The 3rd Sunday of Lent [A]

The Third Sunday of Lent [A]
Ex 17:3-7  +  Rom 5:1-2,5-8  +  Jn 4:5-42
March 19, 2017

“‘Is the Lord in our midst or not?’”

Earlier this month in the state of Vermont, Middlebury College had invited a scholar to speak on campus.  But a group of students who didn’t agree with the speaker not only shouted him down once he began talking.  He was run off the college’s campus, and a professor escorting Mr. Murray from campus had to seek treatment at a local hospital after being assaulted by protesters who also attacked the car they were in.[1]

An editorial commenting on this incident stated that these students, like students on many American campuses, live in a “bubble” of “ideological conformity”.  “Anyone challenging the assumptions underlying [their] perspective risks provoking the kinds of confrontations seen at Middlebury, Berkeley, and elsewhere.”[2]

Unfortunately, it’s not only on college campuses that people live in bubbles, unwilling to listen to others.  Many in our society follow what you might call “sandbox rules”, where someone who doesn’t get what he wants picks up his shovel and pail and storms off, hopefully without hitting someone over the head with his pail on his way out.  Our society today needs the ability to have a serious discussion.

We hear a serious discussion in today’s Gospel passage.  Jesus meets a Samaritan woman, and a dialogue arises between these two persons:  on the one hand is God the Son, and on the other hand is a sinful Samaritan woman.  She is an outcast who represents every human sinner.  During the season of Lent, God calls each of us to meditate upon the mercy which God the Father undeservedly gives us through the gift of His Son.  The three things that we know about this woman likewise suggest that she was herself undeserving:  that is, that Jesus, in His time and place, should have had nothing to do with her.

The Samaritan woman was, first of all, a grave sinner:  strike one.  Secondly, she was a woman:  strike two, because in Jesus’ day, no upstanding Jewish rabbi would ever speak in public with a woman.  Thirdly, she was a Samaritan:  strike three, because the Samaritans were a mixed race, only partially Jewish, and had no respect for the Jewish prophets or the Temple in Jerusalem.  To the people of Jesus’ time and place, He must have been out of His mind to speak with such a person.  But maybe the problem is with the minds of those people of Jesus’ time and place, who cannot conceive the true nature of mercy.

Through the dialogue between Jesus Christ and this outcast, St. John helps us see what Paul teaches in today’s Second Reading:  that “while we were still sinners Christ died for us, [who are] the ungodly”.  In Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, then, we can hear what Jesus is saying to each of us who is a sinner and outcast.

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            At the very beginning of the conversation between Jesus and the outcast, Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  Think about this:  Jesus Christ, who is God, asks the outcast for what He does not have.  Immediately, this sounds strange, that an all-powerful God would ask a sinful woman for a drink.  Why would He do this?

Surely if Jesus had wanted He could have worked a miracle greater than the one God had worked through Moses in the desert, bringing water from the rock at Massah and Meribah.  So given His divine omnipotence, what does Jesus need with this sinful Samaritan woman?  What does Jesus need with us?  He needs nothing.  But He asks the outcast for something that He does not have, in order to give her something greater.  Although Jesus needs nothing, He wants a great deal:  that is to say, He wants every human soul to be His.

Here John’s double meaning begins to emerge.  Jesus asks the outcast for what he does not have.  He does not have the outcast’s soul.  The Samaritan woman has chosen, over the years, to keep her soul to herself, to use herself and others for her own desires.  But God wants her soul.  Of course God could always have anything He wants, just as He could have produced a river in the desert to quench His thirst.  But God chooses, at the moment a human life begins, to give that person freedom:  the freedom to love Him completely, which in turn means the freedom to leave Him completely.

Each of us sinners chooses to use his freedom for his own sake, to serve his own needs and desires.  But the more a person serves himself, the darker, the deader, and the harder his heart becomes.  God, of course, is always free to take away our sins without our confessing them, but if He were to do that, He would also take away our freedom.  God uses His divine freedom to withhold forgiveness, so that we may use our human freedom to ask His forgiveness.

Jesus, throughout His dialogue with the outcast, works at drawing forth a confession from the depths of her sinful heart, just as He asks her to draw water from the depths of the well.  When the outcast finally recognizes her need for something greater than this world’s pleasures, she turns to God.  From Him she seeks the joy which only He can pour down from heaven, the grace that floods the soul for the first time in the waters of Baptism.

Each of us casts himself away from God’s presence by his sins.  During this season of Lent those in the RCIA who are the Elect of the Church are preparing themselves to be baptized at Easter by turning away from the sins of their past, asking God to pour out His Divine Mercy into their souls.  Those of us who have already been washed in the waters of Baptism also admit our sins during Lent, availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Confession.

But we might ask ourselves, “Why do we confess our sins?”  After all, God already has knowledge of our sins.  Then again, why would Jesus in today’s Gospel passage need to ask for something He already has access to?  We see that Jesus, in asking something of the Samaritan woman, is in fact offering her something.  In her conversation with Jesus, she comes to recognize her own sinfulness, and from her heart flow tears of sorrow for her sins.  From the hardened heart of an outcast flows her human love for God, and God in return offers a share in divine, eternal love.  Tears of sorrow prepare souls to receive the flood-waters of God’s Divine Mercy.

God is working to call each of us into a serious conversation with Him.  Jesus wants to speak to each of us, heart to heart.  Each of us has the opportunity to approach Him and offer Him our sinful selves, knowing that there is no heart so hardened by sin that God does not want to draw human love from it, and fill it with His own divine love.

[1] “The Mob at Middlebury”, The Wall Street Journal, updated March 5, 2017.

[2] “The Liberal-Arts ‘Bubble’ Didn’t Always Cause Such Trouble”, The Wall Street Journal, March 11-12, 2017, Page A15.