habits and actions. Yet, throughout the Gospels we see how Jesus continually breaks down barriers that separate people from Him. He doesn’t want anything to hinder someone from coming closer to Him and receiving the good news of salvation He offers to all people.

Throughout his life, we see Christ approach prostitutes or adulterous women and he offers forgiveness. Jesus meets isolated lepers and brings healing. Jesus enters into the homes of despised sinners or hated tax-collectors and brings salvation.  Jesus listens to a dying criminal and offers paradise. Our Lord encounters pagan Romans and gives a chance for a new life.  Christ meets heretics with confused ideas and respectfully talks with them. Jesus passes through the land of ethnic enemies and befriends them.

Imagine how you would react to a person who is known for a terrible reputation?  Many of us would hold a deep bias or prejudice again them before we even began talking with them. We quickly judge others and offer little hope for people to change and become better.

This is so different from the way Jesus treated people.  He never judged people by the life they lived; instead he looked at the potential they possessed. He treated all people, even those whom society viewed as the worse, in a respectful, compassionate and patient manner. He never judged anyone as part of a group; instead He expressed individual love and interest in each person as a special child of God.  Isn’t this different from the way we too quickly judge others with certain labels?

Jesus believed that every person, no matter what sins and mistakes they made in life, had the potential to change.  St. John of Kronstadt explained this attitude well when he said: “Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because the evil is but a chance misfortune, an illness.  But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.”  The good news is that salvation is not reserved for a select few people. God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. Jesus Christ will not allow any barrier to stop him from offering hope and new life to everyone.

St. Paul writes very beautifully how he strove to become all things for all people in order to help them. “Though I am free, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.  To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews.  To those under the law I became as one under the law so that I might win those under the law.  To those outside the law I became as one outside the law so that I might win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”  (I Cor 9:19-23)

We see this play out in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. Christ overcomes the barriers that would typically separate this woman from a religious leader. First, we see Jesus the Jew talking to a Samaritan. Jews despised Samaritans as ethnic enemies and impure heretics, yet Christ talks in a respectful, dignified manner to the woman.

We see Jesus the rabbi talking to a woman.  In Christ’s day 2000 years ago, it was socially disgraceful for a rabbi to talk with a woman in public.  Yet, Jesus openly engages with the woman.

We see the sinless Jesus talking with a sinful woman, a woman married five times and now living with a man not her husband.  Even though she lived a broken and impure life, Jesus gladly talks with her.

Christ pushes aside barriers. Nothing stops Jesus from reaching out to a broken soul.  He desires salvation for all people and He only see the divine potential that lies within each one. 

How about us? How do we react with people so different from us? Are we loving, compassionate and caring to those who have made mistakes and poor choices, to those whom society may consider our enemies, to those with confused and heretical ideas, to those society labels as no good?  Today, Jesus challenges each one of us to imitate Him and His actions.  If we don’t have a universal love for all people, no matter who they are and no matter what they’ve done, we are not worthy to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.

The Bible does not record what happens to the Samaritan woman after her encounter with Christ.  From Church tradition, we know that this sinful, broken woman married with five failed marriages drastically changes her life after her encounter with Christ. The Samaritan woman becomes known as Saint Fotini, a great witness and martyr for Christ.  Imagine, a woman married five times becoming one of our most beloved saints. Christ always sees the immense potential that exists in every person, no matter how much they have covered up their potential with their past mistakes and broken lifestyle. Today, Christ reminds us how He wants to overcome any barrier that stands between us and Him. Hope exists for all people.

Never focus on the barriers that could keep us from Christ. Never focus on the brokenness of others that may push them away from Jesus. Always focus on the divine potential within each one of us. Christ is calling out the beauty and goodness in each one of us.