Fr. Rick’s Homily: 3rd Sunday of Lent

March 3, 2024

Ex 17:3-7; 95:1-2, 6-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42 (Year A Readings)

This familiar story of the meeting of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well is a very touching one.   It’s the longest conversation that Jesus has with anyone in the gospels and of course, it’s a conversation that shouldn’t even be happening according to the Jewish conventions at the time.  A Jew and a Samaritan would not use anything in common and Jesus would not be talking to a single woman.  It’s a very Jesus episode.

What intrigues me here again is the length of the conversation and also how respectfully Jesus listens to the woman while she expresses her concerns and reservations.  Jesus would suspect from the beginning that it was unusual for the woman to be coming to the well at noon since the rest of the women would have come in the cool of the morning.  She was some kind of an outcast.  He also knew that as a Samaritan, she was part of group that had heavily intermarried and had likely been exposed to a fairly wide variety of the gods brought into the families by different sects and tribes.  Yet she clearly knows something of her history and that of the Jews.  Despite her reservations, she continues into the conversation with her own disregard of social conventions.  She seems to be naturally conscientious.  She has some spunk.

After Jesus develops a certain rapport and credibility with the woman, He begins to identify Himself and reveals His ability to see deeply into her life and her past.  He is challenging her, but not judging her.  He knows that her deepest desires are that of every other human being made in the image and likeness of God.  She desires the life-giving water from the eternal spring….that can truly satiate one’s thirst.  She also gets it that Jesus too has the same thirst.  Jesus has sought her out as evidenced by His deliberate journey through Samaria.  Amidst all her other husbands, it is only this man, the true Bridegroom, that can satisfy her deepest desire for love.  They are connecting at the deepest level of their souls.  Afterall, their Creator made them to desire God and each other.  That’s the whole trajectory of life that ultimately leads all of us to the Heavenly Wedding Banquet.

The woman coming to the well at the hot time of the day and her apparent attempt to avoid disclosing her marital status seem to indicate some sinful behavior.  Yet she is a woman of some faith and even has a community which affords her some credibility.

The big point is that Jesus establishes a conversation and relationship that clearly reveals and satisfies her deepest desires.  She is made anew.  She is changed.  She leaves her water jar behind.

This is a powerful message for us would-be evangelizers.  When encountering a thirsty soul our first inclinations should be to seek understanding, show a genuine interest in the other person, perhaps even risk that we ourselves might be ostracized, and then provide the living water.  We should be able to offer the truest desires of their hearts, which after all, are the same as ours.  Jesus doesn’t even need to say ‘repent’.  Teaching and being the wellspring, the Truth, is the effective method for encouraging conversion.

To approach and engage someone in this fashion requires an incredible level of maturity and self-awareness.  It’s a lifelong process.

As I was reflecting over the readings earlier this week, I quickly recalled our Synodality Listening Session from last week.  When addressing the issue of our successes and distresses within the Church, one person mentioned that the Church needs to show a lot more mercy to people who are struggling with sexual identity issues.  It was followed by another comment that, “yes’ the Church needs to catch up with the times.  Then a number of people spoke up declaring that aberrant behavior cannot be condoned and that the merciful thing to do is teach the person the Truth and expect a change.  The excommunication even came up.

In fact, all parties were correct.  The Church (that’s be us) does need to be more merciful in correcting the sinner and the confused.  The Church does need to ‘catch up with the times’.  We have been very ineffective in teaching about all issues of sexuality for the past 60 years.  This amidst the relentless onslaught of so many other forces in our society.  And, yes, the established teachings of the Church MUST be upheld.  The Church is not here to just be an escort service for all peoples’ choices and lifestyles.

The key is, that we need to approach all sinful behavior with a very deep level of self-awareness, sensitivity, understanding the particular situation of the alleged sinner.  If all Communion-receiving Catholics were actually living out of the deeper understanding of chastity that is taught by the Church (albeit POORLY), then we could just attract people to the peace, joy, kindness, community and love that everyone really needs.  The living water for which we all truly thirst. 

This leads us to two of the greatest challenges in human nature.  The true great human terrors:  A serious journey into true self-awareness and then building real community.  When we can actually reflect a true Christlike awareness, we will achieve real evangelization.  This is not just a formidable task, but is virtually an impossible task without going to the well spring of eternal life.  When we actually receive Jesus into our hearts.  This is the true meaning of Eucharist.

To help us become better teachers and healers in our confusing times, I am proposing another book study.  This one is, Adam and Eve are from Eden: A Study Guide to St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.  We need a common language and common understanding of human sexuality to be merciful and effective teachers.  Sign up in the gathering space.  I’ve already ordered 15 copies knowing that this has to be of great interest to anyone trying to balance the many complicated situations in our daily lives.  This leap of understanding is long overdue.

Homily Reflection Questions

  1. When encountering the Samaritan Woman at the well, Jesus demonstrates how to admonish the sinner, counsel the doubtful and instruct the ignorant.  Where do we find these three directives in our Catholic Teaching?  When have we utilized this method most recently?  What was the issue at hand needing your merciful response? 
  • When Jesus directs us to pick up our cross and follow Him, He means ‘Love one another as I have loved you’.  If we are over 50 years old, where, when and how might we have developed the ability to respond (love) as Jesus did to the Samaritan woman at the well?
  • How is this method of Jesus a genuinely Pro-Life way of teaching and loving?  What is the REAL issue at hand and what does the woman really need?  How was tone absolutely critical to this encounter?   What does it mean to encounter someone?

Also, please pick up an examination of conscience sheet in the gathering space which follows the Spiritual Works of Mercy.