As we examine the Gospel for this weekend’s Mass, we do well to understand that it is fundamentally a gospel about our desires and how the Lord reaches us through them. Prior to looking at the text, consider a few things:
- What it is that really makes you happy? There are endless ways this question could be answered. We desire so many things: food, water, shelter, clothing, and creature comforts. We long for affection, peace, and a sense of belonging. Sometimes we hope for stability and simplicity; at other times we yearn for change and variety. Our hearts are a sea of desires, wishes, and longings. The gospel today says that a woman went to the well to draw water. She is each one of us, and her desire for water is a symbol of all our desires.
- Have you ever considered that your desires are in fact infinite? Can you even think of a time when you were ever entirely satisfied, a time when you needed absolutely nothing? Even if you can imagine such a time, it didn’t last did it? In fact, our desires are infinite, without limit.
- The well in today’s gospel symbolizes this world. Jesus says to the woman and to us, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again.” The world cannot really provide what we are looking for. No matter how much this world offers us, it will never ultimately satisfy us, for the world is finite and our desires are infinite. In this way, our heart teaches us something very important about ourselves: we were not made for this world, we were made for something, for someone, who is infinite, who alone can satisfy us. We were made for God.
- The Water offered is the Holy Spirit. Jesus says elsewhere, If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive… (Jn. 7:37-39).
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say about the meanings of our longings: The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for…With his longings for the infinite and for happiness, man questions himself about God’s existence. In all this, he discerns signs of his spiritual soul. The soul, the seed of eternity we bear in ourselves, irreducible to the merely material, can have its origin only in God (Catechism # 27, 33).
- Scripture too speaks to us our desires. Of You my heart has spoken: “Seek His face.” It is your face O Lord that I seek; hide not your face! (Psalm 27:8-9). Or again, Only in God will my soul be at rest, he is my hope, my salvation (Psalm 62:1,5) St. Augustine wrote classic words to describe our hearts’ truest longings: Thou hast made us for Thyself O Lord and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee. (Confessions 1,1).
With this in mind, let us look at the journey that this woman (this means you) makes to Jesus. Things start out rough, but in the end she discovers her heart’s truest desire. The journey is made in stages.
I. Rendezvous – Notice that the initiative here is Jesus’ As the Lord teaches elsewhere, It was not you who chose me, it was I who chose you (John 15:16). Jesus encounters a woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well. She desires water, but Jesus knows that her desire is for far more than water or anything that the world gives. Her desire has brought her face to face with Jesus, a holy and fortunate rendezvous, if you will. Jesus begins a discussion with her about her heart’s truest longing.
II. Request – The discussion begins with a request. The text says: It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” Imagine, God asking you for anything. What a stunning thing! What can she or we really give God? The answer is simply this, the gift of our very selves. God has put a threshold before our hearts that even he will not cross, unless we say “Yes.” This request of Jesus’ initiates a discussion, a dialogue of two hearts. As we shall see, the woman, like most of us, struggles with this dialogue. It is, to be sure, a delicate, even painful process for us to accept the invitation to self-giving that the Lord makes. Something in us draws back in fear. Scripture says, It is an awesome thing to fall into the hands of the living God! (Heb 10:31).
III. Rebuke – Sure enough, she draws back with fear and anger. She says, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” –For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans. In our journey to God, we do not always trust or understand Him at first. Some fear to relate to God because they think their freedom will be lost, or too many changes will be required. Others loathe the commandments, or fear they cannot keep them. Still others are angry at the unexpected twists and turns of this life and do not want to trust a God who doesn’t always play by their rules. The woman’s anger, in particular, is based on the prejudices of her day. Her anger is not really at Jesus; it is at “the Jews” to whom Samaritans are hostile. This is sometimes the case with God as well. It is not always the Lord Jesus, or God the Father, that people hate or distrust, it is Christians. For it remains true that some have been hurt by the Church, or by Christians. Others have prejudiced opinions influenced by a hostile media and world. But, praise God, Jesus is willing to stay in the conversation. And so we next see:
IV. Repetition – Jesus repeats his offer for a relationship. He says, If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. I don’t know about you, but I am mighty glad that the Lord does not merely write us off when we say “No.” Jesus stays in the conversation and even sweetens the deal by making an offer to give her fresh, living water. The Lord does the same for us. First he gave the Law, then he gave the prophets, now he gives his Son. It just keeps getting better! First he gave water; then he changed it to wine; then he changed it to his blood. And, despite our often-harsh rejection of God, he keeps the dialogue open and going.
V. Ridicule – The Woman is still hostile and now even ridicules Jesus: Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks? To the world, the teachings of God often appear to be foolishness. People often dismiss religious faith as fanciful and unrealistic. But here too the Lord is patient and continues on.
VI. Reminder – Jesus now reframes the question by reminding the woman of the obvious: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. What she is relying on can’t come through for her. The world’s water does not satisfy us; the world’s delights are transitory. They promise satisfaction, but twenty minutes later we are thirsty again. The world is the gift that keeps on taking, it takes our money, our loyalty, our freedom, our time, and gives us only transitory, and ultimately unsatisfying pleasures in return. It’s a bad deal. Everyone who drinks from this well will be thirsty again.
VII. Re-upping the offer – Jesus says, 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. Here the Lord speaks of happiness and satisfaction that he will give, that grows in us and makes us more and more alive. The “water” he offers, as we saw above, is the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit lives in us and transforms us, we become more and more content with what we have. As the life of God grows in us, we become more alive in God and joyful in what he is doing for us. This is what the Lord offers us: the gift of a new and transformed life, the gift to become fully alive in God. I am a witness of this. How about you?
VIII. Result – The woman has moved in Jesus’ direction. She has warmed to his offer and so she says: Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water. Here is the result of the Lord’s persistence. Thank God that he does not give up on us; he keeps calling, even when we say “No,” even when we sin; he just keeps calling our name!
IX. Requirement – Jesus wants to give this gift, but first he must help her make room for it. For the truth is, she has unrepented sin. A glass that is filled with sand cannot be filled with water. The sand must be emptied first and then the cup cleansed. Only then can the water flow. Thus Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” Now she does what most of us do when we are in an uncomfortable spot: she changes the subject. She attempts to engage in a discussion about what mountain to worship on. Jesus is patient with her and answers her, but ultimately draws her back to the subject, which is her heart and what her desires are really all about.
X. Reconciliation – Now here the conversation gets private; we are not permitted to listen in. It is just between her and Jesus. But whatever it was, she is elated and will later declare: “He told me everything I ever did.” And there is no sense in her tone that Jesus was merely accusatory. Rather, it would seem that Jesus helped her to understand her heart and her struggle. An old song says, I once was lost in sin but Jesus took me in and then a little light from heaven filled my soul. He bathed my heart in love and he wrote my name above and just a little talk with Jesus made me whole. Here Jesus reconciles her with God and with her own self.
XI. Rejoicing – The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They went out of the town and came to him. Do not miss that little detail: she left her water jar. The very thing she was depending on to collect the things of the world is left behind. What is your water jar? What do you use to gain access to the world and to collect its offerings? For most of us, it is money. And scripture says, For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Tim 6:10). At any rate, she is joyfully empowered to leave this enslaving water jar behind. Now, freed from its load, she is able to run to town and declare Jesus to others. Her joy must have been infectious, for soon enough they are following her out to meet the Lord!
So here is the journey of a woman who is ultimately each one of us. This is our journey out of dependence, out of a kind of enslaving attachment to the world, and unto Jesus, who alone can set us free. Here is our journey to understand that our desires are ultimately about God.
(Photo Credit above Martin Howard via Creative Commons)
The mp3 version of this homily is here: Just a Little Talk With Jesus
I have it on the best of authority that as she joyfully journeyed to town she was in fact singing this old Gospel song:
9 Replies to “Just a Little talk with Jesus – Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent”
Faith comes by hearing! I like how your congregation is so responsive and even claps at the end. I don’t know if that’s liturgically correct, but I feel like the glory of God manifested in such a wonderful homily deserves praise. You were sent by God, Monsignor! Thank you for exercising your charism of preaching so well.
“you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
It is important to properly understand what is going on here, else we, like the town’s people, jump to conclusions and think the wrong things about this woman (which is exactly what I did for many years).
What is the sin indicated here?? Is it that she is a “loose” woman, a woman of few, if any, sexual morals? That would appear to be the woman’s reputation since she is coming out to the well at an unlikely time of day (the hottest time), when she is unlikely to encounter other people. Looking at the situation from the perspective of today’s culture, that is precisely what it looks like.
Then a few months ago, I heard or read (I don’t remember which) someone point out that back then, women did not have the power to get a divorce. Only a man could initiate a divorce. So that means that five times men have divorced her – tossed her aside like trash – or they have died. Five deaths seems rather unlikely (although if there were five deaths, then she possibly would have the whispered reputation for being a “black widow”), but even if only one or two deaths, still she has been abandoned multiple times. And now she is allowing herself to be used by another man.
Viewed from that perspective, the woman could very well be 95 percent victim, completely innocent for having five husbands and blameworthy only for living with a man outside of marriage. But even that sin is heavily mitigated by her being grievously wounded by the previous ways in which she has been treated by men.
And that puts a whole ‘nother light on the encounter here. Even to the extent that she comes to the well a sinner (certainly she is notorious), she is wounded, she is injured, she is dying of thirst for real love.
There is a lot of talk these days about sexual sins and sexual sinners (from the hook-up culture to pornography, etc.), as well as the on-going destruction of marriage and family, as well as the whole dating scene (see the discussion from a few days ago). How do we view those engaged in those actions? Do we merely put them down as lustful? Do we view such people with disgust and distain or do we recognize that what they really seek is not some hedonistic pleasure, but authentic love? Do we recognize that deep down, sinners are wounded and they need compassion and healing, not criminals who need prison? Do we stop to think that maybe, like this woman at the well, there is more going on that what we can perceive on the surface and that we should not assume things?
This is a timely Gospel passage. We are all the Samaritan woman, we are all thirsty for love. We go to the well of today’s society and end up pulling up either dust in our bucket because the well is dry or we pull up poison because the well is contaminated.
No wonder the woman was so overjoyed – she tasted real water, real life-giving water, the water of true love.
Another point about the woman — with five husband in her past, she is likely older. And it is probable that she has few means of supporting herself. Not a lot of jobs for women back then. So she is desperate for something, someone, merely in order to survive. She is dependent upon whatever scraps she can get. Hence the man she’s living with.
Looking at her from the perspective of 2000 years ago, she really is a heartbreaking story. Much more a tragedy than a scandal.
“This is what the Lord offers us: the gift of a new and transformed life, the gift to become fully alive in God. I am a witness of this. How about you?”
Yes!! I can attest to the fact that the Lord is faithful. It ain’t easy and it doesn’t happen overnight, but He will transform us….if we allow Him. We need to be good scientists and do the experiment!
Your homilies are always so informative! Even when they are short ones given at the crypt Church at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The Mass for shut ins is a blessing, and especially when you are the homilist and able to get your homily in such a short time frame.
You strengthen our faith and are so positive in sharing your journey.
Thank you Msgr.
Anyone who has taught or studied Economics will instantly recognise this statement: “the world is finite and our desires are infinite.” This is because the study of Economics starts with the situation of scarcity. Scarcity is defined as a situation where our current wants exceed the capacity of our current resources to produce the things we want. And the reason for that is because our wants are infinite but our resources are finite. As a teacher of Economics I would spend time with my pupils considering why our wants are infinite.
The thing about the water in the well is that we dip the bucket down and bring up what we want – done and done.
The Holy Spirit, on the hand, is a living person and moves as he wills. The flesh doesn’t like that (no control), but He is so much better for us!
You ask your readers, Monsignor, “Can you even think of a time when you were ever entirely satisfied, a time when you needed absolutely nothing?” Actually it is possible to have, usually for a moment only, a sense that all our desires have been satisfied. Such a feeling, in such a brief moment, is called an Epiphany, and many people will have such a moment at one point or another in their lifetimes. I had one, very briefly, one warm spring afternoon during graduation week from college, lying under an oak tree on the lawn of a municipal park, having eaten a picnic lunch in the company of a dozen or so of my classmates. I felt utterly content but also deliriously happy.
What sort of moment was this? It was, as I now see it, an opening up of a moment of heaven, here on earth. I believe that such moments are given to us by God to show us what heaven will be like. It would seem, therefore, that our wants and self-proclaimed needs and desires are not quite infinite, as MikefromED says in his response here. It turns out that our desires are finite, not merely in the sense that we ourselves are finite, but also in the sense that desire itself is bound to a particular object–an object that we can scarcely grasp. It the object itself that is infinite: it is the goodness of God, to be grasped fully only when we get to heaven.
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