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Homilies, 2004–2005, Cycle-A

2005—Third Sunday of Lent—A

In the middle of this desert called Lent, our Church provides us with the stories of our ancestors in faith the account of the Israelites in the Sinai and the story of "the woman at the well." In our readings we hear the invitation to consider our thirst for the living God in our lives. Do we find ourselves thirsting for the life-giving waters that only God can provide? Are our spiritual lives in need of the sort of refreshment and renewal that Jesus offers "the woman at the well" or for the sort of salvation that God provides the Israelites in the desert?

If so, we need not lament, for God's holy word promises us that God faithfully waits for us beside the bottomless well filled with God's love and life-giving Spirit. While this is good news, our Lenten journey (indeed the journeys of our spiritual lives) must continue to return in faith to God's offer of his life-giving love in our lives.

The examples of the Israelites and "the woman at the well" direct us to this important insight of our constant need for conversion: at those moments when we recognize our thirst for God and allow ourselves to receive God's Holy Spirit, it is then that we are open to receive an encounter with the transformative presence of God who lifts us up, satisfies our every spiritual thirst, and fills us with hope.

Beginning with Ash Wednesday, we hear the voice of God calling to us in the scriptures, "Rend your hearts", that is, break them open, and return your hearts to God; draw closer to the God who offers us the life-giving waters that nourish an eternal relationship with God. In today's gospel, we find a powerful example of someone who dared to open herself up to an encounter with God and came to believe in Jesus the Christ.

We stand to learn from her example of turning toward Jesus, growing in faith, and witnessing to this faith for the benefit of others. The story of "the woman at the well" is a striking one, for sadly it is one of those rare passages in the New Testament where a woman figures prominently, is presented positively, and overcomes actual historical and textual attempts to suppress her.

In this passage we find a salvific and inclusive word of God for all people. This story stands as an important account of a woman of faith who becomes an important disciple of Jesus. As the story of "the woman at the well" unfolds, we find that this woman is an active participant in the establishment of the inclusive reign of God proclaimed and revealed by Jesus. She came to discover that the Samaritans were equal to the Jews in the salvation offered by Jesus, and she offered an important witness to the call of women to be equals in discipleship with men.

We see that "the woman at the well" is the one who evangelizes her fellow Samaritans after her life-changing encounter with Jesus. The fact that she serves as such a powerful witness to faith in Jesus is evidence of someone who possesses a persistent thirst for a relationship with her God. This woman disciple obviously comes to understand two things after her encounter with Jesus and as she shares her faith with others:

  1. That the offer of God's love and compassion is limitless. Both she and others are invited to live lives of fullness and dignity as they worship God in Spirit and Truth.
  2. No one is excluded from the saving work of Christ - not women, not Samaritans, not anyone - all are provided the living water of salvation if they choose to walk with Christ.
Like "the woman at the well", we, too, are invited to turn ourselves toward Jesus by being open to God in our lives and becoming faithful disciples of Christ. Lent is a time when we are called to learn once again and come to believe with the Israelites who complained against God in the Sinai that God provides salvation for his people, even in the most troubling times. Similarly, just as the woman came to see that Jesus is the life-giving water promised by God, we too must open our hearts more and more to receive Jesus who desires to fill us with his life-giving Spirit. The life-giving waters of which we speak are the ones Jesus gives to us through his church, especially through the saving waters of baptism.

Today, we celebrate the first of the three scrutiny rites with our catechumens. To our Catechumens who are preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil, we encourage you to continue to keep before you in prayer your thirst for the waters of baptism. Continue to be nourished by God's saving word. As you await your baptisms at Easter, dig deeply into your hearts and discover your longing for the life-giving waters that Jesus offers, as you prepare to become full members of the Body of Christ. We pray that you may be like "the woman at the well" who received Christ's offer of the living water and went forth bringing others to him.

For the rest of us who share in a common baptism: We are reminded that only God can quench the thirsts of our hearts. Have we taken the time this Lent to recognize that our hearts are truly restless (to quote St. Augustine) until they rest in God? Perhaps we could prayerfully reflect this week on those areas in our lives within which we find ourselves dry or parched and in desperate need of God's saving presence?

It is important that each of us consider our own particular thirsts for God this Lent, so we can be refreshed by Jesus and renewed in faith, hope and love. May the God of hope, through faith in Jesus, continue to pour forth God's love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, and direct us to encounter Christ in our daily lives.

 


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