We Do Not Earn God's Love; We Return It: Jesuits' Mission in a Challenging World

Responding to: Jesuits as Bridge Builders

By: Marcel Uwineza

January 29, 2018

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman found in the Gospel of John reveals that we do not earn God’s love; we return it. The woman is initially perplexed by Jesus’ request: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4:7). In his conversation with her, Jesus reveals that he is not bound by customs that discriminate and implicitly invites his disciples to seek the purity of mind and heart.

The Samaritan woman is surprised to meet a Jew who asks for a service from someone who otherwise should be despised. The woman had a number of strikes against her. First, she was known as a sinner likely reviled by others because of her several marriages. This may explain her lonely trip to the well at a hottest hour of the day. She probably hoped not to find anyone there. Second, she was a person on the margins. Jesus saw her poverty and had pity on her. He revealed her misery to allow her to discover the loving presence of God, source of the everlasting love that quenches the thirst from unsatisfying and temporal loves. Jesus revealed to her that in him, God encounters those we despise. Third, she was a Samaritan and, as it were, Jews and Samaritans had very little, if anything, that brought them together. Jesus breaks down the barriers that divide people. Fourth, as a woman, she was to be silent when a rabbi was present. Jesus offers her a golden opportunity, not only to be closer to the master of masters, but also to engage in a life-changing conversation.

More than ever, it seems to me that the Society of Jesus is invited to embody this spirit of Jesus as it seeks to help people disenchanted by many streams realize that they are first loved unconditionally by God. The mission of Jesuits is to bring people to understand, like the Samaritan woman, that their real problem may not be water or lack of resources, but the absence of genuine love that builds bridges across religions, races, ideologies, and cultural divides. It is an invitation to people to trust in God and a ministry to and with those on the margins like the Samaritan woman. It is a call to consider the current climate change crisis as a priority. Alongside scholarship and education, Jesuits also accomplish Jesus’ mission as writers, chaplains, confessors, listeners, healthcare providers, lawyers, peacemakers, pastors, and more.

In Burundi, where I worked for some time, I met some H.I.V.-positive women who frequently told me, “Father Marcel, if we had not met the Jesuit AIDS Center (Service Yezu Mwiza), we would now be turning into our graves.” Some of these women contracted H.I.V. through rape, war, or domestic violence, but their lives had completely changed because of access to antiretroviral drugs through the Jesuit health center. They now live with great hopes of seeing their children go to school. As a Jesuit, I have experienced “the Lazarus effect” in working with people living with H.I.V. and AIDS. All this energizes us to be ministers of hope. In the face of suffering, tears do not replace action.

The Society of Jesus is a discerning body open to wide religious, academic, cultural, and ideological horizons [1]. Yet the best we Jesuits can offer to humanity in search of the face of the living God is our union with God and one another in Christ. In the twenty-first century, if we forget that we are one body, bound together in and with Christ [2],  “we lose our identity as Jesuits and our ability to bear witness to the Gospel. It is our union with one another in Christ that testifies to the Good News more powerfully than our competences and abilities” [3].

Jesuit ministry is a service that reveals to people that God believes in us. There is a story of a Jesuit priest who was confronted by an aggressive young physicist who rehearsed all the reasons for atheism and arrogantly said, “I do not believe in God.” The priest, not put off at all, replied quietly, “Oh, it does not matter. God believes in you.” God does believe in us. That is the fundamental object of our Christian hope, and it makes us strive to make this world a great home built on the love of God for everyone, for none are outside the purview of God’s love.

The spirit of St. Ignatius of Loyola continues to inspire many religious congregations in Africa. Many members of the Christian Life Community have also fetched sustenance from the well of Ignatian spirituality. As we live in a world that knows too much division, together with these communities, “we ask God to help our communities become ‘homes’ for the Reign of God” [4]. The Jesuit order desires to collaborate with people in a ministry of attraction and shared faith. The Samaritan woman realized that alone she could not make up the Church, but she became a leaven for her village. Similarly, if Jesuits continue to make people feel that they are loved as they are, we will attract others and remain in God who believes in us despite our frequent moments of unbelief.

1. General Congregation 36, no. 7.
2. Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, no. 813.
3. General Congregation 36, no. 7.
4. Ibid., no. 13.

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We Do Not Earn God's Love; We Return It: Jesuits' Mission in a Challenging World