19 March 2017

Homily - 19 March - The Third Sunday of Lent - Consider what would happen if Jesus spoke to an American woman like he did the Samaritan woman

The Third Sunday of Lent (A)

Dear brothers and sisters,

The more I consider the Lord’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, the more I wonder how such an encounter with Jesus might take place in the context of our present American culture. It seems today as if many Americans – if not most – are constantly searching for something by which to be offended. It seems a majority of the American people presume the worst of intentions in each other and read more into the words and actions of others than may be warranted.

As but one simple illustration of what I mean, consider what would happen today if the Lord Jesus said to an American woman, “you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (John 4:18). Would she answer, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet,” or would she instead yell back, insisting, “Don’t judge me” (John 4:19)? And lest I be accused of sexism, the situation would be much the same if Jesus said to an American man, “you have had five wives, and the one you have now is not your wife.” In either case, would there be an acceptance of the truthfulness of his words, or would there instead be shouts of protest and a string of excuses?

Why did Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman unfold so differently than would likely be the case in our society today? The difference lies in the woman’s honesty; it can be found in her confession of her sinful situation. Whereas most Americans today feign contentment by saying such things as “I’m okay, you’re okay” and “God loves me the way I am,” the Samaritan woman recognized the restlessness in her heart and knew something must change if she was to find the happiness she desired. She knew the Lord called her to something greater, to something that would satisfy the deepest desires of her heart. She knew she could not satisfy these desires on her own; she had tried, and failed, five times over. She did not push away this necessary conversion, nor did she grumble against it (cf. Exodus 17:3); rather, she recognized that the love of God had been poured into her heart at that moment and she accepted his love (cf. Romans 5:5). This is why she could say of Jesus, “He told me everything I have done,” and could say so without taking offense at him (John 4:39). Can we say the same? Would we take offense at Jesus if he spoke so honestly about the situations of our lives (cf. Matthew 13:57)?

Saint Bonaventure saw in the woman’s five husbands “the five heavy cravings of the senses,” “the five carnal senses, who ruled over her like a husband.”[1] The first husband, he said, represented taste or gluttony. The second husband represented touch or lust. The third, smell, by which he meant a life of ease and comfort which leads to sloth. The fourth husband represented sight or greed because of envy. The fifth husband represented hearing or lying and gossiping. But what of that sixth man, the man with whom she lived who was not her husband? In this man Saint Bonaventure saw “error, which seduces and leads the soul astray.”[2] We might not all live in adulterous relationships, but we surely have all been seduced by error and yielded to the sins of gluttony, lust, sloth, greed, lying, and gossiping.

When the Lord Jesus approaches us in the silence of our hearts, in the Sacred Scriptures, or even in the words of another to reveal the secret of our sin, what is our response to him? Do we reject him? Do close our ears and our hearts to him? Do we honestly confess our sinfulness and reject the error of our ways so that his love might well up within our hearts through his forgiveness?

When the Samaritan woman heard the voice of Jesus, she did not harden her heart, but allowed her heart to be softened by his words of truth, painful though it surely was (cf. Psalm 95:8). She was not so proud as to presume he spoke to offend her; she was not so proud as to take offense at him. Instead, she perceived in his words a summons to happiness and healing.

In the example of this woman we see that “preaching does not bring about faith without the consent of the will and the will does not give its consent unless God kindles a spark in it.”[3] As it was with the woman at the well, so it is with us. In the waters of baptism, each of us has received, as it were, that spark of God’s love; his love and the gift of faith were enkindled in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Now it remains for us to fan that spark into flame and to call upon his gifts.

Jesus first “enkindles a spark in [the Samaritan woman] by asking her to serve him by giving him a drink of water. This is something that the woman could minister to him since she had come to draw water.”[4] What is it that the Lord Jesus asks of us? What does he ask us to do for him that we are capable of doing?

In his last moments upon the Cross, Jesus said, “I thirst” (John 19:28). He made this cry to each one of us, but he does not ask us for physical water; rather, he asks for the water of our love so that we might quench his thirst. Jesus then “continues to kindle a spark in the woman by promising or offering her a gift,”[5] by promising to give her “living water” which will become in those who drink of it “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14). The water he desired to give to her – the water he desires to give to each of us – is the water of his love which poured forth from his pierced heart into the Sacraments (cf. John 19:34). If he so opened his heart to us, let us not be afraid to open our hearts to him in the sacraments so that his love might be poured into our hearts.

Then, filled with his love, we, like that woman, can share our life’s story, the story of encounter with the Lord’s love and so lead our family, our friends, and even strangers to drink from the water of Jesus’ love. If we drink freely from his waters, we can take up Pope Francis’ invitation to discover “the joy of becoming artisans of reconciliation and instruments of peace in our daily lives.”[6] By living as artisans or reconciliation and as instruments of peace, may we bring healing to our lives and to our society. Amen.

[1] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 4.33. Robert J. Karris, trans. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2007), 237.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid., 4.14.
[4] Ibid., 4.15.
[5] Ibid., 4.17.
[6] Pope Francis, Angelus Address, 19 March 2017.

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