3rd Sunday of Lent
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - Exodus 29:1-17
Psalm - 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Second Reading - 1 Corinthians 1:22-25
Gospel - John 2:13-25
John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, "Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace." His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.
At this the Jews answered and said to him, "What sign can you show us for doing this?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews said, "This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?" But he was speaking about the temple of his body. Therefore, when he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he has said this, and they came to believe the Scripture and the word Jesus had spoken.
While he was in Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, many began to believe in his name when they saw the signs he was doing. But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well.
It's been clear over the last several days that hearts are very heavy in our country over the events of the past week. Our prayers are with our armed forces, their families, and any innocent person who may be injured or killed in this conflict. We all pray for a quick end to this conflict and that our armed forces may return home in safety.
It's been difficult for all of us to stay focused on our Lenten disciplines - many of us have been really saturated by all the news reports and analysis given over the past few days. So, this morning, I invite each of you to take a step away from that for a moment, to turn our attention to the Scriptures and to entrust yourselves more deeply to our lord, in these difficult times.
Our first reading and our Gospel this morning relate two difficult stories of conversion. They occurred at different times and among different people. In both cases and in every episode of conversion, God is the catalyst for the move to faith by the human person.
In our first reading, we have the classic narrative, which relates the story of how the Israelites, who have been just liberated from Egypt rise up and complain against Moses for having led them out to the dessert where there is no water. The Israelites complain that if Moses does not find them any water soon, they will surely perish. Moses entreats God to help him and God vindicates Moses by providing water from the rock that Moses strikes at a place called Meribah (which means "contention") and Massah (which has been translated as "proof"). This leads to the Israelites coming to faith in God. The way that they come to faith is not really impressive to us, is it? They've seen the miracle of the parting of the sea, which allowed them to escape the Egyptians. You would think that this would be enough proof for them that God would continue to proved for them. Yet, time and time again, we see how the Israelites complain against God when things don't really go their way and when they don't get what they want right away.
This is a lesson for all of us in our journey of faith. How often do we find ourselves complaining against the Lord when we don't really like His timing or when we really don't think He listens. God is always drawing us to closer faith in Him and sometimes, He allows us to wait on Him so that we will learn who really in in charge. God doesn't do this to taunt us but He does will that we learn to trust in Him. As a friend of mine likes to say, God not like Burger King - you can't always have it your way! The Catechism states that lack of trust in the goodness and power of God means tempting God and it is a grave sin against faith. When the human person meets some contradiction or some difficulty he cannot immediately solve, his faith may waiver but he should never doubt, because if deliberately cultivated, doubt can lead to spiritual blindness (cf. Catechism 2008).
The water that the Israelites seek in the dessert is a purely human water - two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen. Quite simply, they're thirsty. Water, however, will play a different and revolutionary role in our Gospel story involving Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
But first, a word about the Jews and the Samaritans. In a country that prides itself on racial diversity and pluralism, it's sometimes hard for most contemporary Americans to identify with the intense rivalry that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans. In brief, the Jews despised the Samaritans not only because they were foreigners of Jewish background but because the Samaritans mixed with the Assyrians, who were the sworn enemies of the Jews. The Samaritans tried to reconcile with the Jews after the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile in order to rebuild the Temple, but the Jews would have none of it. We know another Samaritan - the Good Samaritan. Jesus praises this person, a sworn enemy of the Jews.
That was quite a statement to make and it stung the Pharisees to the heart. So, for Jesus to be addressing a Samaritan woman alone was a bit edgy for people of the day. First, women never traveled alone - they always went in groups. Jesus, as a respected person in Jewish society, often referred to as "Rabbi," probably raised some eyebrows when He is found by His disciples speaking to a foreign woman alone. We know that Jesus' love for this woman and her soul was nothing but pure, chaste, whole and totally manly. He reveals to men how to love women in the truest sense.
Jesus is unencumbered by human convention. His interest lies in the conversion occurring in the heart of the Samaritan woman. Jesus is tired - perhaps why He doesn't go into town with the apostles to look for food. Yet, he's never too tired to do the Father's will - to complete His mission of seeking out the heart and mind of even this foreign woman. And so, the exchange between the Lord and the Samaritan woman begins.
At first, the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a bit esoteric, a bit unclear. The Lord uses her curiosity to reveal to her his divine identity and He does it little by little: he shows that he knows about her life, the secrets of her heart; he can even read her conscience. In this way, he gives her enough to motivate her to make her first act of faith when she says, "I perceive you are a prophet." Her conversion has begun. When Jesus describes the water that He will give and describes it as a spring of water welling up to eternal life, our Lord is using water to describe the grace that He gives which nourishes the soul and quenches its thirst for God.
Next, the Samaritan woman comes to realize that Jesus is a person of authority. Jesus explains that the Jews are much nearer to the truth because they, unlike the Samaritans, accept the first five books of the Scriptures. Yet, both and Jews and Samaritans now have to open themselves up to the new revelation of the truth. The truth is not a law - the truth is the person of Jesus, who says the HE IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH and THE LIFE later on. As Catholics, it is by baptism and faith in Jesus that we become adopted children of God and become the true adorers that the Father seeks. The new Way of Christianity now surpasses Judaism because of the fullness of Revelation - Jesus Christ; the second person of the Trinity become man.
Finally, we have the full conversion of the Samaritan woman. Jesus reveals Himself to her as the Messiah, the Christ. The word for Christ means "anointed." Sometimes, I have young children tell me that they think that Christ is our Lord's last name. So, you'd have Mary Christ and Joseph Christ as well. In this final step of conversion, the Samaritan woman has come from acknowledging her sins to accepting the true teaching about worshipping the Father in spirit and in truth.
Grace brings about a real change in the woman - she leaves her pitcher behind and goes off to tell her friends of her discovery of Christ. Just like the Apostles who left their nets to follow Jesus and tell others about Him, this woman's genuine conversion has a natural projection towards others - a desire to share the joy in finding Jesus. Lastly, our Lord describes His food as simply doing the will of the Father.
The conversion of souls must be our food as well. Like the Apostles before us, we need to sow the Word of Christ in the hearts of our families, our officemates, our friends without any regard for reaping the harvest. It may be another person who comes along after us who reaps the harvest and we should be content with that. Let us pray that many souls are drawn to Christ through our word and example.
It should not be beyond us to ask a friend to pray together or to read Scripture together - it can be done!
Jesus knocks on the door of the Samaritan woman's heart, as he knocks on the door of our hearts each day. Will we be like the Israelites of Moses' day who didn't even recognize God's presence among them and doubted His existence or will we be more like the Samaritan woman, who came to faith in Christ, not by a miracle but by a true openness to the work of the Holy Spirit. May we heed our Responsorial Psalm - "If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart." May we not hold back anything from Jesus, turning our very lives over to Him with greater devotion and greater fervor. May the Blessed Mother, who know this docility in her own life, inspire us to repeat her words at the Annunciation, "Let it be done to me, according to thy word."