We will be providing one or more of the homilies given at a Sunday Mass on this page each week. To see previous homilies, check out the Homily Archive page.
Separating Judea and Galilee was a strip of land—Samaria. Samaritans and Jews despised one another. Centuries before Christ, the Samaritans had intermarried with the Assyrians and adopted many of their pagan practices. They built their own temple and rejected much of the Hebrew Scriptures. For these and many other reasons, the Jews considered them half-breeds and heretics. In fact, the most offensive term that Jews could apply to anyone was to call them a Samaritan.
Yet Jesus crossed these religious, racial, and moral barriers. The Jews were certainly alarmed when Jesus spoke favorably of the Samaritans. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? Remember when Jesus cured the ten lepers? Only one returned to thank him—a Samaritan!
Today’s Lenten liturgy would have us consider the extraordinary encounter between Our Lord and a Samaritan woman…in fact, it is the longest conversation Jesus had with anyone in the Gospels. Let’s consider a few of its details and draw out a Lenten lesson.
The first detail is the timing of the meeting. No woman would come to a well to draw water in the heat of noon. This was done in the early morning; nor would a woman go alone. This woman did. Why? The answer is revealed in her conversation with Jesus. She was divorced five times and now living with someone who was not her husband. (Even today is would be unusual unless you are from Hollywood!) Consequently, she was spurned by others. She did not want to do things where there were crowds. She would surely be ridiculed.
Ah, but now Jesus is there at well. She must have recognized him as a Jew by his physical features and attire. She ignores him. Jews and Samaritans do not speak to one another. No Jewish man would speak to a strange woman alone. As far as she is concerned Jesus is there…but he is not there. But the extraordinary happens…Jesus takes the initiative and addresses her, focusing on water. They were both in need of it. But they speak on different levels…she is concerned about H2O. Jesus speaks of “living water.”
He moves the conversation from physical to the spiritual. He speaks of divine life; grace. But she does not yet understand the message.
Bishop Sheen offers us the reason this is the case: “In the depth of her spirit there was a potency for His gift; but the waters of grace could not flow because of the hard rocks of sin, the many layers of transgression, the habits formidable as clay, and the multiple deposits of carnal thoughts.” You can also depend on Bishop Sheen to be poetic and dramatic!
Jesus “gets into her conscience.” He “gets personal” Jesus touches on her past and present living circumstances. She does what so many do when someone points out a disturbing reality—she changes the subject! She flatters Jesus. He is no longer a despised Jew, but a prophet! So let’s not talk about me, but about religion: “What is the true place to worship God? She was willing to make religion a matter of discussion but not a matter for decision.
Jesus finally settles the matter…the Messiah will come from the Jews but the worship of God is not a matter of being centered in Jerusalem or Mt.Garizim. Faith is centered in Jesus whom we worship in spirit and truth! Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah! She comes to recognize the Lord and divine grace floods her soul. She had come for well water but she found living water.
The apostles had left their nets to follow Jesus…she leaves behind her water pot and runs into town to proclaim Christ. She must have been effective since St. John tells us: “Many of the Samaritans of that town came to believe in him because of the woman’s testimony.” It was in the most unexpected place—Samaria—the land of the heretics— that the title “Savior of the World” was used to describe our Lord.
Here is the Lenten lesson: In this conversation leading to conversion the Church finds her program of outreach, her program of evangelization. Pope Francis expresses it well:
“Lastly, we cannot forget that evangelization is first and foremost about preaching the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus Christ or who have always rejected him. Christians have the duty to proclaim the Gospel without excluding anyone. Instead of seeming to impose new obligations, they should appear as people who wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet. It is not by proselytizing that the Church grows, but ‘by attraction.’”
Another lesson this: That we who strive to live the faith must continually renew ourselves by getting into our consciences, removing any obstacle that prevents God’s living water of grace to flow within us. Lent is indeed about getting personal, allowing God to meddle in our life. How often we’d rather change the subject…but we must have the courage to seek the path of change. Religion cannot be just a matter of discussion but of decision. When we look at the crucifix as we should in Lent, we should be able to say, “We have heard ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world,”…who thirsts for me, who desires to give me living water, the life of grace!