NOTE: For the Third Sunday of Lent the Church gives us two options for the Liturgy of the Word. One option is the Gospel of Jesus Cleansing the Temple. The other choice is the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman at the Well. The following homily is for those who wish to reflect on the Gospel of the Samaritan Woman at the Well.
Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent. Gospel of St. John 4:5-42. Theme: Thirsting for Love & Acceptance
In today’s gospel St. John as he takes us to Samaria, a place despised by the Jews as morally unclean and spiritually unworthy of God’s presence. And there we meet a woman who, because of her lifestyle, is considered to be unclean and unworthy even by her own townsfolk. So, we have in this woman an Outcast who is shunned by a people who are Outcasts. You cannot get much lower than that in the mind of the 1st century Jews who first heard this gospel. And that’s a theme that St. John wants us to keep in mind as this story unfolds.
We are told that the woman is coming to Jacob’s well at noontime. This would strike the hearers of the story as extremely odd because they all knew that the women go to wells early in the morning or late in the evening so that they can escape the intense heat of the sun. There is only one reason why the woman would go at noon: to avoid her gossiping neighbors. She did not want to encounter yet again their condemning stares nor the screaming silence of their shunning. Again, we encounter the Outcast rejected by Outcasts.
To round out our picture of this woman, St. John tells us that she was living with a man who was 5th in a string of lovers who had replaced her original husband. He lets us in on this aspect of her life so that we can understand that she is someone who desperately needs to be in a relationship, someone who thirsts for love and acceptance. Her need for belonging is so great that she is willing to compromise herself into living a lifestyle that she knows is morally wrong. And who can’t relate to that in one way or another? Our built-in human need for love and our yearning to be accepted for who we are, run so deep within us that it can even make us blind to what we are doing to others and to ourselves.
Throughout this story what St. John is really saying to us is: this woman is YOU. This woman is each one of us for we all outcasts in one way or another, at least in our own minds. We all try to either numb or to fill up the deep void within us, thinking and hoping that the people or places or things that we cling to will make us feel loved and accepted. But these things, are like ordinary water that we drink and still become thirsty again. These distractions quench our desire for a temporary time, but cannot truly satisfy our innermost thirst.
As the story moves on, St. John is hoping that we will connect the dots in our own lives and see that in Jesus we are about to meet the One who can satisfy our deepest longings for genuine live-giving love. In Jesus, we will find the one who provides fresh Living Water that bubbles up and never runs dry. And we do not have to work hard to attain this water, as the woman would have to do with her jar on a rope lowering it into a well! Jesus will give us this Living Water freely if we but trust in him as the Christ, like the Samaritan woman did, and turn to him as the One sent by God to heal us of sin from the inside out. All we have to do is come to Jesus, spend time with him in prayer, trust in him with hope and this Living Water, which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit’s love and grace, will be ours!
What St. John is saying in all this, and what the Church wants us to take to heart from today’s liturgy is that we were created, we were built, with an innate desire to know and love God and to be known and loved by Him. Yet like this woman before she encountered Jesus, we spend so much of our time seeking this love and acceptance in so many ways apart from God. We most often unfairly expect this from other people – spouses, lovers, friends – none of whom can ever satisfy us completely because they are as thirsty, as empty, and as searching as we are!
Like the Samaritan Woman, we must ignore the false voices around us and within us that say we are outcasts, that we are unworthy of love. Like the Samaritan Woman must spent one-to-one time with Jesus. We need to spend time alone with him in honest prayer from the heart. We need to ask him questions and listen in moments of silence to his voice within us. And when we come before Jesus in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament or when we receive him really and truly present in the Eucharist, let’s ask Him for the grace to be like the Samaritan Woman. Let’s ask Him to fill our empty jars with that never-ending spring of spiritual water so that we no longer needed to satisfy our thirst in the old ways as that we had been doing.