Dateline, circa 1000 BC: King David unites the Twelve Tribes and establishes the Kingdom of Israel, which stretches from Mt. Hermon in the north (near modern Lebanon), to the Gulf of Aqaba in the south (on the eastern end of the Gaza Peninsula. David sets up the capital at Jerusalem. About forty years later, King Solomon, builds the great Temple in Jerusalem, establishing the center for worship for the Jewish people, which was to last even to the days of Christ. The journey of the kingdom of Israel had begun.
Dateline, 921 BC: The Kingdom of Israel splits in two after a revolt of some northern tribes, and two of Solomon’s sons, Jeroboam and Rehoboam, become rulers, respectively, of the Northern and Southern kingdoms, Israel and Judah. In Judah is the original capital of Israel, Jerusalem, which is also the center for so-called “true worship” for the Jews. The Northern Kingdom has as its capital Shechem, Penuel and then Tizrah, all in a region that became known as “Samaria.” The tensions between the two kingdoms continued to roil for the rest of their existences.
The two kingdoms really only survived together because of a shared religious tradition, but they had separate capitals and separate temples. The Judeans believing, of course, that their worship was more pure, since they had the Temple of Solomon – the only place for true worship of Yahweh. So, the wounds dug deeper, and the two journeyed on, apart.
721 BC: The Assyrian Empire goes on the warpath, invading Israel from the north and capturing and destroying Samaria, effectively ending the Kingdom of Israel. The Judeans in the Southern Kingdom, who are relatively untouched by the tragedy in the north, see this as a divine retribution for the wickedness of the Samaritans and praise God’s justice in their Temple. Their time, however, would come.
587 BC: Babylon stretches its empire to the Mediterranean, encompassing Judah as well. After about ten years of occupation and various revolts, the Babylonians attack and destroy Jerusalem and the revered Temple of Solomon. The old Israel, it seemed, was gone forever, and the Jews sat and wept in an exile that lasted for half a century and imprinted itself on the very psyche of the Jewish people forever. But, in 539 BC, the Persian emperor Cyrus, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild. One of the first orders of business was to rebuild the Temple of worship. In a sign of reconciliation, the Samaritans offered to assist in this reconstruction – an offer that the king of Judah refused, out of the old animosities between the two kingdoms.
The old hurts between the north and the south, between Samaria and Judah, were still very much present during Jesus’ time. To call a Judean a “Samaritan” was seen as an insult; Jesus uses the “good Samaritan” precisely because his kindness would be seen as ironic, or uncharacteristic to the Judeans; and today, the reception of Jesus in Samaria only illustrates the sad reality of the division present among those Jewish peoples – two separate people, although they shared a single religious tradition.
Circa 30 AD: Jesus is on a journey – the journey, in fact – from Galilee in the farther north to Jerusalem in the south. He is on the way to accomplish his mission – his destiny with the cross. And now we find that the Samaritans – precisely because he is going to Jerusalem – will not welcome him. In response, his disciples – believing themselves to be “true believers” – offer to “call down fire from heaven” in punishment upon the Samaritans.
But Jesus was not about calling down fire – he was about inviting, inviting people to join him on the journey. And He does not want part of our heart; He wants all of it. If we are to join Him, he wants the full commitment of our lives. Ironically, it is only when we give ourselves fully to Christ that we can then truly give ourselves to others. We are invited to the journey as well. Certainly, this journey would end at the Cross, but it also promises resurrection, glory and victory over sin, death, hatred, violence and oppression. It’s a journey worth taking.
After 2000 years, we have a long path journeyed to look back over. Our history has been marked by good and ill; by division and victory. However, we as Catholics cannot see ourselves ever in an “us and them” mentality. While we are separated into parishes, we are not divided – we cannot be. “St. Luke,” “Our Lady of Hope,” St. Rita,” Sacred Heart of Mary” – these are not “divisions” but rather individual expressions of the one reality of the People of God – the Body of Christ.
The same applies to the adjectives we might attach to our Catholicism – fallen-away, conservative, liberal, gay, straight, American, Roman, faithful. These often get in the way of the reality of the unity that God wills for the Church He establishes in Christ. We must be attentive to what St. Paul admonishes: But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another.
Rather than “consuming one another,” we gather here – or in any Catholic church – and consume the true Source of unity: Jesus Christ. The Eucharist is a challenge and a pledge of unity among those who call upon Jesus to heal division and bring peace. In celebrating this Sacrament here, we too take up that challenge again, and we embark, with Christ, on our shared journey of faithfulness.