The Peace Pulpit: Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton
|Third Sunday in Lent||February 27, 2005|
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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