3-19-2017 Third Sunday of Lent
Mar 20, 2017
Lent III / Woman at the Well / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
On the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent, we read from the Gospel of John. Since the earliest days of the Church, these Lenten readings have served as a "Baptismal catechesis," directed to the Catechumens (now called "the Elect") and the Candidates as they prepare for the Easter sacraments: Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist.
Naturally, these readings are also directed to us, who will renew our baptismal promises at Easter. The readings are spiritual classics; and like classics, they reveal something to us each time we read them or listen to them. All of them are about the dynamic of evangelization and conversion—to hear the word and to be transformed by it. All of them 1) involve the power of grace in our lives, 2) what we must do to receive that grace, 3) conversion, and 4) continuing a "right relationship" with God through worship.
The reading starts at a well—an important symbol in the story, a symbol of our desires. We come to the well to satisfy our desires—but our desires are never satisfied. Why? Because we try to satisfy them with something less than God. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst."
So what about those desires we have. Think about the wells we drink from. 1) We drink from the well of power—and we get thirsty again. 2) We drink from the well of pleasure—and we get thirsty again. 3) We drink from the well of money—and we get thirsty again. 4) We drink from the well of honor and glory—and we get thirsty again. None of these can quench our thirst. All of these are finite, and they will run out. Only one well is infinite, and that is God. God’s life and grace. It will never run out. It is the only well that will fully satisfy us.
But even when we know the right well, there are some things we must do to welcome God’s life into us. We have to remove any obstacles. We have to prepare ourselves to receive it. (Someone once used the analogy of a helicopter trying to land. The helicopter represents God’s grace; we have to prepare a place for it to land).
The woman at the well is a good example here. What gets in the way of God’s life flowing into her? We get a few hints: she comes to the well alone, at noon. This is unusual. Usually women come in groups to the well, and not at hottest time of day. There is something wrong here . . . this woman has excluded herself, or perhaps this woman is an outcast, a pariah. And then we find out why: her moral life. Jesus gets right to the point. To the command of Jesus to call her husband, the woman says she has no husband. In fact, she has had five husbands.
Notice that Jesus did not start with moral correction (as Pope Francis has instructed). At the same time, he is not indifferent to her moral state. It matters. Jesus is quite straightforward and direct! The woman’s moral life keeps God’s life and grace from her.
Once her life is opened up and revealed, the woman herself opens up, engages in conversation with Jesus, and wonders about right worship (conversion has begun!). In the process, Jesus reveals himself and proclaims himself to be the Messiah and the new temple, the place of right worship—not this mountain, not in Jerusalem—but Jesus himself.
And how does the woman respond? In faith and witness. She leaves her water jar at the well—it is no longer needed. She returns to the village, and she shares the Good News. Her life is completely changed.
Whether we are a catechumen, or a long time Catholic, all of us are called to conversion during this Lenten season. May we drink deeply of God’s living water, and never thirst again.
1) to uncover, then heal, all that is weak and sinful in our hearts; and
2) to bring out, then strengthen, all that is upright and good.