Sunday, February 24, 2008

Samaria, A Different Kind of Love Story

(3rd Sunday of Lent-Year A; This homily was given on 23 & 24 February, 2008 at St. Mary's Church, Cranston, R.I.; See John 4:5-42)

The Bible is a book literally filled with stories: stories of tragedy, stories of triumph; sad stories, and stories that are often filled with hope. This weekend’s Gospel, however, contains a love story…but it is a different kind of love story.

Our story begins with the person of Jesus Christ (always a good place to begin a story) who comes to a well in the land of Samaria. St. John goes on to tell us that a Samaritan woman came to that same well to draw water, and that it was about noon. Noon. The middle of the day. In Samaria, at noontime, it was extremely hot. Why would someone come at noon to draw water?

Scholars tell us that women of this region would come in the morning to draw water. It was cooler, and they would gather there and converse about social and political life. It was a place of community; but the Samaritan woman is someone who would not have been welcomed in that community.

As Jesus pointed out, she had had five husbands, and the man she was now living with was not her husband. She would not have been very welcomed anywhere. For all of the relationships she has been a part of, she is a woman who is very much alone.

And so she comes to the well at noontime—alone—because she has much to hide, and many things she wishes to keep to herself. Noontime, for her, is a safe time. But noontime, when the sun is directly overhead, is also the only time of day when there are no shadows! Everything is laid bare before the sun (Son). There is no place to hide. And it is there, in that place and at that time, that she meets a man who will change her life forever. Again, it’s a love story, but a different kind of love story.

Right there by that well Christ begins a dialogue and a conversation of love with that Samaritan woman. We know that he spoke to her with love because in the course of that conversation he lays bare her deepest secret, the one thing that she would want to hide, especially from this Stranger…and even after that, she stayed!

What kind of acceptance must she have felt in the presence of this Divine Stranger? What compassion she must she have heard in His voice, to not leave immediately when He told her everything that she had done in her life. Never had she been accepted like that. Never had she been treated with such compassion and kindness. And before long, Christ begins to draw her even more deeply into that conversation. He offers her living water and a whole new experience of life.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,” Jesus tells her. “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.”

By the time their conversation is over her entire perspective has been changed; she has been renewed there, by the side of the well, and cannot wait to go back to the town where she lives—accepted or not—to announce with overwhelming joy: “Come, see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”

It is a powerful and beautiful story. Again, a different kind of love story…but it is also our story! St. Augustine says that the woman of Samaria represents all of us. She is a type or image of the Church. Christ is the one engaging us in dialogue and seeking to draw us into that conversation of love.

In the Christian tradition we have a specific name for that conversation between us and God; we have a special designation for that dialogue of love: Prayer. Christ thirsts for that conversation with each one of us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, talking about this very gospel passage, says:

The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.
—CCC, #2560

Are we giving God that time that He wants from us, time to be alone and quiet before Him? We began our Lenten journey just three short weeks ago, on Ash Wednesday, and in the gospel on that day Christ talked about three things: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. On this, the third Sunday of Lent, we need to take a closer look at that first one.

Are we placing ourselves before Christ in that conversation of love where He can renew and revive our spiritual lives? Are we surrendering ourselves each day to Him in that place where He can expose and lay bare those things in our lives that we need to change?

Christ does not want to shame us, or reject us when those things are revealed more clearly before Him. Quite the contrary, He wants to receive us, forgive us and draw us ever more deeply into that conversation of love with Himself. He wants to give us living water welling up for eternal life!

This weekend we come to discover, more and more completely, that Jesus Christ is thirsty! With that said, there is only one question that each of us needs to answer here in the middle of our Lenten journey: If God is that thirsty, are we?