Posted March 03, 2011 in Word Made Flesh:
It’s All About People

by Fr. Pat McNulty.

It never ceases to amaze me when my sense of faith is profoundly adjusted through a simple life-event in which the Spirit does not let me see the connection until later on when I’m reading from the Scriptures.

Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like they say, "You learn something new every day, if you just keep your mouth shut and your eyes open."

Well, what I’m thinking of is a bit more profound than that, though the life part, which happened when I was in the hospital recently, was pretty much a "mouth shut and eyes open" deal. But the Scripture part was a bit more intense than that.

However, if you can keep your mouth shut and your eyes open, I’ll…

I can handle keeping my mouth shut while you’re talking, but if you get too spiritual and I get bored, I can’t promise anything about keeping my eyes open.

Fair enough; just be careful with the snoring.

So, let’s start with Scripture. I was praying and paging through the gospel selections given to me by my editor in preparation for this issue of Restoration and something in particular was drawing my attention to the event of the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Lent.

And after reading it a couple of times, I couldn’t believe I had missed something so obvious.


Scripture is really all about people, about people who are busy with their everyday ordinary life, and that’s where Jesus/God meets them, person to person.

In this instance, one person, a woman, went to a well to get water, and another person, Jesus, stopped by in need of a drink. One person had a bucket, and the other one didn’t and that started a personal conversation.

Out of all that everyday stuff came a life-changing event, which, though it involved many, many profound words, was first and foremost about two people who met in the most ordinary circumstances.

Yet if she had been locked into her own life and concerns to the extent that she was only thinking about herself and her own needs, they would have remained just two people passing like two clouds in the sky, and that would have been the end of it. Nothing "personal" could have happened between them.

It was this "personal-ness" that struck me so forcefully when I read the story this time, and with it the realization that Scripture is filled with this same kind of everyday encounter between people and God, person to person.

Yeah, but you gotta admit God often has to do some serious intervention to get any personal attention. You don’t see simple "divine attention" like with the woman at the well that clearly today—at least not in the ordinary world I live in.

Perhaps not, but I think there are a lot of possibilities for it every day. We either don’t respond to the grace at the time, or we don’t get the grace to see what really happened until later. Or not at all.

For example, in November I was in the hospital for a week in need of special oxygen 24 hours a day due to a very severe bronchial condition. My life became very simple: to breathe or not to breathe. Period. And during all of that I had no sense of praying nor did I have the desire to pray.

Yet, in spite of these two normal reactions, something else very profound was going on. I just didn’t see it until I read about the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s Gospel.

And through that Gospel, I realized I had met the Person, Christ, in the hospital the same way he likes to meet people "biblically" everywhere—person to person.

So, it’s like I said, "You learn something new everyday if you keep your mouth shut and your eyes open."

I’ll let you be the judge as to whether it was really that mundane. But, even though I only realized it later, by some strange grace while I was in the hospital, my focus was not on my own illness but on the people I encountered through the illness.

Even when I was gasping for the next breath, I was somehow very aware of each person who was taking care of me, each person who came and went from the room, and especially a young man in a bed next to mine who was dying from lung cancer.

Everything was about people; everything was person-to-person. I’ve never experienced anything like that when I was sick before.

And not only was I not focused on my own illness, but if one of the staff happened to be in a bad mood that day, I wasn’t even focused on how that was affecting me.

For I had already learned (personally) that most of them had young children at home, and so I was ever-thinking of all the responsibilities they had to deal with before they ever got to the hospital to take care of me.

Nor was I thinking whether the next meal would be to my liking—which they all happened to be anyway—but I was thinking of the six inches of snow the kitchen crew had to shovel from their driveways at five a.m. one morning in order to get here on time to fix my breakfast!

In short, the entire hospital stay, instead of being about oxygen and all those new pharmaceutical bronchial "things" I now had access to, was, like so much of the Scriptures, all about people in everyday situations.

And I also realized that the other "stuff" is the way the Lord gets each of us together "personally" so he can touch hearts person-to-person even if his presence is not obvious to anyone at the time.

And it all begins with something as simple as a kind word to the person who refills your water jug or to someone changing your soiled bedding or a smile when you see another face coming toward you while walking down the hall.

But there are billions of persons on this earth? What can any one of us ever hope to do personally about something so big?

We have to begin the way the Son of God did, very biblically, in everyday life events, person to person. And we do it not in order to be politically correct or to merely be a good neighbor.

We do it for the same reason Jesus did: we do it so people will one day know that God is a person and desires with passion to relate to everyone, person to person. How else will people know that godly passion unless we begin, person to person?

But how?

Just ask yourself: when was the last time I consciously looked at and then spoke to another person as a person?"

When was the last time someone was for me not just a care-giver in the hospital, a cashier at the local store, a disgruntled neighbor, a "foreigner" on the bus or moving into my neighborhood, a spouse, a sibling just living in the same house with me, rather than a person, a real person, like God is a real person?

How many times a day do we miss the God-given opportunity to bring to life in one another this "divine" awareness that we are persons and not things. And yet, if we do not, then one day we ourselves will not believe that we are persons. That state of affairs is commonly known as insanity!

Indeed, it is too big a task for any one of us to imagine unless we pattern ourselves on those gospel folk like the woman at the well. Risk getting out of ourselves and letting Christ show us what can really happen person to person.

And so, of late, I am finding myself speaking to this lovely lady from Samaria and asking her to help me believe that I too mysteriously encounter the Son of God person to person in a thousand everyday ways that are as simple as offering someone a cold glass of water at a well.

Make that a hot cup of coffee. I’ll take one cream and two sugars.


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