The Peace Pulpit:  Homilies by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday. By signing up for our weekly e-mail, you will be notifed as soon as each is available. (See below left.)
Third Sunday in Lent
February 27, 2005

Thomas J. Gumbleton
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *

This week's readings **

Exodus 17:3-7
In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, "Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?" So Moses cried out to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? a little more and they will stone me!" The Lord answered Moses, "Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink." This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel. The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord in our midst or not?"

Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Brothers and sisters: 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, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19b-26, 39a, 40-42
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" --For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.-- Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?" Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but 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." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." 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." The woman said to him, "Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. But 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. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one speaking with you." At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, "What are you looking for?" or "Why are you talking with her?" The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, "Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?" They went out of the town and came to him. Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat of which you do not know." So the disciples said to one another, "Could someone have brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, 'In four months the harvest will be here'? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work." Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me everything I have done." When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. Many more began to believe in him because of his word, and they said to the woman, "We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

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It seems very appropriate that the lessons today, especially the first lesson and the gospel lesson, speak so dramatically about water, because as I mentioned earlier today we will celebrate the rite of election. The rite reminds us that our whole season of Lent is a time to prepare to renew the spirit of our baptism, when we were washed with the water of baptism. So it is important that we take a few moments to reflect on the symbolism of water and what it means for us in our religious understanding and development.

Water, of course, is essential to human life. A person could live quite a few weeks without food, but only for a matter of days without water. Water, we know, is something that refreshes and that cleanses and gives life. This past week when I was in Haiti I experienced this in a way that generally I don't experience it around here. Here we have easy access to water, and we just take it for granted. But in Haiti, it hasn't rained since October. It's very dry and dusty. It's so refreshing to be cleansed with water. You get a real experience of the refreshing power of water, but even more for the need of water for life. I spent quite a bit of time in one of the poor slum areas of Port Au Prince, the area they call Cite Soleil. Between 250, 000 and 300,000 people live in this one closed-in slum. There's no fresh water there. You see throngs of children who are dying because of illnesses and very often because of the lack of clean water. In Haiti, the life span of the average person is between 45 and 50 years. It's very low because so many Haitians die at a very young age and a lot of it has to do with the lack of water. If you're malnourished and you drink contaminated water you quickly become ill. Infections are rife. Children become dehydrated and die.

Water is essential for life, and it's important for us to try to impress that upon ourselves as we try to get the deepest meaning of today's lesson, because for us this water is not only a physical thing so necessary for life, but we have made it a symbol for what happens to us when we are baptized. Water is poured upon us, and water is a sign of the life giving power of God coming within our spirit, refreshing us and giving us life. In every religious tradition, water is a symbol of the life that God gives, not only our physical life but our spirit life. So water is a very important symbol for us to reflect upon.

But there's more to these scriptures than simply the truth about water and the connection with our baptism and renewal of that baptism. In fact, the three lessons today are perhaps three of the richest lessons we could reflect upon all year. If you listen carefully to the Gospel lesson, you find many important things to think about.

One of the first things is the fact that Jesus speaks to this woman. We hear, as the story goes along, that this woman is a public sinner. She is known in that town as a sinner. Everybody knows about her life. That's why she comes to the well alone instead of with a group of people as usually would happen. She's outcast, rejected, but not from Jesus. He immediately strikes up a conversation.

Sometimes, people want to make the Holy Eucharist something that is only given to those who are good, who can pass certain tests that they set up. Some would say, "Unless you do this or that you are not qualified to come forward." To me that is almost as though they don't believe in what the Eucharist really is. If we really believe it's Jesus Well, can you see Jesus rejecting someone after you listen to today's Gospel?

No, he speaks to the person. He welcomes her. He wants to engage with her. And if someone tried to push her away, he would object. I think we need the same attitude about the Eucharist. It isn't something that we just adore -- an object. It's Jesus coming into our lives and into the life of anyone who wants to connect with Jesus.

This Gospel also reminds us of how sometimes people set up barriers between different faith traditions or within the Christian tradition between different denominations. Jesus just wipes those things away, doesn't he? The woman says, "Well, you Jewish people say you have to worship at the temple in Jerusalem. We Samaritans say we have to worship on Mount Gerizim." And Jesus says that's foolish. You don't find God at this place or at that place. God is everywhere, and those who worship God faithfully, truthfully will worship God in spirit and truth anywhere. Jesus wants us to break down the barriers we use to separate ourselves from one another and that sets up hostility and animosity in the world. Terrible things go on in a religious war, when one religious tradition is pitted against another. People even kill in the name of religion. Jesus says that's foolish. God isn't looking for particular categories or places or certain ways that you must worship. God simply is in our midst, and if we open ourselves we can worship God anywhere at anytime and in any form. We don't have to have these barriers.

The gospel lesson also speaks powerfully about the role of women. Notice how John remarked, "The woman was surprised and she said, 'You're speaking to me. I'm a Samaritan.'" Of course, Samaritans and Jews were enemies. "But I'm also a woman," she continued, "and here you are speaking to me." Women were rejected in male society at Jesus' time; they weren't given their rightful place, their full dignity as human persons, and we still do that.

But if you listen carefully to this gospel, you will realize that this Samaritan woman is the first person in the gospel, at least in John's Gospel, who was sent to proclaim the good news! She was an apostle! She went and told the others about Jesus, and they came back to discover Jesus. She was the one who carried the good news. But in our church we say women can't have the same roles as men. That is clearly contrary to what Jesus teaches, isn't it? Could you possibly say women can't have or should not have a role in ministering in the church, in carrying out the mission of Jesus and proclaiming the good news just as that woman in Samaria did?

These are things that we can think about as we reflect upon today's scriptures, but there is one more thing and it's probably the most important. We think as we listen to the scriptures that they're speaking about our thirst for God and that's true. We do have a thirst for God and that's why water is such a powerful symbol. People will talk about a "thirst for knowledge." We have this thirst for knowledge, but we also have a thirst for love. We need to be loved and to love and that's our thirst for God. That is a very real thirst, and we have to satisfy that thirst by coming into a relationship with God.

But it works the other way too and this is what's most astounding.

We can speak about how God has a thirst for us! Unlimited thirst for us! That's why Jesus cries out on the cross, "I thirst!" Of course, at that moment it's for water. He needs water physically, but he is also thirsty for people whom he loves. Remember the two persons crucified along side of him, Jesus thirsts for them; he reaches out for them. He wants to draw them in. And more then them, Jesus thirsts for those putting him to death. He loves them. This is the love of God thirsty for us.

God loved us into being because God thirsts for that relationship with each one of us. God maintains us in being every moment of every day because God thirsts for us. Isn't that exactly what Paul says so powerfully in our second lesson today, "Consider, moreover, the time that Christ died for us. When we were still sinners and unable to do anything. That is when Jesus died for us! Not when we merited his love. Few would accept to die for an upright person, although for a very good person perhaps someone would give their life. But see how God manifested God's love for us while we were still sinners. Christ died for us and we have become just through his death, showing forth his love for us." When we were sinners, God loved us because God thirsts for us.

If we can carry that message in our hearts throughout this week, throughout the rest of the season of Lent -- understanding how much God thirsts for us -- we will begin to experience very deeply God's love in our hearts. Jesus will come alive within us. Then we won't have to be like those Jews in the desert. "Is God in our midst or not?" That's what they cried out. "Is God in our midst or not?" When we understand how much God thirsts for us, and open ourselves to that love, then we will know in the deepest way possible God is in our midst.

God lives within me and within each one of us and we must try to share that love of God with one another so that we all know that God is in our midst for sure.

In the name of the father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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