Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Samaritan Woman

                                    3rd Sunday of Lent

On this third Sunday in our Lenten season the readings all deal with the subject of faith. Even the responsorial Psalm says, "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts." This saying is always associated with the famous incident at Massah and Meribah where the Israelites "grumbled" against Moses and the Lord.

In today's reading although the people have escaped from their captivity in Egypt, they are stranded in the desert and dying of thirst. They complain to Moses:

            Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
            Was it just to have us die here of thirst
            with our children and our livestock?

Because of their thirst the people lost their faith in Moses and even in God. They wondered, "Is the Lord in our midst or not?"

In today's gospel account the Samaritan woman fails to see the Lord in her midst even when she comes face to faith with Him. In the first two Sundays in Lent the Church presents us with big, dramatic events in the life of Christ--the Temptation in the Desert and the Transfiguration. But today and next week we will encounter two ordinary people like ourselves. This week's story is about a woman going to draw water from a well. Next week's story will be about a blind beggar.

We all should be aware of the social background of today's gospel from St. John. The Samaritans were descendants of Jews who had intermarried with non-Jewish settlers hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. They were regarded by the Jews as traitors and idolaters because they had added some of the foreign beliefs and practices to their Judaism. In addition, it was rare, even scandalous, for a Rabbi to speak to a strange woman in public.

So we can understand the woman's response to Jesus when He asked her for a drink of water. "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" Our Lord replies that if she only understood who was facing her, she would be asking Him for living water. Why can't she believe? So many others when they encounter our Lord seem to instantly believe. Is it because He is a Jew? Is it because He is a man? Is it because He is not what she expects the Messiah to be like? Or maybe, she's like us and just doesn't expect that at this time and this place she can at last find Goodness and Happiness.

 Today's excerpt from St. Paul's letter to the Romans is his most famous statement about  faith.        .

            Since we have been justified by faith,
            we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
            through whom we have gained access by faith
            to this grace in which we stand...

I won't try to add any more words to the millions of words that have been written about "justification by faith." I will only say that St. Paul as a result of his own conversion was sure that all of us, whether we know it or not, have been given the gift of faith by virtue of our Lord's great act of love on the Cross. Faith is not something that we get by reading books, or by praying, or by hearing some persuasive speaker. It is a gift that has been given by God. Indeed, it is only because we have faith that we are able to hope and love in the midst of all the suffering and sorrow in the world.

However, we can deny or lose this great gift of the Spirit of God and when we do, hope and love will disappear from our lives. We can say like the Israelites in the desert, "Is the Lord in our midst or not?"

We don't have to look far to find this attitude in our own time. Whenever some natural disaster occurs, there are always those who ask why God could have allowed it to happen. Some will even go so far as to blame God as if He were responsible. It's even more faith shattering when the disaster strikes close to home in the suffering or death of a loved one. 
I know of a young man who ridiculed his mother's religious faith because of the suffering that her mother, his grandmother, had to endure at the end of her life. "Where was your God when Nana was suffering?"  The answer to his question was staring him in the face. His mother had taken care of her mother every day and stayed with her throughout her suffering. She was one of those rare individuals who absolutely refused to place her mother in a nursing home. The young man also must have known that his mother, a Catholic, had also spent countless hours consoling a Jewish friend who had lost a young child. Why couldn't the young man see the Lord in his midst in the faith of his own mother?

Just like our Lord she gave of herself for her mother, her friend, and for her son. As St. Paul said,

            But God proves his love for us,
            in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


Reading 1. Exodus 17: 3-7
Reading II. Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Gospel. John 4: 5-42 (the Samaritan woman).

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