Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Of Samaritans and Husbands - Homily for the 3rd Sunday in Lent (First Scrutiny)

The story of Jesus and the Samaritan Woman is a pretty iconic moment in the life of Christ. It is in this moment that the woman’s life is changed forever and Jesus’ love for humanity is made known.

This Gospel is read for today’s special occasion: that is, today, our RCIA candidates and elect are with us and will be going through the first of three minor Lenten rites, called “scrutinies.” In these scrutinies, these elect approach Jesus through the Church and for a particular blessing, to strengthen them as they prepare to receive Jesus in His fullness at the Easter Vigil.

For us, the Gospel is also given to us: to remind us to pray for those in RCIA. And not only to pray for them, but also to remind us that we are called to be Christ to them and to the world. The RCIA is kind of a barometer of our evangelizing efforts here at St. Joe’s—it tells us whether or not our faith is alive and attractive and whether we are reaching out to the world, that she may know the freedom and peace of Jesus Christ.

So, this Gospel, then, is not just for the RCIA, it is also for us. That said, let us take a deeper look at the reading.

*          *          *

We begin by noticing that the woman is a Samaritan woman. This is an important detail which requires some back-story. Many centuries before Christ, the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and many of the people were taken into captivity and brought to Assyria. Only a few of the poor—many of them farmers—were left behind.

In time, other pagan tribes moved into to the area and they began to mingle with these Israelite poor. The mingling of these tribes with the Israelites became the Samaritans, a hybrid race that knew some of the history of Israel, but which also began to forsake the one God for the worship of pagan gods. Because of this the Samaritans were seen as inferior, impure, and ultimately traitors—and thus despised by the Israelites.

And so, we see Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman. Their conversation covers a few topics: Jesus asks her for a drink, then he asks her to call her husband. Let’s talk about this second request, first.

Jesus said to her,
“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.”

All of us probably hear this and think that Jesus is talking firstly about divorce. But, something deeper is going on here. History again gives us an important detail: the word for the pagan gods is Ba’al. And, interestingly enough, this is the same exact word that the Samaritans would use for the word “husband.”

So, when Jesus says, “Go call your husband…” He isn’t just simply telling the woman to call the man who is at her house—He is also referring to her worship of the pagan gods. There is a play on words going on here.

The woman thus responds in kind: “I do not have a husband [Ba’al].” Meaning, not only do I not have a man, but I do not have a God that I worship.”

Jesus responds that she has answered honestly. But then He says, “You are right… for you have had five husbands [Ba’als].” Jesus is not only pointing out that she has been promiscuous in her life (she has), but also, he is pointing out that she has had many gods in her life.

(Anybody want to guess how many Ba'als the Samaritans worshiped? ... Yes, that's right: they had five.)

Therefore, what Jesus is critiquing is not simply the woman’s promiscuity, but also how she does not have the one true God in her life.

the hour is coming, and is now here, 
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him

*          *          *

What is interesting is where this conversation takes place. It takes place at Jacob’s Well. This is very significant. It is the place where Jacob meets and will eventually marry Rachel. (Jacob, as you may recall, had to wait two sets of seven years for her, all the while acting as a shepherd and watering her father’s sheep from this well). Jesus is this new "Good Shepherd" and He comes to meet the lost sheep at this place of love and marriage.

Is Jesus proposing marriage to her?

Well, kind of, yeah.

Jesus wants to be her husband—not in terms of human marriage, but in terms of God: Jesus is God and wants to be her heart’s desire. This spousal language is used all throughout the Old and New Testaments: in the Old Testament, to take just one of many examples, God promises Israel that she will be called “espoused” and will be called His bride (cf. Isaiah 62). In the New Testament, Jesus refers to Himself often as the bridegroom (Mt 9:15; Lk 5:35, etc). And even heaven is referred to as the wedding feast of the lamb (Revelatin 19:7)—all of which implies that someone is getting married (hence the wedding feast). And that marriage is between God and us.

This is why Jesus begins the conversation by saying, “Give me a drink.” Jesus is not simply asking for a glass of water (he is—he is probably thirsty). But more, however, He is asking for the Samaritan woman’s love. Indeed, He thirsts for all of our love!

This is why, on Good Friday, we will see Jesus make this request again, but from the Cross when He cries out, saying “I thirst.” For water? for vinegar? No. For love! God thirsts for our love!

*          *          *

Yet, so wonderfully, it is the woman who is also thirsting. Yes, she is thirsting for water. But more, she is thirsting for God. We see this in two ways:

First, we see it in how many husbands she has had. She has been restless; her heart longing for love; to fill that God-sized-hole in her heart… But she has been doing so with men. The jug that is empty is just like her heart and she longs to be filled!

Second, we see it in her words. She says:

I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ: 
when he comes, he will tell us everything.

She, too, is longing for the Messiah. To which, Jesus replies:

I am he, the one speaking with you.

“I am your heart’s desire,” Jesus is saying. “I am the living waters which you seek. I am the one who will bring fulfillment to your restless life! I will satisfy your life’s deepest thirsts.”

He will do so, quite literally, when, on the Cross, His heart is pierced with a lance, and blood and water pour forth—blood and water which point to Baptism and the Eucharist. (For, on the night before He died, He took a chalice and said, “Take this, all of you, and drink from it. For this is the chalice of my blood…”)

And about Baptism:

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.

This will all pour forth from the heart of Jesus—the very place of love, saying: “This is how much I love you! I give you all that I am, all from my heart—it is all yours!”

There is a divine marriage there. The two become one flesh: Jesus offers His flesh and blood on the Cross and in the Eucharist so that our flesh and blood may become one with Him.

*          *          *

After hearing this, the Samaritan’s life is changed. She immediately goes and evangelizes her town. They believed “because of the word of the woman who testified.” She brings her entire town to meet Jesus and they are converted!

And that’s what you will do, too! It is not enough that you are just going to receive the Sacraments here. If we truly know and believe Who is here, then how could we not tell others, pull them by the arms of their coats and say, “Come! I want to show you whom I have met!”

And they will believe you. Because you will be full. That pagan lifestyle with all its husbands—it will be behind you. Your life will be different. And they will notice.

They may even notice that you left the bucket at the well. Because your heart has discovered the living waters.

*          *          *

Brothers and sisters, let us pray for these in RCIA. And also for ourselves: that we all may meet Christ again and be filled. That we may know how much He loves us and bring all those we meet to this well of divine, thirst-quenching love!

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