The Woman at the Well
This homily is based on the readings for the third Sunday of Lent this year. The readings can be found here.
My mother grew up in Italy just after World War II ended. She lived in a small town outside of Naples and due to the destruction of the war, there were many shortages. One of those shortages was clean water. The town had a central fountain that had clean water available. However, they would only turn on the fountain for an hour a day, from noon to 1 pm. It was my mother’s job to get the water her household would need for the day (for cooking, drinking, etc). Each day she would get in line with all the other girls in the town carrying the large jug she would fill with the water. Once the fountain was turned on, there was always some craziness as everyone tried to ensure they got the water they needed. Some of the girls were mean and known to try and break the jars of other girls, either out of spite or to make sure they got their water.
This story reminds me of the woman in today’s Gospel. Like my parent’s small town, she needed to go to a central location in order to get the water she needed for the day. However, unlike my mother’s story, she went to the cistern at noon by herself. In the time of Jesus, water would be drawn at the beginning of the day before it became too hot. This woman went by herself later in the day likely because of the “mean girls” in her village. She was an outcast among the other women and had to go by herself to ensure she got the water she needed to live.
Imagine her surprise running into Jesus there. Jesus then addresses her, something Jewish men weren’t supposed to do. On top of that, Jesus asked her for something. Jewish purity laws forbade them from taking anything from Samaritans. Jesus begins the conversation with her with a simple request, for something to drink. But what Jesus is really doing is offering her living water. In our society, we perhaps take water for granted. After all, if we’re thirsty, we can get water from a tap or purchase a bottle filled with it. Water now comes in all kinds of fancy styles, spring water, sparkling water, water from volcanoes.
However, in much of the world, and at the time of Jesus, clean water is a scarce and precious commodity. The woman was willing to walk outside of town carrying a heavy jug in the hottest part of the day just to get it. And she, like Jesus, was probably thirsty. But what the conversation with Jesus shows was that she was not just physically thirsty, she was spiritually thirsty as well. She was trying to find meaning through things of the world like finding the “right” husband. And it wasn’t working for her. Jesus called her to conversion, and she was so excited about that gift that she left her water jug behind to go and tell the rest of the village. Think about that for a moment: the outcast who went alone to draw water can’t wait to tell the rest of her village about her joy!
This season of Lent is about conversion as well. We have catechumens who have decided to become members of our Catholic community and be fully welcomed into the Catholic faith at Easter Vigil. They’ve discovered the life-giving water that Jesus offers and are thirsty for it. But what about those of us who have grown up Catholic? Jesus calls us to conversion as well. Our first reading shows how the Israelites hardened their hearts against trusting God when they complained to Moses. Our Psalm warns us, “if today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.”
Have we hardened our hearts in any way, without even realizing it? Perhaps we’re frustrated with a family member or co-worker and are not as kind to them as we could be. Maybe we’re jealous or envious of people we know that seem more successful. Perhaps we’re angry with the Church because of the recent scandals. Or maybe we’re looking for happiness in the things of the world, like our career or our possessions. The message of Jesus to us is the same as to the Samaritan woman – if you knew the gift of God you would be asking for living water. How do we receive this gift of living water? One way is through what Bishop Robert Baron calls the “circle of grace”. God gives us living water in the form of the free gift of grace. However, we cannot keep this grace for ourselves, we must give it away. As we give it away, God blesses us with even more graces.
Therefore, we, like the Samaritan woman, must share this gift from God with others. We do this through living our lives in service to others. We can share our time, talent, and treasure with others in appreciation for all God has done for us. The corporal works of mercy are an excellent way to serve others. Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty come directly to mind from today’s Gospel. Sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick or those in prison, burying the dead and giving alms to the poor. There are many ways we can contribute to these works of mercy, whether it is through donating to food pantries, volunteering in nursing homes or homeless shelters, or being generous with the wealth we’ve been given.
However, a very simple way to share this living water is to do what Jesus did – he started a conversation with someone everyone else ignored. When the woman came to the well, Jesus could have sat silently until she’d filled her water jug and left. Instead, He started a conversation with her. Sometimes it’s as easy as walking up to someone and saying hello or asking if they need help with something. Who knows what may result from a simple kind act of acknowledging someone that others have ignored? Who are the Samaritans in our lives, and how can we offer them living water?