THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT (A) March 15, 2020

Exodus 17: 3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-2,5-8; John 4: 5-42

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

We have lots of conversations each day. Some are trivial: we chat with the person sitting next to us on a plane; we share highlights from the weekend news around the water cooler at work; we talk to the person in front of us at the checkout counter.

Some of these conversations exchange information: "Who will do the shopping?" "Do we need milk?" "What time is the hockey game over?" "What Mass are you going to on Sunday?" "Hi mom, how are you feeling today?"

There are other conversations that are an important and necessary part of life;

ones in which we make a commitment to another; which start a new friendship;

which help cement an old one; which heal hurts. These are conversations which add quality to our life, we need to have them and they are life-shaping. We can call these "conversations of significance" (or, "conversations that count") and we need to have them if our life is to have any deeper meaning: if we are to live more than a superficial life.

That’s the kind of conversation the Samaritan woman had with Jesus by the well – a conversation of significance. It started casually, but because of who she was – thirsty, and probably looking for much more in her life, and because she’s talking to Jesus, their conversation goes quickly to the heart of the matter.

It addresses issues of importance like: "Who am I?" "Where am I going?" "What am I doing?" "What change do I need to make in my life?" "Am I happy with things as they are?"

Questions like these are about significant issues, not the stuff of everyday conversations perhaps – but we need to have them periodically. We need to stop the rush of our lives, sit by some "well of refreshment," as the woman did; take a breath and pause to reflect on questions of importance, questions that count.

I opened a letter from a friend recently, a businessman who travels a lot. He sent me an article from one of those "wellness magazines." The title of the article was, "How to Manage Stress." I’m sure this doesn’t apply to anyone in church today (!), but for the one or two who are experiencing stress, here are the recommendations.

One suggestion was: "Find things that make your spirit soar." For example: music, reading, nature, exercise, and, although this was not a religious article, there was this suggestion, "Take time for spiritual pursuits on a regular basis." And it even went on to suggest meditation and prayer.

The gospel is about someone whose life was stressful; who paused to do what would, "make her spirit soar." She was thirsty for more than water – are we too? She is willing to engage Christ in a "conversation that counts," willing to listen to what he has to say to her. She is willing to change. We might take the hint and do what the woman in the gospel story did. She sets a wonderful example for us in the midst of Lent. She is willing to break the pattern of her routine and make adjustments in her life.

Perhaps we feel that our religion has settled into years of routine. Or, that we have lukewarm religious fervor, which lacks enthusiasm. Or, maybe we need to make a significant change in our lives. In terms of today’s gospel story our faith may be more like stagnant/still water, than like the water Jesus promises the woman – living water.

If, like the Samaritan woman, we find ourselves spiritually parched and dry of spirit, then we are potential, perfect recipients of what God has to offer us this Lent. The gospel story reveals that God is offering us much more than we now experience – much more than we could expect or imagine from God.

Lent is a time to enter into a "conversation of significance" ("conversation that counts"). Shall we engage God, as the woman did by the well? Or rather, shall we let God engage us, as Jesus did, when he began the conversation with her? Shall we enter into a conversation of significance this Lent? – A conversation that counts.

Note: we want to avoid assuming that the Samaritan woman was a sinner. The text doesn’t say this, nor does Jesus tell her not to sin anymore – as he says to others in the gospel. What about her five "husbands?" In John’s highly symbolic language this could be a reference to her and all Samaritans who accepted the five false gods of the Assyrians. (See Barbara Reid’s, "Wisdom’s Feast: An Invitation to Feminist Interpretation of the Scriptures," p 100)

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