By Ted Furlow
On Saturday mornings I like to read a column in the LA Times. Years ago the author had written about a woman whom she had befriended, a woman who was abused by an ex-con boyfriend, addicted to drugs, and had lost her children to the system. It was an “up by your boot straps” kind of a story, and the writer had been alerted to it by a female public defender representing the woman in family court.
It played out well; with the woman getting away from the abusive boyfriend, kicking the habit, getting her kids back, and her life straightened out. In a scenario of true sisterhood, the writer became her confidant, and the attorney a supporter. It was a story with a happy ending… at the time.
But the ball is always bouncing in life, and Saturday’s column was not so pleasant. The woman was back with the abusive boyfriend, had two more children, addicted again to drugs, had no money, no job, and had just lost her section 8 housing due to domestic brawl that saw the boyfriend jailed for a probation violation. As a result of the fighting, her children were once again taken into the system by the county. This woman was a mess, and her life was in total disarray, and the writer, usually compassionately liberal, was distant and direct noting that she and the attorney had practically disavowed her.
I thought about this troubled woman all weekend, and while sitting in Mass on Sunday the story of the woman at the well came to mind. Her life was also a mess, yet Jesus sat with her, not just calling her out, but offering her his mercy and hope. The story in the Gospel of John ends well, but isn’t it possible that she too may have backslid or never changed? If so, would Jesus walk away from her like the writer and the attorney walked away from the other woman?
The common thread that I share with humanity is that, from Pope to pauper, we are all sinners who often find ourselves at the well. As such, I hope that Jesus would still be at the well for this woman, again and again offering her the mercy of the living water as he challenges her, corrects her, and encourages her. If he would be at the well for her, then he would also be there for me.
Sadly, it is in my DNA to give up on others, to lose hope for their redemption, and to be burned out by those who cannot change. Fortunately for people like me, who find ourselves sitting at the well, God’s mercy is made of sterner stuff.
Portia, in the Merchant of Venice, gets it right when she says,
“The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Whether you are the giver or the taker, it is something to remember the next time you find yourself at the well.
Ted Furlow is Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.