In this really beautiful homily for 3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A, Father Hanly gives us a real feeling for what happened between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
Readings for Mass
First Reading: Exodus 17:3-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Gospel: John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19-26, 39, 40-42
Recording of Homily
Transcript of Homily
I’m sure you’re all very familiar with this gospel. In many churches, the “A” Readings, these gospels, are used not just in the “A” Year, but throughout the whole of Lent, because they are readying people to hear those words that “I shall give you water, living water and you will never thirst again.” These readings, these of the next two Sundays, are based for large numbers of people at that time who were coming into the church.
And this is one of our favourites, because so many people can think of how wonderful, John himself tells us about, basically, what the Messiah has come to do.
We say “Why has the Messiah come?” “What has he come to do?” And instead of kind of explaining and explaining and explaining what he has come to do, he tells this lovely story.
And, in the story, if you read it again and again, it brings its own truths to your heart, because stories speak to the heart, while explanations only speak to the head.
Samaria was north in Israel. It was about half way down to Jerusalem. It had its own history and it had its own background. The history was very, very difficult.
Once they were believers, and they still were, at this time, believers that they shared the same religious beliefs as the Jewish people. They believed that they were from David and that it was David’s following of God that they, too, followed.
But things happened. When the Babylonians came and destroyed the temple and brought most of the Jews, the ones they didn’t kill, brought them back up to Babylon, the Samaritans were left. And for a long time they were separated from the Jewish people who had been brought up to Babylon as prisoners.
And during this time, the Samaritans began, in a sense, to find their own way and they married local people. And so that Jewish identity became very fuzzy and they began to be, once Jews, now we worship this. But in their heart there was that they were indeed the children of Jacob, and Jacob’s Well was among them.
And so when the true Israelites came back, at the time that the Persian Empire freed them and brought them back, they were going to rebuild their temple, but unfortunately they were not going to let the Samaritans have any part of it.
And, even though the Samaritans came down to them at that time and asked if they could help to rebuild the temple, they said, “No, because you are no longer true blue people of the covenant but you have turned to other gods and goddesses.”
And it was one of those wrangles between peoples. And the Samaritans became the hated minority above, and the Samaritans hated the Jews because they wouldn’t let them have their right to rebuild the temple.
That is why Jesus uses the Good Samaritan as a model for both sides, and if you’re going to find God you must act like the Good Samaritan and reach out to the needy and the poor if you are expected, either side of you, to be truly Children of God.
This lady, though, is very interesting. Jesus is coming through the territory and he is sitting down and his disciples go into the village and he’s going towards Jerusalem.
Now, the lady, when she comes, she sees him sitting all alone.
Now the first thing you ask is, “How come this lady is all alone with Jesus?” Because in those days, women and men were never allowed to be alone. As soon as she saw him, she should have walked away.
But she was kind of a feisty little lady, as you know from the story, and she wasn’t having this man sitting there, this Jew sitting there at the well, would have nothing to do with him, won’t talk to him, but he wasn’t going to frighten her away.
Besides, also we know that she had six or seven husbands and Jesus told her that, that “the one that you have now is not your real husband.” And you can imagine, in a little village in the middle of nowhere, what kind of woman she was and how she was passed around a bit from anyone who would take her.
And you begin to feel that now you know why she’s alone, because no one would have anything to do with her. The women used to gather together at the well and fill their buckets and at the same time chat and exchange information. But there was nobody there. And she went up at a time when nobody would be there, because they would only make a fool of her and make her feel even worse, perhaps, than she already felt.
But she was a tough lady and she didn’t care what anybody thought. And so when Jesus says to her, “Would you give me to drink?” she really gets angry and she says, “How could you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan, to give you a drink? Don’t you understand we’re not even supposed to talk to each other?”
And then Jesus, who was very sweet, he says, “If you asked him who the one was that asked for a drink of water, he would give you living water and that water would bubble up in your heart and that would be the water that he gives you.”
Well, she kind of stops for a minute and says, “Give me this water, so I don’t have to come up here and take the water.” She half believed.
But what suddenly begins to enter into this dialogue, which is done very carefully, is the loveliness of Jesus, because she feels she’s being treated very, very special, with great care and with a fondness and a love in his voice. And we remember the words that tenderness is the beginning of life.
And she begins to have a niggling of maybe there’s something more than being pushed around in a little village as the trollop of the town, someone who would just be laughed at and not taken seriously. And so she begins to talk to him.
But Jesus says to her, “Now you go and get your husband.” And that’s when she says, “I don’t have a husband.”
And that’s the wonderful thing about this lady. She’s very truthful. She doesn’t lie. She doesn’t say, “Well, I’m busy, or I can’t go down…” She says, “I don’t have a husband.”
And that’s why Jesus smiles and says, “You’ve had six husbands and the one you have now, indeed, is not your husband, but you speak the truth.”
And this is the second thing: that he finds that all around him people are kind of, they never really speak what’s in their heart and they never really deal with him where he expects them to deal with him, which is from heart to heart.
Sometimes we think Jesus came to explain himself. Jesus never explains himself. He speaks, he talks, and then you say, “Yes!” or you walk away, or you say, “Interesting…”
But he never tries to rationalise. He never tries to make the message sound sweeter so that more people will follow him. He just speaks the truth, but he always speaks the truth in love.
And so she’s caught up in it. And when he says that, she knows that he has insights so she says, “You must be a prophet. You are a prophet. I know you are a prophet.”
Then the old argument comes whether the Jews are right or the Samaritans are right, or who’s right or who’s wrong, and who’s to blame and who’d not to blame.
And she says, “It was all the way back to our fathers that Jacob gave this well to us. We are really Jews. And he gave us this well, etc, etc. But you people say we have to go to Jerusalem to that place we couldn’t build. We were rejected from Jerusalem. We have to worship there.”
Jesus kind of smiled at her and he says, “Yes, remember, salvation comes from Abraham, from Isaac. It comes from the Jews. It doesn’t come from the Samaritans.”
“But,” he says, “there comes a time, and that time has come now, when people will not worship on this mountain and that mountain and this place and that place. They will worship God in their own heart, totally and completely. And that is where the living water will well up within you. And you don’t have to go anyplace looking for this living water, because the living water is myself and my Father living within your own heart.”
Then the disciples come and the lady, she leaves her jar of water and she goes looking for the townspeople.
And then the disciples say, “Well, Rabbi, have something to eat.”
And he said, “Well, I have food you know not of. I have received food.”
And they say, “Well, I wonder where he’s hiding it.” So they look all around, you see.
Beware the literal mind. The literal mind says he must have hidden the food. They never dreamed that what he’s saying is, “I have the Bread of Life. I have the food that could keep thousands of people alive.” And this is the kind of food they need. He is talking on a level that the lady would understand, but his own disciples can’t understand him yet. And that is one of the reasons, when he is left on the cross, he is all alone, because everyone takes everything so literally.
But not her, she comes up with her husband and the townspeople and she has told them this, she said: “Do you think this man could be the Messiah?”
And they look at her. “Why would he be the Messiah?” And she says the key word, she says, “He told me everything that I have done, everything that I have done.”
He didn’t convince her of the doctrine or anything like this. She just said, “He looked into my heart and he knows everything. And I look into his heart and I say this must be the Messiah, because the Messiah who comes will tell us everything we need to know.”
And what she’s saying is not miraculous. She’s saying that she, out of her own sorrow and pain, has learned to look deep into human hearts to defend herself against ever giving her heart away again.
And at the same time, Jesus says these few words to her and it touches her so deeply that she is saying, “Yes, he is the Messiah.”
And so the townspeople come and they stay. And they stay and they invite him to stay overnight. And, for two days, Jesus sits with them and talks to them and they, too, begin to believe, perhaps because the bearer of this truth is not somebody that’s trying to make a reputation for herself. It’s this woman, who is the disgrace of the village, has found something new and precious. And, when you look at her, you know that she has fallen in love again, but this time, for the first time, she has fallen in love in the right place.
And that is the love of the story. And, when we hear it, we too remember that sometimes, maybe when you’re reading a passage, maybe when you’re thinking coming home, Jesus has said something that stops you and you say, “Yes, he must be the prophet, he must be from God, but, most of all, yes, he loves me.” That is the meaning of this.
And I’d like to end it with just a short, if I can find it now, a little bit of poetry that I saved for this. But I’m afraid I can’t find it right now. I’ll give it one more chance. Yes, I’ve found it. God is with us!
This is a reflection. It’s written anonymously, but the one who wrote it was moved in the same way that we are moved by the story of the Samaritan lady who thirsted for something more than water. She thirsted for life itself.
“My brothers and sisters,
There is a thirst in every human heart.
Each of us is like that lonely Samaritan woman.
We are thirsting for something,
something that will satisfy all our longings.
But often we search in the wrong places.
We draw the water from many wells:
the water of praise to quench our thirst for self-esteem;
the water of success to quench our thirst for importance;
the water of pleasure to quench our thirst for joy.
And, yet, we still remain thirsty.
For only God can give us what we are looking for.
God alone can cause a spring to well up inside us
and the water from this spring will sustain us in our journey
to the Promised Land of everlasting life.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
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This homily was delivered on 27th March 2011.
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