3rd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula
Can any of us doubt that we live in an anxious age? The differences between the goodness of our best intentions and the evil of our worst instincts are starkly evident. While producing megatons of food every year, every year millions die of starvation. While mapping the human genetic landscape, millions suffer and die from inherited diseases. While enjoying the good fruits of a free and prosperous democracy, millions labor under the burdens of depression, poverty, addiction, and violence. While free to believe and worship any god of our choosing, millions remain tragically enslaved to living a merely physical existence, trapped without any hope of a life beyond this one. While invited by the Living God to partake in His divine nature, to live with Him eternally, millions reject His invitation and choose instead to offer their worship to the false gods of science, wealth, popularity, and their own appetites. Anxious, bored, depressed, exhausted, fragile, indifferent, lonely, passive, and violent—we are a culture, a people desperately in need of rescue. If this desperate culture and these desperate people turned to the Church for help, would they find a well from which to draw the living waters of faith, hope, and love? Do the living waters of God's covenant flow within these walls and through each of us? If so, do we share from the well? Or do we guard it against outsiders? What do we do when we hear, “Please, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty”?
When the Samaritan woman begs Jesus for the living water of eternal life, he responds, “Go call your husband and come back.” She admits to being unmarried, and Jesus tells her that she has had five husbands and the man she is living with now is not husband. Jesus doesn't berate her for her infidelity; he doesn't accuse her of adultery or condemn her. So, what's the point of exposing the woman's sin? In his Angelus address, delivered in 2008, Pope Benedict said, “The Samaritan woman. . .represents the existential dissatisfaction of one who does not find what he seeks.” Existential dissatisfaction? This is the most basic sort of human failure, the failure to find one's purpose, the failure to reach for but never grasp that which one most needs to be happy. The woman moves back and forth between her home and the well. She moves from one man to the next, resigned to living the lie that her happiness will be found in the next guy or the next or the next. Jesus exposes her infidelities in order to show her the root of her dissatisfaction: she believes that she will find her purpose—to love and to be loved—in a series of dishonorable relationships. She worships what she does not understand. Jesus assures her, “. . .the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” The hour of worship coming and is NOW here.
“God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” The woman confesses her belief in the coming Messiah, and Jesus reveals to her that he is the long-promised, the long-awaited Savior, “I am [the Christ], the one speaking with you.” What is her immediate reaction? What does she say to this astonishing revelation? We don't know. The disciples arrive and the woman leaves. She goes into town and begins telling everyone she meets that there is man by the well who claims to be the Messiah. Is this possible? The people of the town go to Jesus and listen to him for two days. Afterward, they say to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” This may seem to be an insult to the poor woman—“we no longer believe b/c of your word”—but we must keep in mind that the people who listen to Jesus teach do so only b/c the woman proclaimed his presence in the first place. Moved by the Spirit to reveal the Messiah, the woman speaks the truth and leads many to the well of the Lord's living water. For us, the Church, this woman is an example of how we can share the living waters of eternal life.
If the culture we live in is anxious, bored, depressed, exhausted, fragile, indifferent, lonely, passive, and violent—what can we say about the Church? Surely, now and in times past, all of these adjectives could describe Christ's people. In 2,000 years of ministry to the world we have often found ourselves wallowing in anxiety, depression, indifference, and violence. Confronted as we are in 2011 with almost daily revelations of clerical sexual abuse, parish closings, school closings, staggering debt due to lawsuit awards, heretical teachings, serious liturgical abuses, and internal battles over discipline, we cannot say that we are content, satisfied. We are plagued by our own infidelities—jumping around from one churchy fad to another; hopping into bed with secular ideas and practices; inviting foreign philosophies and theologies to our table. Sometimes we can't seem to distinguish between “living in the world” from “being of the world.” And this inability, this failure keeps us dissatisfied, keeps us anxious and edgy. If all this is true, then what do we have to give to a culture equally plagued by worry and vice? Why should anyone steeped in this world's mess allow us to lead them to Christ? For the very simple reason that despite all of our failures, all of our faults, we have drunk from the well of living water. We have experienced the liberation that comes from baptism, that comes with giving God thanks and praise for His abundant gifts. Not only have we seen and heard the Word, we are vowed to the task of sharing His Word, the mission of thinking, speaking, doing what Christ himself thinks, speaks, and does. Our job as Christians is not to guard the well. Not to prevent the unworthy from drawing water from the well. Our job is make sure that everyone knows where the well is, how to get here, why they should come, and who—above all—who waits for them here. We are tell them to bring their infidelities, their diseases, their doubts, all of their problems, as we did, and lay them at the well. We are tell them to bring their thirsts, their hungers, their worries and failures, as we did, and lay them at the well. When the sinner says, “Please, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty,” we are to run—not walk—to the well and give them their fill. Because at one time (and maybe still) we were that sinner.
Paul writes to the Romans, “. . .only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” If Christ will die for us while we were still sinners, then it is no great burden for us to tell the truth: he is the living water of eternal life and nothing—not anxiety nor depression nor loneliness nor vice—can survive these waters to plague us if we will only drink. The hour of worship coming and is NOW here. Therefore, worship Him in Spirit and in Truth!
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