She thirsted for Living Water

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3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A: March 11, 2012
Exod 17:3-7; Ps 95; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42

She comes to the well alone, in the middle of the day, this woman of Samaria—and that’s the first sign that something is not right. Why didn’t she come in the cool of the morning, with the other women? Because, as we will learn, her life is scandalous in that small town. She has been married five times, and now she is living with a man who is not her husband.

She has been used and pushed aside by one man after another. And she is bruised and scarred; she is ashamed and afraid; she is condemned and rejected by others. And so it is no surprise that she has developed a hard, leathery shell, to defend herself against the arrows of the world, which we see on display in her rough answers in this passage. And yet, underneath that shell, underneath those wounds, lies a heart that still yearns, still thirsts—for what? For whom?

And so, on this day, this average day like any other, she goes to the local well in the heat of the day, alone. But this time she encounters someone there: Jesus. And he asks her for a drink.

As it was for so many of us—including our elect preparing for baptism—this first encounter catches her by surprise. Or perhaps we have long known him, or known about him, but then we meet him again, as if for the first time. Who is this Jesus? What does he want from us?

Naturally, she parries him defensively. Why is he, a man, speaking publicly to her, a woman—breaking strict social boundaries? Why is he, a Jew, speaking to her, a Samaritan—two people who had long had ethnic tensions and religious disputes? But he doesn’t take the bait. Instead he speaks, mysteriously, of how he can offer her living water. Living water? She is intrigued, yet still highly suspicious. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob?

Again, he bypasses her questions, and tells her more about this living water and what it will do for her. He is so mysterious, yet speaks to her with a respect that she hasn’t heard in a long time; and he speaks directly to that thirst within her—that personal thirst, that spiritual thirst—that has tugged at her for so long and that no one has ever spoken to. At last she responds directly to his words: Sir, give me this living water. As we too respond to him and ask him for what he offers.

Once she responds in this way, then he begins something new. Go call your husband. He goes right to the sore spot. And she replies, I do not have a husband. She speaks truly, though not at all the whole truth. What is going to happen next? Will Jesus reject her? Condemn her? Push her away as unworthy?

No, he commends 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.”

As too with us, when she encounters Christ, he gently reaches into her heart and pulls out her sin and her pain, so that she sees it more clearly than ever before, as he holds it there in his holy hands. Never before has she felt such sorrow for it! And yet it is not only sorrow and regret that she feels, but a surge of new hope! This one who knows her better than she knows herself—who knows her supernaturally—does not condone her sin, does not brush it aside; but neither does he condemn her.

Instead, he sparks new hope within her that she can be forgiven; that she can be healed; that her thirst can finally be satisfied; that she will finally be loved with a true and everlasting love; that the Messiah himself is standing right in front of her.

Where will he get this living water? It will flow from his Sacred Heart when he crucified out of love for her, and love for each of us, and his side is pierced by the soldier’s lance. And it will fill the font of baptism, in which he will wash her clean and fill her with the Spirit he promises. And it will be waiting for her in the sacrament of confession. Where he waits for us too, with his living water.

In just a moment, these three elect, who are preparing for baptism in that living water, will experience the first of three Scrutinies to help to prepare them to receive this tremendous gift. The name “scrutiny” implies that they will be asked to answer questions—and perhaps that is what occurred in the original scrutinies of the early Christian centuries. But now it is not the priest who asks them questions, but Christ himself who has been speaking to them through this Gospel passage and will continue to do so. As with the Samaritan woman at the well, he wants to draw out of their heart anything that is weak and sinful—so that he can heal it; and also all that is strong and good—so that he can strengthen it. Christ reveals himself to them, as to her and to all of us, as the Living Water for which we deeply thirst—a living water that they will receive in four weeks, when they are baptized at the Easter Vigil. And so, in this final stage of their journey, we will assist them with our prayers for their guidance and protection.

I invite the elect—Jack, Aimee, and Tommy—called and chosen by Christ—to come forward at this time, with their godparents.

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