Homilies, Articles and Lectures
3rd Sunday Lent Homily
Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi
March 15, 2020
This Sunday, our Gospel speaks of Jesus in a life-changing dialogue with a Samaritan woman by a well, a dialogue of true pastoral accompaniment, an example of what Pope Francis speaks of in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia).
The well has a concrete name. It is called Jacob’s well. And at this specific well, a wonderful “encounter,” a transformative encounter, takes place. It is an encounter between Jesus--thirsty and tired from His journey--and a Samaritan woman. She had come, as she had probably done many times before, bucket in hand, to satisfy a physical need for water from this deep well.
At the outset, a Samaritan was a foreigner, from a different region, partly pagan, despised by the Jews and they, in turn, looked down upon the Jews.
Jesus initiates the conversation. Although clearly out of character for a Jew even to speak to a Samaritan (much less a woman), He engages here nonetheless in conversation. Taking the initiative as He routinely does, He says to her: “Give me a drink.”
What a beautiful example of Jesus welcoming someone, a woman and a Samaritan, who would not typically be treated that way by a Jew, a woman who had five husbands.
Having gone to the well to replenish her supply of water, something happens to her, as it often does when we are kind to people. Gradually--in His gentle welcoming presence and after He spoke to her--she herself faces a deeper thirst, an inner thirst. Ironically, it is Jesus’ initial thirst, manifested by His request of her for water, that precipitates the acknowledgement of her own deep thirst.
Jesus declares almost mystically: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In response, the woman then asks: “Sir, give me this water so that I may not be thirsty.”
It is a reply--her reply--that conjures up in us a life-changing request, most likely made for us by our own parents and godparents, when, in response to the question “what do you ask of God’s church,” the answer was Baptism. Yes, it is that request for water, the rich symbol of God’s amazing grace, the first step into a new way of life we call Christian after his name.
Water is the rich symbol that effects the life-giving conversion that we encounter at Baptism.
Unlike the Samaritan woman at the well, most of us were too young fully to understand what was taking place, the implications of the request for water at our baptisms. And yet, like the Samaritan woman, an “encounter” was taking place, a personal encounter with Jesus, which forever and permanently changed her as it has changed each of us at Baptism. And the water Jesus offers, made visible in the sacrament of Baptism, leads to eternal life.
In addition to her request for water, what else did the Samaritan woman do? Scripture tells us:
“The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?’” Moreover, scripture tells us that “many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done.’” In her witness, she became, in the words of Pope Francis, “a missionary disciple,”an evangelizer.
In a totally unexpected way, God intervened in the life of this woman. That is precisely how our God operates-- in your life and mine. The Samaritan woman must have come to that well many times before as she went about with her daily domestic chores. This time was different, however. She was touched by Him, by Jesus. Her physical thirst was transformed into a deeper thirst for God. She could have rejected the kind overtures of Jesus. But she did not. She recognized Him, as Lord and Savior, precisely as He revealed her sinfulness to her—twice saying: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done.”
In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Letter on the Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), Pope Francis challenges each of us to act more and more like Jesus when we encounter individuals and family situations in need of healing like that of the Samaritan woman. He writes that this is the "preaching and attitude of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery." (AL 38)
What about ourselves?
Are we truly open to the voice of Jesus as the Samaritan woman was? Do we let Him tell us everything we ever did? Are we open to others who suffer and struggle in their marriages and families as Jesus was? Are we open to His merciful forgiveness in sacramental confession? Do we realize that the commitments made at Baptism must be renewed each day if we are to encounter Him concretely and intentionally and let Him encounter us each and every day of our lives, especially in these penitential days of Lent?
Being a Christian, after all, can only take the form of becoming a Christian ever anew—those numerous prayerful daily encounters with the “living water” within each of us and the many opportunities where we can put on Christ in our relation with others in need.
Like that unforgettable experience of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, we too can experience the living Jesus in our day. In His very Person, Jesus, becomes our meeting place with God, our place of welcoming encounter, of accompaniment. Jesus can and desires to change us as He changed her. And He desires that each one of us becomes more like Him in our daily encounters with those who cry out to be accompanied by His life-giving and loving truth. As baptized Christians, that is our daily task and challenge: to walk with each other in our respective journeys of faith. I assure you that great things will happen to you, me and each other, especially in these challenging times. AMEN