I preached this homily on the Sunday, March 19, 2017, the 3rd Sunday of Lent, at Our Lady of the Rosary Church in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Gospel was John 4:4-42, the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well.
Who is this woman?
Why were the disciples amazed?
The easy answers always come to mind. She’s a woman who’s not his wife. She’s a Samaritan woman, so a Jew can’t talk to her. She’s a notorious adulteress.
Any of these might be true, but I think there’s one that tells us even more. The disciples were good Jews. They knew their Torah, the stories of the Patriarchs in Scripture.
What happened when a patriarch met a woman at a well in the Old Testament?
- Isaac’s servant met Rebekah at a well.
- Jacob meets Rachel at a well (this same well, by the way).
- Moses met Zipporah at a well.
What happened when a patriarch met a woman at a well? Wedding bells!
Now, we all know that Jesus didn’t marry the Samaritan woman, but she is symbolic of his bride – The Church – us.
In the next 35 minutes, I want to hit on three points for us to take from this Gospel passage when we walk out of those doors at the end of Mass.
The woman has had 5 husbands, lords, or in the Canaanite language, “Baals.” What husbands, baals, and idols can we find in our past? Even more importantly, what idols are in our lives today that prevent us from encountering Jesus?
What stands between us and the true God? All of us have something. If we are honest with ourselves, we all have a sinful past like the Samaritan woman – we may even have a sinful present (let’s face it, to a greater or lesser extent, we all do). We need to identify our sins and idols so we can carve them out of our lives and turn toward him who wants that relationship with us.
If we have serious sins on our soul, we must get to confession and throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord so that he can draw us into an encounter of love with him. We need to seek forgiveness for those sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation so we may worthily approach the Eucharist at Mass.
That is the reason for this season as we prepare to celebrate the feasts that commemorate our redemption, the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord. In Lent, we are called to embrace fasting, prayer, and almsgiving to help us get into the right state of mind and heart to be lifted by the Lord’s mercy. You just heard that call in the opening prayer if you were paying attention – and if you weren’t, here it is again.
O God, author of every mercy and of all goodness,
who in fasting, prayer and almsgiving
have shown us a remedy for sin,
look graciously on this confession of our lowliness,
that we, who are bowed down by our conscience,
may always be lifted up by your mercy.
(The Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition Third Sunday of Lent)
This is the first lesson today: Find our idols. Remove them. Cut them out. Confess them so the mercy of God can flow into us.
The Preaching of the Samaritan Woman
So the Samaritan woman had that encounter with Jesus. What happens next? She leaves behind that which slows her down, her water jar, and runs into the town to proclaim to everyone the encounter she has had.
Do we feel excitement when we encounter Christ?
In the poor?
In the Sacraments?
In the Eucharist?
Do we feel enough excitement to go out and tell everyone we know? Not because we want to proselytize, but because we feel so much passion and joy that we just can’t hold it in?
When is the last time you saw an amazing movie? How often do we see a movie, then tell everyone we know, “You have to see this movie!” Why don’t we do that with Christ? I have a hunch that it is because we have not truly encountered him. We are often so wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t realize how close he is to us, so we never have that joy that he wants for us, that joy that overflows because we just can’t hold it in. As Christians, little Christs, we are called to be always ready to point people to the love of Christ that we have experienced.
How much does he love us, then? In the words of Paul:
For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
If we truly believe in that love, how can we not do something with it? That’s lesson number two: each and every one of us is called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ with every moment of our lives.
We need to come to Jesus, though. He will not break down the door to our houses.
He is waiting at the well for us.
He’s waiting in the tabernacle for us.
He’s waiting in the Scriptures for us.
He’s waiting in the poor and downtrodden for us.
He is waiting.
We approach him, and he says, “I thirst.” He thirsts for our faith, for our love – not because he needs it but because he knows it is the only way we can be truly happy. And, because he loves us, he wants us to be happy. He desires that so much that, even though he is exhausted from his travels that day, when the woman comes, he seizes the opportunity to draw her in to himself.
This is the third lesson we need to take from this: even when we are too tired to take another step, we are called to follow the example of Christ and evangelize. It is important that we are always watching for those opportunities arise if we truly love our neighbor as we are commanded.
So, I want us to walk away from Mass today with three things in mind.
1. If we are to be ready for an encounter with the Lord, we must be free of our idols and our sins.
2. When we have that encounter, Christs own love will well up inside of us until it overflows – let it.
3. If we are to show the love of Christ, we must be aware of those opportunities, even when we thing we are too tired to do anything, to take one more step. That is when we are called to show the love of Christ and pour out the last drop of ourselves, trusting that the Jesus’ love is, and will remain, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14, NABRE), a spring that will never go dry.