27Mar 3rd Sunday of Lent

Theme

Christ quenches our spiritual thirst with the living water of grace: the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. This living water is like a spring inside us, welling up to eternal life. The Samaritan Woman’s desire for spiritual growth and renewal draws Jesus to say some vital words about the way to salvation. Everybody who, like her, wants to live in spirit and in truth, is pleasing to God and shares in the grace of God.

Readings

Exod 17:3-7. God provides refreshment for his people on their way through the wilderness. Even when they show their lack of trust, God is never far from them.

Rom 5:1-2, 5-8. God has reconciled us through the life of Christ and through the gift of the Spirit we are united with him in love.

Jn 4:5-42. Jesus offers living water, the gift of the Holy Spirit who creates new life. True worship of the father is taught by Jesus at the inspiration of the spirit.

Intercession (Bidding Prayers)

– that Christ may be our source of life and inspiration to us, in all the ways that we need him.

– that each of us, regardless of our personal faults and the errors made in the past, may receive from him the living water of grace and renewal.

– that our own baptismal grace that we received as children will turn into a spring of life for us, welling up to eternal life.

– that giving even a glass of cold water and doing other acts of kindness in his name, may be part of our programme for living, as followers of Jesus.

Homilies

Eternal Thirst (Patrick Rogers)

Thirsting Soul: Our need for drinking is obvious; without water we would quickly die. Not so easily recognized is the soul’s thirst. We can be fully preoccupied with the surface of things, and quite neglect the obscure thirsting of the spirit for eternal life. Like the Israelites, we worry about our physical needs, but are unmindful of God who supplies them. Today, Jesus offers us the refreshing water of eternal life, a power of faith and union-with-God which is our deepest need, and can satisfy the thirst of our soul. How the desert blossoms, when water is brought to it. (Dramatic examples of successful irrigation in Israel, Egypt, California.) The same miracle of growth can take place in my withered and parched soul, if God lets his Spirit flow over me. All the ravages of doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.

Sacramental Washing: Already in baptism, the sacramental washing with water by the Christian Church was a first contact with the grace of Christ. I was given a good start, planted well in the garden of God, with room to put down roots, and draw vital nourishment from the living spring of the Saviour. Yet, I need continuing help, to keep my spirit alive and pleasing to God as life goes on. Like the desert-wandering Jews, I suffer from thirst; I grow weary in confronting problems and temptations (sketch examples – ) Jesus guarantees me the “living water” I need. His own Spirit is always at hand, as a force of encouragement and fidelity.

“To dwell in the house of the Lord”: One great thirst, one deep desire remains. Not confined to Christians, but shared by the mystic tradition in other religions: namely, the yearning to come into the presence of God, and be welcomed faithful to Christ. All of us are called by him to drink of that “fountain of water, springing up to everlasting life.” In times of religious scepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often cast in doubt as wishful thinking. But we should cling to this hope, on the word of Jesus. For Paul and the early Christians, the hope of eternal life breathed joy into all other actions and efforts – and sacrifices. Fidelity until death seemed well worthwhile, “for the weight of glory that will be revealed in us.” My own part to play is repentance from sin, and continually renewed effort to live by the gospel. God can be absolutely relied on to fulfil his promise, and will in time satisfy the deep thirst of my spirit.

Going To The Well (Liam Swords)

Few of the many visitors to Rome who stand and admire its many splendid fountains realise that they are not only artistic gems but that the water gushing from all those sculptured heads is perfect drinking water. I have seen tourists throw their coins into the Trevi fountain and make a wish on a sweltering summer’s day, when their most immediate wish could be realised by simply scooping up the water to slake their thirst. These fountains are the result of various public works undertaken by popes to provide the citizens of Rome with an abundance of good safe drinking water. It was a major engineering feat, tapping wells miles away in the hills outside Rome and piping it into the heart of the city. And doubtlessly, it saved numerous lives. They lived then, as many still do today in the Third World, under the constant threat of deadly plagues such as typhoid resulting from contaminated drinking water.

It is hard to believe now that for most of history the mass of humanity could be aptly described as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” The well was the great centre of community life. Everybody met there daily. Local politics revolved round the “parish pump.” Even after the introduction of running water into most homes, the local well continued for years to be the only source of drinking water. We simply called it “spring water.” I remember well as a child, that my first chore when I came home from school, was to go to the well for a bucket of water. And in that pre-pocket-money era, I earned a few pennies by doing the same for an elderly spinster who lived in our street.

It is not surprising that the ancients included water, with air, fire and earth as the four elements of life. A person can survive a relatively long time without food, but will die fairly quickly without water. The term the French use for a well is la source. Particularly, in that parched and semi-desert land where Christ first preached the gospel, the well was the source of life. To poison a well was a crime against humanity. Even in pre-Christian Ireland wells were sacred places and when the Irish became Christians they kept their holy wells, attaching the names of their saints, like Patrick and Bridget, to them. They remained places of pilgrimage up to recent times. Their demise came, like those of their secular sisters, with the introduction of running water. Since then, the very notion of “well” has largely lost its fascination for us. And we are the poorer for it.

In today’s gospel, Christ offers the Samaritan woman living water. For us, as for her, he is the source of life, the only well where we can quench our thirst for happiness. “Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give,” Christ said, “will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.”

Water from the Rock (John Walsh)

For us who live in such a rainy climate, it is difficult to grasp the vital necessity and deep significance of water for the people of biblical countries. Even today neighbouring countries in the middle east threaten to go to war over the sharing out of water from rivers that flow through their territories. It has been said that a person in ancient times who dug a well received as much honour and gratitude from a Jewish community as would the donor of a hospital, for example, in ours. When it did rain in Israel, there was a feeling of gratitude to the Almighty, and awe at the strength and power of the water, as it gushed through the wadis and dried-up river beds. Water was seen as the life-giving principle not only for man and beast but for the parched land and crops.

It was God who blessed the people by sending them this rain, and when the heavens remained shut up, they believed that it was because the people’s faith in God was found wanting. This lack of faith we see in the first reading, where the Israelites in the desert were tormented by thirst, and how they began to grumble and complain against Moses. Moreover they even accused God, as we so often do when confronted with difficulties. “Is the Lord with us or not?,” they said – does God care about us? They were thinking on a purely natural and material level. Yet, God did not forget them, as we see, when water in abundance flowed out from the rock after Moses struck it. It is interesting that, in the Psalms, God is often referred to as “my rock, my fortress, my deliverer,” and that St Paul echoes a tradition of the Rabbis, which claimed that the rock followed the Israelites while they journeyed through the desert. But Paul is not thinking in purely material terms either – “They all drank from the spiritual rock that followed them,” he states, “and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). And in today’s second reading Paul also speaks about the love of God being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which has been given us.

In the gospel we see the faith of the half-pagan Samaritans being contrasted with the faith of the Jews which, quite often, was a superficial thing – a faith which was miracle-hungry, seeking after signs and wonders, a faith which was blinded by nationalism, and saw God as a kind of national asset for Jews alone, one who was bound to bring about Jewish aspirations, if they but offered up the required sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem and observed certain laws of external conduct. The Jews, for example, were not supposed to drink the same water, nor even drink from the same vessel as a Samaritan. This explains why the Samaritan woman was surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink.

Then there followed a gradual self-revelation by Jesus to her. She had responded by recognising him as no ordinary Jew, but one who was greater than Jacob, who dug the well, one who was a prophet, the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. He went on to tell her that the hour was coming when people would worship God, not in Samaria, not in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in truth. This was a clear reference to the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, a covenant in which God reveals himself internally to each person, so that one does not have to be instructed by others about the things of God, but rather listen to the Holy Spirit of God speaking within oneself.

For the Christian this internal revelation of Christ becomes the inner source of trust in, and prayer to, the Father. Remember always that there must never be a contradiction between our lives and our worship. We must continually remind ourselves during this period of Lent, that if we continue to sin in our daily lives, then our worship of God can become as empty and meaningless as that of the Jews in early times, who combined it often with worship also of pagan gods. But if we open ourselves in, faith to the Spirit of Christ, then the gift of God will become a spring inside us welling up to eternal life, as Jesus promised.

This message, I think, is brought home to us in those two places of tremendous faith, Lourdes and Fatima, for in each of them there was found a miraculous spring of water, a sign of the deep faith and devotion which would come to so many modern counterparts of those Samaritans at their well. Together with Knock they are places where some persons find bodily healing, but many, many more, discover afresh the wonder of God’s love for them and inwardly are never thirsty again.

Respecting her Dignity (Jack McArdle)

Today’s gospel contains many powerful insights into the mind of Jesus. It is almost impossible for us to imagine how radical this encounter with the woman really was. It went completely against everything that a religious Jew would have held sacred. His conversation with her and with his disciples showed clearly how Jesus thought about certain issues. The final part of the gospel, where he heals the official’s son, would appear to be totally unconnected, except for the final line, where he says. “Must I do miraculous signs and wonders before you people believe in me?’

In today’s world it is quite common for parents to be worried about the next generation. Change is coming so fast, and all our traditional values are being challenged. The children are not going to church, they are living with a partner, or they have children while not being married. All of this seems to fly in the face of everything the parents were brought up to believe in. While I understand their confusion and their concern, I often speak to them about the situation in which one mother found herself. Her name was Mary, and her son was Jesus. Mary was reared in the best and purest Jewish traditions. Her background and upbringing would have been very religious and traditional. Just imagine, on a human level, the problems she might have had with her son. He appeared to deliberately kick against every single religious tradition that was sacred to her. He completely ignored the law on many issues. He touched the untouchables, he spoke to prostitutes and to Samaritans, and he hung around with the riff-raff of society. This wasn’t rebellion for the sake of rebellion. It is worth reflecting on exactly why this was so, and what it tells us about Jesus.

The most obvious point in today’s gospel is the respect and the personal dignity that Jesus afforded a woman who would have been scorned by society. He spoke to her as a human being and, while he challenged her, he did so with respect. It is generally accepted that she came to the well at midday because everybody else stayed indoors during the hottest part of the day. She had to avoid the scorn and disdain of her neighbours. Jesus knew that there was an emptiness within her that she had tried to fill in so many ways. He spoke to her of the life that he offered, of the Spirit that rises up like a fountain from within the heart of his followers. He offered her something that she really needed, and, by the end of the story, it seems that his words had got through to her.

Her attitude was typical of most people who are involved in any kind of compulsive or addictive behaviour. She was in total denial, and her arguments were coming from her head. Jesus, however, gently confronted her with the truth. It was for people like her that he had come, and when his disciples urged him to have something to eat, he spoke of his real hunger. His desire to seek out and to find the lost sheep was his driving force, because that is why the Father sent him.

There is an interesting and important point at the end of his encounter with the woman. She ran off to get her friends. They came to meet Jesus, and to listen to him. In what might be considered as rather “catty,” they then told the woman that they believed, not because she had told them, but because they had met him and listened to him themselves. I could apply that concept right here now. I would pray that you might believe, not because I am telling you, but because you have met Jesus, you have listened to him, and you have come to know him yourselves.

The word incarnation might put us off, but the reality of it is very simple. God could have loved us from a distance, but he decided not to. He decided to come to where we’re at, and to meet us as we are. “I did not come to condemn the world Neither do I condemn you,” says Jesus. In today’s gospel we have a good example of Jesus meeting someone and accepting someone exactly as she was. He was totally aware of how she was, and of the situations within her life. He sat down and chatted with her, listened to her, and gently challenged her. He wanted to free her from bondage, and to restore her dignity and self-respect.

Many of us have friends and associates who may not be as we would wish them to be. I know, on a human level, it can be difficult, but the Christian law of love must extend to all, without exception. Supposing you have a son or daughter not going to church, or involved in an irregular relationship. If you were to die right now, there is only one question you would have to answer about that person. “Did you still love that person, as a parent is expected to love a child, or was your love lessened because your child did not live up to your standards for her?’

Jesus speaks of the harvest that is ready and waiting to be reaped. In other parts of the gospel he speaks of gathering the crop into his barns. This is his driving urge. He does not want any one of us to be lost. There is an Irish poem called “Ag Criost an soil,” and, in summary, it says that the seed is from God, the crop is for God, and may we all end up in his barns; the fish are God’s, the sea is God’s, and may we all end up in his nets. The only thing that could frustrate his plans and hopes for me is that I should choose to do my own thing, to go my own way.

Put yourself for a moment in the place of the woman at the well. Jesus looks at you, and he knows you through and through. How comfortable would you feel in his presence? Would you be able to fully open out the canvas of your life to his gaze, without fear of condemnation? If you get a few spare moments today, maybe you might try that. It is important to be fully open to him, and it is also important to accept his total acceptance.

I suppose it’s fair to say that there are traces of bigotry, racism, biases, and self-righteousness within all of us. On a human level, it would be impossible to be any other way. It is only through the presence and the work of the Spirit within us that we can hope to be freed enough to begin to love others as Jesus loves us. I have just mentioned the importance of accepting his acceptance of us. The ideal, then, would be to begin extending that same acceptance to others.

What can I do personally about the vast harvest that Jesus speaks of? As a Christian, I must be concerned, it is my business, and I just cannot leave it to others. I begin, of course, with myself. Like the friends of the woman, I too come to meet him, to listen to him, and to believe him myself. Christianity is more about attracting than promoting. Your most effective sermon is your life. The greatest witness a recovering alcoholic can give is to walk sober down the main street of his home town. You write a new page of the gospels each day, by the things that you do, and the words that you say. People will read what you write, whether faithful or true. What is the gospel according to you?

My mind goes back to many years ago when I was doing a CPE programme in a girls” prison near Philadelphia. I am thinking of a girl whom we will now call Tina. Tina was leaning against a wall, with the usual chewing gum, and quite a flow of aggressive, abusive, and not very nice language at the other girls in the vicinity. They were tough inner-city kids, and Tina was typical. I asked her how she came to end up in prison, and her answer was instant and totally nonchalant, “I threw my baby out a third storey window.” When I asked her why she did that, she simply replied, “Because he wouldn’t stop dying.” She showed no remorse whatever and, if I didn’t know better, I might have accepted her as totally amoral, without a shred of human feeling. The following day Tina came swaggering down the corridor, chewing gum in the mouth, and the usual flow of language, as she passed some of the other girls. She walked into my office, and used a flick of her heel to slam the door shut behind her. Suddenly, there was a dramatic change. The other girls couldn’t see her now. She was in a safe place. The bubble gum came out of the mouth, was thrown into the basket, and she sank into an armchair and began to sob her heart out. She was lonely, afraid, guilty, and very confused. She had been out of her mind on drugs when she snapped, and threw the baby out the window. Here she was now, a frightened, worried, and guilty and remorseful person. This was the real Tina, the person she dared not let the other girls see. They had their own pecking order and, for survival, it was necessary to keep up the tough exterior. I often think of Tina when I think of Jesus meeting the woman in today’s gospel, for example. Repentance is a word that can loosely be translated as “Will the real you please stand up?” Jesus sees the inner child in all of us, and he asks us to let that inner child come to him, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who have the heart of a child, and who acknowledge God as a loving Father.

First Reading: Book of Exodus 17:3-7

But the people thirsted there 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 at 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 quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

Therefore, 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.

Gospel: John 4:5-42

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, an 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 sons 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 worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jeusalem.”

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 worshipers 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 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.”

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 canno 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 labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him 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.”