Sunday Homilies by Fr. Rudolf V. D’ Souza

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3rd Sunday in of Lent
March 15, 2009 Year: B
Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
Where do you get that living water?

First Reading...
"In the wilderness the people thirsted for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?' So Moses cried out to the Lord, 'What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.'

The Lord said to Moses, 'Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock of Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.' Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.

He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, 'Is the Lord among us or not?'" [Exo. 17:3-7]

Second Reading...
"Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us." [Rom. 5:1-2, 5-8]

Gospel Reading...
"Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.' (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, 'How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?' (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.'

The woman said to him, 'Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us the well, and with his children and his flocks, drank from it?' Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.' The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.'

Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband, and come back,' The woman answered him, 'I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, 'You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!"

The woman said to him, 'Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.'

Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.'

The woman said to him, 'I know that the Messiah is coming' (who is called the Christ). 'When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.' Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you.'

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, 'What do you want?' or, 'Why are you speaking with her?' Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 'Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?' They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, 'Rabbi, eat something.' But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you do not know about.' So the disciples said to one another, 'Surely no one has brought him something to eat?'

Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest?' But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.'

Many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me everything I have ever done.' So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.' [Jn. 4:5-42]

There was a holy man who was known to predict things. So a young man approached him and said, “you holy man, tell me where is my father now?”, the holy man after a brief moment of silence said, “you father has gone fishing”. The young man laughed and said, “I never believed you, now it is really a fact that you are a liar. You predict things for people and fool them, actually my father is dead since three years.” The holy man replied, “yes my son, it is true that your father is fishing right now, he is your real father, and the one dead is not your father. Ask your mother and she will tell you that your real father is alive”. The boy was stunned by the reply.

Another story:
A man wished to purchase an Ass (a Donkey), and decided to give the animal a test before buying him. He took the Ass home and put him in the field with his other Asses.

The new Ass strayed from the others to join the one that was the laziest and the biggest eater of them all.

Seeing this, the man led him back to his owner. When the owner asked how he could have tested the Ass in such a short time, the man answered, "I didn't even need to see how he worked. I knew he would be just like the one he chose to be his friend."

Spiritual Rebirth: The Samaritan Woman at the Well

The Samaritan woman at the well is no angel. Mixed up with a wrong crowd, this poor woman from Samaria has quite a reputation. She had been married five times and was living in sin with a man who wasn’t her husband.

Through her story comes the lesson that people shouldn’t live by carnal pleasure. The story also shows that a well of grace is ready to refresh the soul parched by sin and suffering and that Jesus comes to save the sick and to serve those who still need both physical and spiritual healing — not only the converted.

Her story is also relevant because it becomes an antecedent of Christian practices — that one may seek God’s forgiveness for wrongdoing.

Seeking forgiveness is the basis for the sacrament of Reconciliation (confession). Every faith has a teaching and belief that God forgives sin and that repentance is always possible. The Jewish feast of Yom Kippur and Islam’s Ramadan are also examples of seeking forgiveness and showing atonement for sin.

The woman at the well had her sins “washed away” by Jesus. The story shows that Jesus offers divine mercy in the living water of grace, which washes away sins and cleanses souls. The woman went to the well to get a jug of water. Instead, she got much more, including a cleansed and refreshed spiritual life.

Going to the well
Because of her lowly status, the Samaritan woman goes to the well during the hottest point of the day to avoid the wagging tongues of her fellow townspeople. Most other people were taking siestas at this time; nobody in his or her right mind is out in the noonday sun. The woman of Samaria knows this and seizes the opportunity to get water for her home without being bothered.

Jews didn’t normally travel on a Samaritan road, but Jesus chose to walk this way anyway. He comes upon the well, where he meets the Samaritan woman and asks her for a drink of water. The woman, who understands her low social status in the eyes of a Jew, is astonished that this pious Jew requests water from her.

Experiencing renewed spirit
Jesus uses the
water as a metaphor to teach this woman. He speaks about the living water, which gives eternal life, divine grace, or God’s life within the soul. The woman craves this type of water, because she wants to have eternal life. But first Jesus has a lengthy but candid dialogue with her. He makes her understand that she needs to confess her sins and change her life before she can obtain this life-giving water — grace. Jesus shows her that he already knows she is living with a man who is not her husband.

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”

• John 4:16–18
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

• John 4:25–26
The Samaritan woman’s spirit is enlightened, accelerated, and illuminated by Jesus. She now realizes what it means to take freely of the water of life, which is the spiritual refreshment that comes into her soul after her encounter and confession with Jesus. Not only was she impressed that Jesus knew all her sins, but she was also given the opportunity to have those sins forgiven. She believes he is truly the Messiah, the Anointed One. She repents of her past misdeeds and goes back to tell her family, friends, and neighbors how she met Jesus and how he revealed his knowledge of her sins and his offer of live-giving water, which brings eternal life. She went on to lead many conversions in this area through her zeal and love for God (John 4:39–42).

The Samaritan woman doesn’t appear again in scripture, but for centuries afterward, numerous spiritual writers, theologians, and scholars retold and pondered her encounter with Jesus. Augustine (AD 354–430), for instance, uses the example of the woman at the well to describe the spiritual thirst the human heart has for goodness and truth and that thirst is never quenched until people are in the presence of God forever (after they die and leave this earth).

The truth is that if an insider wants to find Jesus, we will find him with the outsiders, the uniformed, and the unfaithful people of the world. We will find him drinking with a woman who has had five husbands and lives with a possible sixth. We will find him down the street at the block party in the low-income housing development. We will find him at the bedside of a person dying of AIDS. We will find him in the soup kitchen, the clothing closet, and the homeless shelter. We will find him comforting a homosexual who has just broken up with his partner of twelve years. We find him in the dark allies, the dark bars, and dark places that we don’t want to go. We will find him at a bar at 3:30 a.m., throwing a birthday party of a prostitute.

Recent expositions have argued strongly that John wants us to see the woman only in a good light, sometimes I suspect because that is more comfortable than to dissent from John’s picture. It is hard to read the reference to husbands (who may all have died) and to her unmarried partner without at least catching some whiff of cultural disapproval, which some have suggested explains why she came to fetch water not in the cool of the day when most would come. I suspect she had three things counting against her: being a Samaritan, a woman and a ‘sinner’.

Any one of those counts would be enough for some to shun her. Jesus does not. That may have been the force of the original account that lies behind the dramatic presentation we now find. It would have been its own three-point sermon against racial, gender and moral discrimination. But as we have seen, John wants to give us more. While affirming and preserving the message of inclusion implied in Jesus’ actions, John also wants us to celebrate Jesus as the giver of the water of life, the new holy space, which transcends all prior religious claims and aspirations, including legitimate ones. Does John show the woman making that transition?

To some extent that is left to our imagination, but she certainly goes further than Nicodemus. She hesitatingly contemplates: perhaps this is the Messiah (4:29). The grounds she offers do not exhibit much depth of understanding: he told me everything I ever did (4:29). But she is heading in the right direction. Her achievement is to bring others to hear Jesus. It is a positive response on her part with a positive outcome. The people come and acclaim Jesus the saviour of the world (4:42). It may remind us of one of those sermons which we felt was not quite on target, but then we heard later that it led to positive change in someone. God uses even our less than adequate responses. The people make it for themselves and are not dependent solely on the woman’s testimony (4:42). Her act empowered them.

4:31-38 provides an interlude that shows the disciples also beginning at the level where Nicodemus and the woman began, in focusing only on the literal (4:33). 4:27 had highlighted the latent sexism of the disciples (4:27). They are not doing well, but then Jesus goes on to shift the focus from the literal, ‘food’, to food as a metaphor for our task and mission and to involve them in the task. In the process Jesus makes a point about solidarity between workers in mission. Some sow; others reap. It is as though a commentary is being provided on the woman and the people of her village. Each action counts, including hers. We don’t have to do everything or be everything. We do not need to control everything. We are not called to be the saviour of the world. We will not always be adequate. It is a good theme for reflection when contemplating clergy burnout. Even Jesus could not do everything - and could not be everywhere: when he was in Capernaum, he was not in Bethsaida, even though people in Bethsaida needed him too, but that was OK. We all live with limitations and it is OK to be human.

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