Homily for Sunday, 23 March 2013
3rd Sunday of Lent: Ex 17:3-7. Rom 5:1-2, 5-8. Jn 4:5-42.
This Sunday tells of the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman and the dialogue about quenching her thirst. The first reading is about Moses drawing water from the rock. The second praises the fact that the Spirit quenches a thirst deeper than that of the flesh. In fact, the search for water to drink is an indirect reference to 'preparation for baptism, since baptism with water will be part of the Easter ceremonies (renewal for most people and first time for some).
Samaria was considered an 'out of the way' place by the Jews, even though Jacob's well was there. It’s actually relevant that it was at noon that he sat near the well, because that is the ‘hot’ time of day and you wouldn’t expect many people to be out in the open. Jesus was really putting effort into setting up the encounter. Jesus goes on a journey today… to us! It reminds us of how the incarnation itself was a 'big journey' for God! He breaks with custom and the Apostles are surprised to find him talking with a woman (Jn 4:27). I think that it's a good teaching against the chauvinism of the time - and sometimes we need to be taught that today also! The encounter begins with Jesus asking for a drink. The king of Heaven and earth ‘asks’! … as He humbly asks for help in the world today. Also, the reading from Exodus tells of the search of the Jews with Moses for water. The water from the rock represents the fact that God sustains his people in a surprising way. Asking to drink is precisely the surprising way in which God calls our human hearts. He says “I’m thirsty” on the cross also (Jn 19:28). See how the woman had had five husbands – so she’d been looking a lot for love – looking hopelessly for something which would quench her thirst for love. Are we aware of our thirst? And do we humbly seek the water that only God can give? St Paul talks of our search ‘in the flesh’ and he advises that we change it for a search in the Spirit. Give some importance in your life to spiritual life (a search for faith, hope and love) and your thirst will be well quenched! The Gospel makes reference also to the rivalry between Jews and Gentiles. The woman mentions the way Jerusalem ‘has its head stuck up’ against the Samaritans and Jesus replies that “the time is coming when the people of God” will leave their base discrimination and will live like a family – in Spirit and truth – reunited with ‘God’s glue’ which is the Holy Spirit! The name ‘Messiah’ comes from ‘the anointed of God’ of the Old Testament and Jesus clearly presents himself as that. The Word of the Old and the New Testaments are united now in one Bible. The woman went and told many what she had learnt from Jesus – Will we do likewise? It will bear much fruit. As Jesus says: “Ask the lord of the harvest to send workers to his land” – and don’t be shocked if He makes you think that one of those sent today is you yourself!
‘Evangelization’ isn’t a matter of drumming new ideas into people but of inspiring people to think and to seek for themselves. Mankind wonders today ‘could this be the Messiah?’. But one must be willing to face up to opposition and insults… as we see in Moses wondering if the people were going to stone him! (Ex 17:4). Our faith has been passed down to us through many prophets and saints who had problems in ‘sowing’ and Jesus says well: at the end of the day, the sower and reaper will rejoice together. There’s a party in which to rejoice about which we know little yet – as Jesus surprise the apostles today, saying that He has already eaten. I’m not proposing alcoholism but it’s good to know that the word ‘Whiskey’ comes from the Irish ‘uisce beatha’ which means ‘water of life’ and there’s a connection with the Gospel of today here Jesus offers that to the Samaritan woman. Of course that’s far above any connection with a culture of alcohol but it reflects the way Christ quenches our thirst for love.
I’m a ‘consecrated’ missionary with a vow of chastity, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not attracted by mundane things like everybody. I thank God for the nice girlfriends of my youth, but the time came when I realized that if the ‘creatures’ are nice, then their creator is probably even more-so. We can avoid diving into the pool of romantic things and yet still be madly in love. In fact I feel very much in love – with Love itself – or I should say with Love themselves since they’re three (Trinity)! I very much like love and romance, but that’s the very reason I consecrate my life to the Trinity and to their whole family. One doesn’t leave their human family and their romantic girlfriends unless it’s for something even better.
The search for love is the theme of almost all the films and novels in the world but it’s very much secondary to our search for Love with a capital L. The truth is that the first ‘search’ is a little ‘echo’ of the second. God created us all with the first in the hope that it would inspire our thirst for the second. That may seem strange but it’s true: If I see a drunk outside the bar or looking for a prostitute, I know that what he’s really missing is knowledge of Christ.
This is what St Agustin wrote after his years of philosophy: ‘The goal of all of our lives is to love and to be loved’. You could sum up his philosophic autobiography in one phrase: ‘Late have I loved you, Lord!’. He had searched in many places and people and in conclusion he wrote: ‘Now I realize that it was for you that I was seeking, Lord!’. On the Cross Jesus says “I’m thirsty”, and I think he’s saying that he’s thirsty to see humanity realize their thirst for his Love! God says in Is 55:1 “Come to me, all you thirsty”.
It’s relevant that the Samaritan woman today in Jn 4 is talking with Jesus about thirst. It’s important that living as a Christian not be just a matter of fulfilling rules. God doesn’t send a list of rules and regulations through Jesus. He wants to win over the love of our hearts through Jesus. If we have his Love in our hearts, then it will guide our minds well. The rules and regulations of our Church are there to help clarify that guidance.
The Jewish tradition of ‘circumcision’ (removal of the male foreskin) is well known. The important reason behind it isn’t a superficial aspect of male sexuality. It’s a sign of God’s desire to see us free of the disillusions of mundane romance and pleasures, so that we can then really enjoy Love with a capital L. The Bible says this: ‘For the love of the Lord, circumcise your hearts…’ (Jer 4:4)… ‘The LORD, your God, will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, that you may love the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, and so may live.’ (Dt 30:6).
The fact that I have this illness of MS, and that we all have some kinds of problems in life, doesn’t mean that the love of God has diminished. St Teresa of Avila expressed it well when she said that God gives those challenging things to his friends. They’re a sign that God is drawing us with ambition up that high mountain of eternal happiness.
If someone asks me what it is that moves me, I just point to the little crucifix around my missionary neck and I recall what’s written in the book of Deateronomy: ‘Accursed is he who hangs on the wood …’ (Dt 21:23 and Gal 3:13). Even still, the Son of God himself is willing to go through that!
The world wants to see us worshiping its fancy ‘statue’ in the form of euros, dollars and bank accounts. The book of Daniel tells of three young men who refuse to worship the fancy statue erected by Nebuchadnezzar. They were glad to be on the way to a better Life and were singing about the glory of God! Their song is a call to all of us: “Blessed be the Lord who merits praise and exaltation forever”. At the end they were four – a prophecy of Jesus. ‘One of the nobles responded “I see four men free and at ease walking in the fire, and the fourth one seems to be an angel” (Dan 3:92). I think that it’s a good prophecy of the companionship of Christ which we celebrate when we take the little piece of unleavened bread at mass (the word ‘companion’ means that he shares with us ‘the bread of our everyday’.
Remember that the Eucharist isn’t just a commemoration of something that happened. It’s a continuous reality of the heart of our God. To have faith in God is a good thing, but to really love God means much more. God asks “Please have faith in us” and that’s inseparable from the plea “Please love us back”. The Son of God himself is willing to pass through the pain and the shame of the Cross in order to convince us.
So let’s drink well the water of Life and Love today! Christ asks for our help now, like Jesus asking at the well for water, but that’s the way He draws us up to Heaven, and it’s so that he ends up satiating our own thirst. We’ll be drinking very well for an eternity along with those who have put in effort throughout the centuries to bring us to ‘the well’. Have a good drink! Sláinte! ¡Bebe bien! Salud!