Homily 3rd Sunday of Lent 12th March 2023
This Gospel reading we have just heard is one of the longest, richest, and most complex readings to which we are exposed during the course of the liturgical year.
As Christ is travelling toward Jerusalem, he passed through a Samaritan town and stopped at a well to get a drink of water. While he is sitting there, he strikes up a conversation (clearly there were no mobile phones then) with a woman from the town who had also come by to draw water.
It is Christ who directs this conversation from the very beginning. From a hostile beginning the woman very quickly becomes a listener, then a believer, then a witness to what she believes.
One of John’s favourite devices in presenting the teaching of Christ is the almost constant misunderstanding of those who listen to him.
Christ speaks to the woman of a living water, a water that will never stop flowing, that can be hers for the asking. But she is rooted in the immediacy of her own experience. She has a hard time lifting her vision beyond the here-and-now needs of hunger and thirst, day to day survival. She says “That sounds pretty good. Give me some of that. I won’t ever have to come back to this well.”
But then Christ very abruptly adds a new dimension to the conversation, almost a surprising one. He says, “Go home and get your husband.” She says, “I don’t have one.” And Chrit’s response is very pointed. He says, “That’s right, you don’t. The man you are living with is not your husband.”
That hits fairly close to home, so the woman pulls back from the encounter. She quickly changes the subject.
So, the message is clear. Before any of the other prayers that the woman might choose to make could be effective, before any of the promises made by Christ, the bread of life, the living water, a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction, a sense of rightness about one’s life, before any of that could take root in her, there was something that had to be done first, another act had to be placed…to use the word that we have been using for the past month or so, an act of reform.
And the same thing, really, can be said of any weakness, any failure, any sin in our lives. If there is for us, as there was for the Samaritan woman a thirst, an emptiness, a weariness in our lives, it is so because there is something at home, something inside of us, where we live, that is not right. Exactly like the woman in the Gospel, before we can come to Christ and hope to be satisfied, we must first follow his direction to go home, turn to the centre of our lives, face what is wrong there, and reform it.