Jesus and the Samaritan Woman: A Model of Dialogue With the "Other"

Resources »Eapr »East Asian Pastoral Review 2003 »Volume 40 2003 Number 1 »Jesus And The Samaritan Woman A Model Of Dialogue With The Other

Thaddeus T. Tarhembe

Thaddeus T. Tarhembe is a priest of the diocese of Jalingo, Nigeria. He holds an M.A. in Pastoral Studies from the Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines. He worked as Notary of the diocese of Jalingo from 1998-2000 and as Dean of Jalingo deanary from 1995-2000. He has represented his diocese on international justice and peace programs.

Christ in Dialogue with the "Other"

Dialogue is a conversation where people seek to enter into a relationship with others in spite of their differences. This encounter or dialogue is based on mutual respect, understanding, trust and acceptance of the "other." The "other" here refers to one who differs from another or whom one considers to be different from him/her in terms of religion, ethnic group or ideology. It is the "other" that one engages in dialogue with, listening and learning from him/her of an undetermined end, a long process and unfathomable result. Dialogue needs incredible patience, openness, trust, determination, courage, prayer, etc. in order to embark on this journey/pilgrimage with God who controls every situation. Our motivation to enter into dialogue is because it is being one among other remedies for inter-racial (Jew-Samaritans) or ethnic conflicts/wars that have multiplied in the last few years. I speak as a Nigerian working in the diocese of Jalingo, Taraba State. I am therefore particularly concerned about the ethnic conflicts of the Tir-Jukun, Chamba-Kuteb and of other Nigerian tribes. This is because dialogue is

a reciprocal communication, leading to a common good or, at a deeper level, to interpersonal communion. Secondly, dialogue can be taken as an attitude of respect and friendship, which permeates or should permeate all those activities constituting the evangelizing mission of the Church. Thirdly, in the context of religious plurality, dialogue means all positive and constructive inter-religious relations with individuals and communities of other faiths, which are directed at mutual understanding and enrichment, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom…(PCID1 and CEP2 1991).

In other words, this encounter invites people into mutual understanding, friendship, trust, and openness and in working together towards the good of all. For the African Synod Fathers, dialogue is a "way to relate to people of other religions. It supposes tolerance and respect for their beliefs and convictions" (AMECEA 1995:31). Some of these aspects of inter-religious dialogue mentioned above will be taken into consideration in the course of this work. However, I will dwell more on the human level of dialogue, namely, "a reciprocal communication, leading to a common goal or at a deeper level, to interpersonal communion" (PCIRD and CEP, no. 9). In a word where people are living together although with diverse cultures, religions and ideologies, dialogue is not only important but also necessary. It means that in dialogue:

Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, and another religion is to take off our shoes. For the place we are approaching is holy. Else, we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More seriously still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival (Kroeger 1990: v).

In other words, in the world today there is perhaps more interaction between peoples, cultures and religions than in any period in human history that calls for dialogue and mutual respect, tolerance and understanding with one another. In a multi-cultural and pluralistic society, we are invited and challenged to move out of our culture and ideology to welcome and embrace the "other." E.S. Idowu expresses this eloquently:

We live our lives in community with people of faith other than our own. We sometimes live in families of mixed faiths and ideologies, and as neighbors in the same towns and villages. We therefore, need to build relationships, which express mutual human care and understanding. It is in search for mutual understanding that we describe as dialogue (Idowu 1970 as cited in Omoyajowo 1989:53).

It is this search for mutual understanding and acceptance that Jesus achieved in the encounter with the Samaritan woman. He is challenging us and inviting us to do the same. In a pluralistic society (such as we have in Taraba state) we have to meet in conference, to search together, listen and learn from each other. This invites us to share with others all that life brings. This sharing should be directed towards what fulfills life and makes people happy. We are all invited to dialogue to enhance mutual understanding, tolerance, trust, acceptance, welcome, and accommodation of "others."

In John 4:5-29, Jesus initiated a dialogue with the "other," the Samaritan woman, a non-person (in the eyes of the Jews, v.9). The "other" refers to one who differs from another in some respect, like religion or ideology. The "other" is discriminated against and is not welcomed in that society/group. He/she is despised and rejected by others. This was the situation in which Samaritans found themselves at Jesus’ time. The "other" in our contemporary world is not different from the Samaritan as seen in the gospel. This can be seen in our present society that is engulfed with violent crises and hatred of all sorts leading to wars and ethnic hostilities. Jesus initiated this dialogue to harmonize and heal the wounds of the past, accept those considered outcast/unclean, and to welcome them into the people of God.

Analysis of John 4: 5-29

The analysis of the text is done in a cluster of relevant issues. In this text, Jesus tears down the dividing wall of hostility and prejudice that separates the Jews and Samaritans. He takes the initiative to break this hostility and prejudice by requesting for a drink from the woman (v. 7). Jesus meets this woman on a common ground of simple humanity and makes his request. The woman’s response is based on their deep cultural differences. According to B.T. Westcott, the prejudices of sex and nation were broken down by this first teaching…beyond the limit of the chosen people" (1976:68). For it was unthinkable for a Jew to talk to a Samaritan let alone a woman as seen in the reaction of the disciples when they returned. John asserts that the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans because they are considered unclean (v. 9). To relate to a Samaritan entails defining one and going against Jewish laws. Jesus took a risk and did not take these into consideration.

In this encounter, "Jesus’ Jewish origins are important for the development of the dialogue" (Moloney 1995:139). His conversation with the woman is a digging process of a well in her heart, removing the strata of doubt and social prejudice that led to a spring in her life. Systematically. Jesus leads her to a deeper level, using her own feelings and psychological thoughts to capture her attention and to win her over. He enters into her life situation, uses her very words and thoughts to help her see beyond her imagination. Even though she sees Jesus as a stranger, she is open to the dialogue.

Despite the crudeness of her perception, she willingly, unlike Nicodemus,…trusted the stranger and made her petition with confidence. This is faith…not yet a mature faith, but nevertheless the faith which can become the beginning of understanding. The art of turning to Jesus…however far short it may fall of full understanding …is the indispensable starting point for understanding (Newbigin 1982:51).

Verse 10 sums up the purpose and context of the whole conversation/dialogue; namely, "the giver of life and the Savior of the world" (Ellis 1984:72). The well was a gift from Jacob to quench the thirst of their children and their animals. The woman at the beginning is concerned chiefly with traditional natural water to quench her thirst. For her, Jesus is simply a Jew and so she despises him. However, with great respect and love, he helps the woman to know that he is not just a Jew. An encounter, which began on a superficial level, ends up on a profound spiritual level where the well of the words of God swelled up in her life.

Jacob, the common ancestor, linked both the Jews and Samaritans at a deep level of their existence. The woman affirms Jesus’ superiority over Jacob. The water Jesus gives is the word of God, "the true Torah and the living spirit forever renewed in the heart of the believer"(Newbigin 51). The woman only later comes to this realization. Initially she ignores and despises Jesus. Similarly, in our dealings with people we sometimes ignore or despise them based on their sex, race or ethnic group. We need to remove the prejudices that blind us and to welcome "others." The Samaritan woman, though proud of herself, opens up to Christ and accepts the new life he offers. She learns that the new life will be continually nourished by the never failing living waters of grace (Hendrickx 1981:135). The well was a gift from Jacob to quench the thirst of his children and their animals. Similarly, Jesus is the gift from God to give life to the whole world (vv. 11-15).

Jesus’ foreknowledge manifests something profound in the woman’s life. Yet what is needed is "honesty, respect, and willing-ness to share one’s views, relying on the intrinsic value" (Kinast 1993:68). The woman’s husbands are said to belong to the "Samaritan religion contaminated with five forms of idolatry… indication of impurity of religion" (Lindars 1986:186). However, having been confronted by her personal life situation, she makes a shift to worship to avoid embarrassment!

But Jesus’ awareness of her spiritual situation leads her to a deeper meaning of worship, in spirit and truth. All people can worship not just Jews and Samaritans, not just in Jerusalem or Gerizim but anywhere (vv. 17-20). The woman’s question touches on an intrinsic issue, which has divided the Jews and Samaritans for generations. Jesus’ answer opens a page in her life of a true worship in spirit and truth. By this he inaugurates a new way in which men and women will worship in a complete, authentic way, transcending every particularlism. It is a worship that goes beyond all rituals and localization and has interiority when the Holy Spirit moves men and women, who then stand before God calling him Abba [emphasis mine] (Morris 1971:270). The message of Jesus envisages the possibility of going beyond all people-made boundaries "and acknowledging a transcendental reality of communion in which all people are children of the same Father, God, and are brothers and sisters among themselves (Nereparambil 1984:147). By this Jesus breaks down the walls of religious and social separation between Jews and Samaritans and invites us to do the same.

Salvation is from the Jews and Jesus himself is the one to bring it to fulfillment. The woman now sees in Christ not just a Jew but Sir, Prophet, and in fact the Messiah. Both Jews and Samaritans waited for the coming of the Messiah. For the Samaritans, the Taheb3 (Dt 18:15f) "will show us all things" (Ellis, 71). Her experience of Jesus’ knowledge of her private life, which he should not have known, still dazzles her. This supernatural knowledge confirms the expectation of the Messiah. She does not only profess her faith in Jesus, but she shares it with others. In doing so, the woman leaves the land of the Samaritans and enters that of the Jews, breaking the long historical chain of prejudice and hostility. Herman Hendrickx asserts that in the Samaritan woman, the universality of Christ’s mission is revealed (Hendrickx, 140). Jesus now stays and dines with the Samaritans. He accepts quarters among them—these outcasts and marginalized people. According to Robert J. Karris, the Greek word menein, "to stay" has more than a theological meaning in John’s Gospel—it can be translated as "to dwell." For John to dwell means direct contact with Jesus and to share in his relationship with God (Karris 19990:69). By this Jesus enters into a lasting relationship with the Samaritans. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is the beginning of an interpersonal relationship based on mutual openness and trust. It is the same relationship we are called to establish with "others" despite our differences.

For a better understanding of the ‘other’ discussed in the context of this work vis-à-vis Jews and Samaritans, we will examine the socio-historical and religious/theological accounts at the time.

Socio-historical Account

The hostility between Jews and Samaritans dates back to the time of Judges (cf. Judges 6-9) after the division of the Kingdom of Solomon about 922 B.C.E. into North and South. The North was overrun by the religious cults of Assyria which they also practiced. The Samaritans were considered a mixed race since they intermarried with the Assyrians. They also helped Assyria to fight against Jews in 2 B.C.E. (Hendrickx, 140). On the social level, the Samaritans were descendants of two groups:

The remnant of the native Israelites who were not deported at the fall of the North in 722 B.C.E. and foreign colonists brought in from Babylonia by Assyrian conquerors of Samaria…their utensils were considered unclean (Hendrickx, 140).

From this we can assess that Samaritans were half Jews since they were a mixed race and were seen as a contaminated race though they have Jacob as their ancestor. Again they were in alliance with the Assyrians and Persians and intermarried with them. Seen as a nation with so many gods, they were despised by the Jews for worshipping false gods.

Theological-Religious Account

After the exile from Babylonia, the Jews started to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans, who asked permission to take part in rebuilding the Temple of the God in which they too worshipped, were rejected. The Jews rejected them on ill-specified grounds—apparently ethno-religious. The Samaritans built their Temple at Mt. Gerizim in opposition to that in Jerusalem. The Samaritan Temple was however, destroyed by the Maccabean King John Hyrcanus in about 128 B.C.E. (Ellis, 69). Jews on the other hand excluded them from the Jerusalem worship. Thus, the key factor in their animosity was the issue of the place of worship.

The woman’s statement shows that she knew only two choices: Gerizim or Jerusalem (a fundamental issue that separated them). However, Jesus points out a third alternative: the spiritual Jerusalem, where people worship in spirit and truth (Rivera 1990:8). It is this alternative we should always look for in our encounter with "others" in our effort to resolve differences. Again, this theological question (place of worship) shows how differences of ideologies and philosophy separate people; but Jesus urges us to "transcend such views and considerations, which keep people separated from each other" (Nereparampil, 147) and reach out to them.

The Samaritans also rejected the writings of the Prophets, Psalms and historical books. They accepted only the Pentateuch (Nereparampil, 147). In fact they had their own scriptures different from that of the Jews. For the Jews, it was unheard of for a Rabbi to speak with a woman especially in public. The woman too was surprised on the ground that a strict Jew was to avoid a woman. However, Jesus’ encounter with women in the gospels and the reaction of the Pharisees and the disciples clearly shows this misconception.

These factors form the basis of the rift or hostility that existed between Jews and Samaritans for over 400 years (Herzog 1972:72), under which the encounter or dialogue took place. Jesus did not allow such considerations to place a barrier between him and the woman (Samaritans/outcasts) or the "other" in a Jewish sense. He did not consider the question of incurring uncleanness by his conversation/dialogue with the woman. He was rather concerned with all men and women regardless of their social status as revealed in his encounter with other Gentiles. His concern was to reconcile all in himself, slave or free, Jew or Samaritan (Eph 2:14-5).

Dialogue Today in the Light of John 4: 5-29

Looking at the aforementioned analysis of the text, what should be an ideal dialogue? Dialogue is not a one-way traffic but a two-way communication so that both partners can learn from each other and change accordingly. "But dialogue goes beyond communicative action, because what we are looking for is not merely a rational consensus, but the emergence of a community of love" (Amaladoss 1999:29). Dialogue should be approached with humility, sincerity, honesty, openness to, and trust in the "other." In dialogue we are challenged to

unlearn misinformation about each other and begin to know each other as we truly are. This…enables us to perceive the value of another tradition (and people) in which we may not only understand those values but also appreciate them. In this way we will begin to explore new areas of reality of meaning, of truth, of which neither of us had been aware before. We may come face to face with a previously unknown dimension of reality only because of questions, insights, probing brought to light in dialogue (Kumar 2000:203).

An encounter should lead people to mutual understanding of themselves. Frederick Streng underscores this when he says that to understand another person requires not abstract analysis, but human encounter—emerging from the depth of another person’s life (Streng 1985:55) in dialogue. That is to say, those who engage in dialogue should be open to one another and unveil what takes place in their culture, religion, society and listen intently to the "other" and learn. When there is trust and openness, dialogue will take place but when these are lacking, there will be no dialogue. Again, we should try to avoid all obstacles to dialogue such as ‘stereotyping.’ We tend to categorize others in terms of the group they belong to. The group itself is characterized as an out-group, which is opposed to an in-group (enemy syndrome) to which I myself belong and which gives me my social identity. The relationship between the groups is often conditioned by economic (material benefits) and political (power relations) circumstances. Such stereotyping can block communication and dialogue. Equally too, "without dialogue, the barriers of prejudice, suspicion and misunderstanding cannot be effectively removed" (Amaladoss, 30-31) for dialogue will enhance understanding and trust. Again

Dialogue cannot only promote friendship and trust, but the fruits of dialogue can become union between people and union with God, who is the source and revelation of all truth, and whose Spirit guides persons in freedom when they meet one another in honesty and love…when we open ourselves in dialogue to one another, we open ourselves to God (Kumar, 204).

Dialogue should be a forum where differences can be resolved. In dialogue relationship and friendship are established as seen in Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. Dialogue should provide a ground where people can express their feelings freely and seek ways of resolving long-standing differences (issues). In fact, when properly followed, dialogue becomes a mirror in which people can perceive themselves in ways they would not otherwise do. Indeed if people come together as friends (not enemies) and acknowledge their roots (God) and as one human family, all other things will become easy. Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is his encounter with the outcasts and the wretched of the world. He wants to break all bonds and barriers that separate people to make them one. Like Jesus, we must be courageous to confront the "other." Unlike the woman, we should be able to face our true selves. The woman, having been exposed to her real self, shifted her discussion to religion and place of worship, the point of hostility between Jews and Samaritans. But Jesus emphasized the relationship with God rather than with a person (Jacob), spirit and truth rather than a place (Jerusalem/Gerizim).

In our world today, things that concern human life or affect people are in most cases neglected as in our case in the diocese of Jalingo. They are pushed aside and irrelevant issues are taken into consideration. Hans Küng asserts that

Dialogue should not be done only on the intellectual or spiritual level, detached from the social misery and the physical and psychic sufferings of so many people; it should be carried out in the very situation (Knitter 1995:x).

The woman was discussing on an intellectual level and tended to rationalize but Jesus helped her to face the truth of her life. He revealed himself as the absolute truth, just as the woman accepted the bare truth of her life revealed by Christ. The spring of water or the living water is Jesus himself "the open person, the corporate self for which all people are thirsting" (Knitter 1995:x). This is to help us appreciate all people as having a common origin, God.

We are challenged to participate in humankind’s corporate self as creation of God. In this text, Jesus objects to people’s escape into other things, thereby refusing to be themselves. This self-deception is what Jesus wants to set right in each one of us and in our communities. We cannot be truly free unless we are prepared to face the truth. In the posture of dialogue, faith discovers truth… (Herzog, 75). Truth on the other hand will help us to participate honestly and fully in our new corporate relationship. But this is far from easy.

In the text, both Jews and Samaritans are liberated. They now found a new beginning in their new relationship. The relationship gave them a new sense of belonging. Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman is a ‘stepping stone’ to all ethnic groups who have been at enmity and conflict/war with each other. The encounter should help people to enter into dialogue in mutual respect, trust, humility, and with the aim to learn from each other, and to change. When dialogue is carried out sincerely and with genuine interest of the "other,"

it offers a priceless source of enlightenment and inspiration (Knitter 1995:xi) lending to freedom. However, we might understand that we must change our image of freedom… Freedom must become concrete in the structures that hold us captive. Otherwise it is not freedom at all (Herzog, 72).

We must critique and make an effort to remove all that enslaves us and put us at enmity. We need to be open, to stand aside and look at certain structures and critique such structures that dehumanize. Without such criticism and confrontation, there can be no solution to any self-contradiction of man/woman. Jesus acted contrary to Jewish social custom by direct confrontation with "another human being who had been a non-person to the Jew (Herzog, 73). Thus, before we think of mutual understanding and forgiveness that might lead to unity, we have to "face each other eyeball to eyeball [which Jesus did in his encounter with the woman]" (Herzog, 73). Not only does dialogue serve as the instrument of mutual recognition and respect, it also gives people a chance to reflect on how best to interact with "others." Jesus in speaking with the woman was directly confronting the "other" person as well as identifying with the "wretched of the earth, the outcasts" (PCID and CEP, n. 42). We should seek ways to dialogue, to forgive the hurts of the past and work together for peace and development in our communities. Thomas Menamparampil underscores this point when he says: Dialogue means, first of all, to be understanding. We know that memories of historic injuries can keep hurting…such historic memories hurt. And we understand… Dialogue also means mutual education. We learn from each other. We need to learn how to forgive. We need to forgive those who hurt us, not forgetting that we ourselves have hurt others. Only then shall we be fully healed and restored [emphasis mine] (Menamparapil 2001:327). Thus, we are called to be aware and to know those hurts and yet to be prepared to learn how to forgive those who hurt us. It is therefore through dialogue that this mutual understanding— learning how to forgive, to trust, to respect, to love one another—can be experienced so that a new community will emerge where we will meet and relate with each other on an equal level.

The contemporary Church now expresses Jesus’ notion and exercise of dialogue. Even though Jesus succeeded in his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, the situation and circumstances in Taraba state are different. In Taraba state, love of power or struggle to control political power, fear of dominion and marginalization and access to economic benefits (and all associated with it) have inhibited Christians (and ‘other’) to enter into dialogue in order to achieve a desired result like that of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Today, the Church offers different forms of dialogue, and this research finds it relevant here. Today, there are different forms of dialogue as enumerated by the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue in its document. These include the dialogue of life, action, theological exchange, and religious experience.

The dialogue of life is at work when people make an effort to live in a spirit of openness and neighborliness, sharing their joys and sufferings, their human travails and predicaments. In the dialogue of action, Christians and others work together to ensure that their community genuinely and concretely experiences integral development and liberation. Dialogue of theological exchange is carried out when theologians and experts from different religious groups make a common study/reflection at seminars or workshops. They share such findings in order to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritage. In such a way they appreciate each other’s spiritual values. Finally, dialogue of religious experience is practised where people rooted in their religious traditions share their spiritual riches with others. For instance, they share their mode of prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.

These forms of dialogue are practiced in our daily interaction with people. They help people to know each other’s faith more deeply, the things they have in common and those that differ. Hence, dialogue is a meeting and communication between persons about a deeper grasp of the truth and to achieve a better human relationship in a spirit of sincerity, respect and mutual trust of the "other." It is a way in which people come to appreciate each other even in the face of their differences. Unfortunately in Taraba state non-Christian Catholics fail to communicate/dialogue due to fear, which comes in many forms. Fear of conversion to another faith, fear of domination and marginalization (politically), which in most cases leaves people reluctant to enter into dialogue/ communication. Non-Christians (Muslims and indigenous people) are not bound by Jesus’ principles, however, the universal human values call us to relate and to communicate with "others" on issues that affect us as a society. We are called to dialogue/collaborate in order to promote human dignity, equality, justice, peace, harmony and tolerance between individuals and groups in the society.

Dialogue of Life and Dialogue of Action

I will now briefly look at dialogue of life and dialogue of action, which are most relevant in this work. We will examine them in the light of

an encounter with other people whereby we seek to enter into personal relations with them in spite of our ideological differences. Dialogue can only be said to be producing all good of which it is capable when we come to know and welcome the other person as he/she really and truly is (Ancora 1969:7-8).

Dialogue takes place between human beings that are influenced by their culture, their history and religion. It is a personal encounter between individuals. Thus the

principal elements in all dialogue is precisely the relationship which is established between myself and the other person…This relationship supposes another relationship with God,…in the person who is asking us questions and challenging us to reveal what we consider as essential and to express this in a new way (Ancora 1969:14-5).

Thus, this new relationship should lead us to communion of mind and heart, getting out of our own mentality and entering into the world of the other person, and accepting each other. It should provide a path to new discovery in the way of love and friendship with God and with other human beings in communion.

Dialogue of Life

In this form of dialogue people strive to live in an open and neighborly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations. It implies concern, respect and hospitality towards the "other." It leaves room for the other person’s identity, mode of expression and values (Hensman 1999:327). This is done in daily activities as people interact within their given environment. Dialogue of life is "about how people live alongside each other, against each other. They rub shoulders sometimes concretively, sometimes abrasively. The dialogue of life can be messy…. It simply happens" (N.A. 2). In other words, it is the most natural and commonly shared activity in the community. Members of the community come together and share their joys at traditional festivals/ceremonies (marriage, harvest, chieftaincy installation, etc.,) and their sorrows when death or disaster occurs. Such an encounter arises out of trust and respect for each other. This form of dialogue helps to dismantle barriers and builds up a community spirit of a united ‘family,’ sharing their anxieties, hopes and dreams. They complement each other in their life’s endeavor as they try to live fully as human beings. Thus, their whole life’s activities are taken in totality and communicated to one another verbally or non-verbally, leading to mutual respect, trust, mutual understanding and acceptance of the "other."

Dialogue of Action

Christians and others collaborate for integral development and liberation of people. This form of dialogue is directed towards planning and carrying out projects or actions that will help the entire people as mentioned earlier. Here the policy or aim of cooperation and assimilation is adopted to replace hostility and aggression in the "other." By working together, the group enhances the development of their area. Joint projects/actions, such as setting up schools, clinics, water projects, etc., can help to bring people together and also to uplift their human condition. Dialogue of action involves "contract in daily life and common commitment to action. It will…open the door for cooperation in promoting human and spiritual values…"(N.A. 2). Such actions, when properly planned and channeled, will become the source of unity among people. Dialogue should move from

simple sharing of faith experience to social action for a just society. [By this] it becomes indispensable because it promotes harmony in the midst of pluralism and diversity; builds up unity and fellowship among all people irrespective of language, culture etc… In dialogue, the totality of human life in all its dimension should be the focal point of discussion and reflection. Such dialogue would result in action, an action towards building up a new humanity where everyone can enjoy true freedom, real fellowship and full justice. Here dialogue of life becomes dialogue of action, aimed towards the common good of all, irrespective of …differences (Suresh 2000:15).

To sum up,

it can be seen, moreover, that the different forms [of dialogue] are interconnected. Contact in daily life and common commitment to action will normally open the door for cooperation in promoting human and spiritual values; they may also eventually lead to the dialogue of religious experience in response to the great questions which the circumstances of life do not fail to arouse in the mind of people [cf. N.A. 2]. Exchange at the level of religious experience can give more life to theological discussions. These in turn can enlighten experience and encourage closer contact (Bryant and Flinn 1988:xix).

This dialogue of action is important as people come together to work for projects that will help them as a community. Such common cooperation helps to bring about friendship and unity among people.

Pastoral Implication of Dialogue in the Light of John 4:5-29

Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman broke down the boundary or the wall that separated Jews and Samaritans. He penetrated the frontier of the "other" and entered into an intimate relationship by which he stayed and dined with the Samaritans. He therefore established a permanent relationship with the people considered unclean and despised. Jesus’ open attitude, humility, love, tolerance, acceptance, respect, trust, gentleness, under-standing, gradually helped the woman to see in him more than a Jew, prophet, (may be) Messiah, Tareb one who will reveal or tell them everything. In our daily encounter with the "other," we should adopt Jesus’ attitude to win people over. We must also be prepared to step out of our shores to enter their world, to see, feel and think as they do and wish to be understood. Similarly, like the woman, the "other" should be open to dialogue and be ready to learn and trust one who engages in the encounter. The woman dared to enter into Christ’s situation posing challenging questions. Both risked their dignity and were prepared to compromise and to reach out to the "other." In dialogue we must be prepared to risk our status, our dignity and even our lives in order to effect changes.

In a situation where certain issues might heighten tension or create division among people or groups, these should be properly addressed. These should be swept under the carpet but carefully, respectfully, and wisely be handled to enhance harmony among the communities. People should be encouraged to engage in dialogue on age-old issues to resolve them. Lack of dialogue on such issues will create tension, conflict/war among people. Emphasizing the need for dialogue, the governor of Taraba state, Rev. Jolly T. Nyame, "blames the clashes (between Tiv and Jukun) on lack of continuing dialogue…to find a solution to the crises" (Hunyuki 2001). Like Jesus’ encounter with the woman, conversation/ dialogue can help break the long enmity and hostility among ethnic groups and enhance mutual relationship. Like Jesus, in our socio-cultural, economic and political situations, what we need to do is to keep on looking for the third alternative—the one that is better than what we have, the one that will endure and will unite all people than the one that separates/excludes, an alternative that will enhance mutual understanding, acceptance, tolerance, trust and will break down barriers and walls of hostilities and division.

Such issues of land disputes and political conflict should prompt religious leaders and elders of great wisdom and reputable integrity to get involved in genuine dialogue/collaboration to resolve them. These should not be taken as an individual matter but as corporate action. All hands must be on deck to ensure mutual dialogue/ collaboration where unity is to be achieved and hostility or prejudice is eliminated.

In dialogue, one is invited ‘to take off one’s shoes and enter into the "other’s" world with respect, trust, humility and with the intention to learn from the "other." He/she is to accept the "other" as created in the image and likeness of God. By so doing, a loving relationship is established. This does not mean that differences cannot be acknowledged. However, these differences should be geared towards mutual understanding rather than antipathy of others (PCID and CEP, n. 43). The understanding of these differences will help one to appreciate the "other" and overcome the prejudices and barriers that separate them. The African Synod Fathers speaking further on dialogue emphasized

the need to liberate all peoples, transforming them from within and making them new. They encourage corporate action in promoting human progress and integral human development at all levels, by fighting for human rights and fighting against all that oppresses people. Overcome the various forms of division among peoples… (AMECEA, 32).

Dialogue will help bring the dream/intention of the African Synod Fathers to fulfillment, with the aim of transforming the society. It will not become a reality in our lives but it will bridge the widening gap between those who see themselves as different from "others." Dialogue is an encounter, a two-way communication between persons who hold significantly differing views on a subject (as seen in the Samaritan woman and Jesus). "One enters into dialogue with the purpose to learn more truth about the subject (issue) from the "other" or learn more about the "other" (Swidler, Cobb, Knitter and Hellwig 1990:57). The goal of dialogue therefore is for each other to learn and to change accordingly, as in the case of the Samaritan woman. By learning from the "other," we gradually correct the misinformation, prejudices and stereotyped views we hold of "others." In dialogue with the "other," we should try to look into our inner selves and into our traditions, in order to make a change.

No one is an island. As we live and relate to others, we directly or indirectly influence their lives; conversely, they influence our lives too. Consequently, it is in emerging in mutual dialogue (as Jesus and the Samaritan woman) with people of other cultures, distinct as they may be from us, that we can truly come to appreciate others and ourselves. We should make an effort to change our attitudes and self-understanding and understanding of "others."

The only way of changing this is to surface these unconscious attitudes and confront them with experiential reality. Where there are long-standing tensions, which seem to indicate that such prejudices are reasonable, we have to create new experiences of community through dialogue of and common action for justice (Swidler, Cobb, Knitter and Hellwig 1990:57).

In other words, dialogue should lead us to a new knowledge and a change of attitude and behavior towards "others." We should be prepared to cross over to the "other’s" side, accepting "others" as they are. Our approach to resolving conflict of whatever kind: religious, ethnic, traditional, ideological, socio-cultural, political, economic, etc., should be one of dialogue in humility, sincerity, openness, love, acceptance, tolerance, empathy and trust on the part of all those involved. This is not an easy task. It needs emphatic understanding, listening intently to the "other," openness, perseverance, patience, trust, confidence building among the wounded and love of the "other" in spite of the differences.

Therefore, we need people who will awaken in us the need for pardon, forgiveness of sins (of the past) and reconciliation (particularly, in Taraba state and Nigeria in general) so that we can reach out to our neighbors in need. This should begin with you and me! In this, the Church and the government have a great task indeed. Here, we have looked at Jesus’ dialogue as a model for our dialogue/collaboration today. Jesus in humility and respect helped the Samaritan woman to unlearn the prejudices and biases she had about Jews. Also the Samaritans accepted Jesus and welcomed him among their group. He stayed and dined with them. We need to cultivate the attitudes of Jesus in order to win over even our enemies.



1. Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue
2. Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples
3. Both the Jews and the Samaritans looked forward to the coming of Taheb, a teacher /prophet according to Deut 18:15-20. Someone who will reveal or tell them everything and Jesus confirms this by telling the woman the bare truth about her life.


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