The annual week of Prayer for Christian Unity began yesterday and stretches through this Sunday’s feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.
The theme this year is “Jesus said to her: ‘Give me to drink'” from John 4:7, and the materials were jointly prepared and published by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches.
The two bodies that co-sponsor the Week of Prayer invited the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil (CONIC) to prepare the resources for the week of prayer 2015. CONIC appointed a working group formed by representatives from its member churches and affiliated ecumenical organisations to produce the material.
Here is the introduction to the theme. More material for the Week of Prayer can be found here:
1. Who drinks of this water…
Journey, scorching sun, tiredness, thirst …”Give me to drink.” This is a demand of all human beings. God, who becomes human in Christ (Jn 1:14) and empties himself to share our humanity (Philippians 2:6-7) is capable of asking the Samaritan woman: “Give me to drink” (Jn 4:7). At the same time, this God who comes to encounter us, offers the living water: “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).
The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman invites us to try water from a different well and also to offer a little of our own. In diversity, we enrich each other. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a privileged moment for prayer, encounter and dialogue. It is an opportunity to recognize the richness and value that are present in the other, the different, and to ask God for the gift of unity.
“Whoever drinks of this water keeps coming back,” says a Brazilian proverb, always used when a visitor leaves. A refreshing glass of water, chimarrão(1), coffee, tereré(2), are trademarks of acceptance, dialogue and coexistence. The biblical gesture of offering water to whomever arrives (Mt 10:42), as a way of welcoming and sharing, is something that is repeated in all regions of Brazil.
The proposed study and meditation on this text during the Week of Prayer is to help people and communities to realize the dialogical dimension of the project of Jesus, which we call the Kingdom of God.
The text affirms the importance of a person knowing and understanding her/his own self-identity so that the identity of the other is not seen as a threat. If we do not feel threatened, we will be able to experience the complementarity of the other: alone, a person or culture is not enough! Therefore, the image emerging from the words “give me to drink” is an image speaking of complementarity: to drink water from someone else’s well is the first step towards experiencing another’s way of being. This leads to an exchange of gifts that enriches. Where the gifts of the other are refused much damage is done to society and to the Church.
In the text of John 4, Jesus is a foreigner who arrives tired and thirsty. He needs help and asks for water. The woman is in her own land; the well belongs to her people, to her tradition. She owns the bucket and she is the one who has access to the water. But she is also thirsty. They meet and that encounter offers an unexpected opportunity for both of them. Jesus does not cease to be Jewish because he drank from the water offered by the Samaritan woman. The Samaritan remains who she is while embracing Jesus’ way. When we recognize that we do have reciprocal needs, complementarity takes place in our lives in a more enriching way. “Give me to drink” presupposes that both Jesus and the Samaritan ask for what they need from each other. “Give me to drink” compels us to recognize that persons, communities, cultures, religions and ethnicities need each other.
“Give me to drink” implies an ethical action that recognises the need for one another in living out the Church’s mission. It compels us to change our attitude, to commit ourselves to seek unity in the midst of our diversity, through our openness to a variety of forms of prayer and Christian spirituality.
2. The ecclesial and religious context of Brazil
Brazil can be considered a very religious country. It is traditionally known as a country where a certain “cordiality” characterizes relations between social classes and ethnic groups. However, Brazil is living through a time of growing intolerance made manifest in high levels of violence, especially against minorities and the vulnerable: black people, the young, homosexual people, people practicing Afro-Brazilian religion, women, and indigenous people. This intolerance was hidden for a long time. It became more explicit and revealed a different Brazil when, on October 12 1995, the feast of Our Lady Aparecida, the patron of the country, one of the bishops of a Neo-Pentecostal church kicked a statue of Our Lady Aparecida during a national TV broadcast. Ever since there have been other instances of Christian based religious intolerance. There have also been similar incidents of Christian intolerance towards other religions, particularly Afro-Brazilian and Indigenous traditions.
The logic that undergirds this kind of behaviour is competition for the religious market. Increasingly, in Brazil, some Christian groups adopt a competitive attitude towards one another: a competition for a place on mass media, and a competition for new members and public funds for major events. Pope Francis points to this very phenomenon when he writes, “Spiritual worldliness leads some Christians to war with other Christians who stand in the way of their quest for power, prestige, pleasure and economic security” (Evangelii Gaudium #98).
This situation of religious competition has affected the life of traditional Christian confessions, which have experienced a reduction or stagnation in the number of their members. It has encouraged the idea that a strong and dynamic church is a church that has a high number of members. As a result, there is a tendency among significant sectors of traditional churches to distance themselves from the search for the visible unity of the Christian Church.
This market-driven Christianity is investing in party politics, and, in some cases, creating its own political parties. It is allying itself with specific interest groups such as big landowners, Agro-business and the financial markets. Some observers go as far as speaking of the confessionalisation of political life, which threatens the separation between state and religion. Thus the ecumenical logic of breaking down the walls of division is replaced by a “corporativist” logic and the protection of denominational interests.
Although the 2010 official Census shows that 86.8% of the Brazilian population identify themselves as Christian, this country has very high rates of violence. Thus a high rate of Christian affiliation does not seem to translate into non-violent attitudes and respect for human dignity. This statement can be illustrated with the following data:
Violence against women: between 2000 and 2010, 43,700 women were murdered in Brazil. Forty one per cent of these women who suffer violence, are violated in their own homes.
Violence against indigenous people: violence against the indigenous population is often related to large hydroelectric developments and the expansion of Agro-business. These two projects express the model of development prevailing in the country today. They contribute significantly to the slow demarcation and recognition of indigenous territories. In 2011, the report “Violence against Indigenous Peoples in Brazil” of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), an organism connected with the Roman Catholic Confe
rence of Bishops of Brazil, identified 450 developments underway on indigenous lands in Brazil. These developments take place without proper consultation with indigenous peoples as envisaged in the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). CPT’s report denounces the murder of 500 indigenous people between 2003 and 2011; 62.7% of these are in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul. The annual murder average is 55.8 natives.
Overcoming intolerance in its various forms should be dealt with in a positive way: respecting legitimate diversity and promoting dialogue as a permanent path of reconciliation and peace in fidelity to the gospel.
3. Hermeneutical choice
The methodology adopted by CEBI, and widely practiced across Latin America, is called the Contextual Reading of the Bible. This is both an academic and a popular approach to the biblical text.
In this methodology, the starting point for any biblical theology and interpretation is daily life. We adopt the approach of Jesus on the road to Emmaus (cf. Lk 24:13-24): What is going on? What are you talking about? From the context we move to the Biblical text. In this methodological journey the Bible is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps 119:105). We take the Bible as a flashlight to illuminate the path of our lives. The biblical text teaches us and transforms us so that we may bear testimony to God’s will in the context in which we live.
4.The journey through the days
The journey we are proposing for the coming eight days starts with proclamation, which leads to denunciation, renunciation, and witness. The week starts with the proclamation of a God who has created us in his own image, that is the image of the Triune God, unity in diversity. Diversity is part of God’s design. Next, some situations of sin which introduce unjust discrimination are denounced. Thirdly, the renunciation of those sinful attitudes which exclude marks a step towards the unity of God’s Kingdom. Lastly, we bear witness to the graciousness of God who is always willing to welcome us despite our imperfection, and whose Holy Spirit impels us towards reconciliation and unity. Thus we experience Pentecost, the many gifts of the Spirit that lead to the realisation of God’s Kingdom.