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A fellow like you asking a girl like me for water!

By 24 March, 2017January 2nd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the on the Sunday Gospel of 19-3-2017 (Third Sunday of Lent) (Book of Exodus 17:3-7; Letter to the Romans 5:1-2.5-8; Saint John 4:5-42)

We usually say that prayer is a dialogue or conversation with God. What is clear from today’s Gospel text is that God takes the initiative in prayer. Immediately, Jesus speaks first. He initiates the conversation. He asks the Samaritan woman for a drink even though she was coming to the well for water herself. Jesus says: Give me a drink.

By doing this, Jesus was consistent with his pedagogy as a master and healer of souls; as our Father Founder said, charity is the healthiest virtue and therefore He was promoting the charity of the Samaritan woman as an initial treatment and primary therapy. First of all Jesus does initially not offer her anything. He asks her for a favor. Can she do something for Him?

The way Christ does it is by pressing the key of our generosity, but in a unique way that is called Affliction, a true mystical relationship; as the Gospel today makes clear, He leads us to understand three truths:

  1. He really needs help in His care for human beings.

Jesus was tired from his long trip, so he sat down beside the well.  In order to accomplish his mission Christ needed and needs help.

  1. I can really help Him with it.

The Samaritan woman had a bucket for the well. She had the means and the opportunity to quench Jesus’ thirst.

  1. Even though I have many limitations and defects, I cannot be replaced by another person.

Village women normally drew water only at dawn and dusk, the woman in this story, appearing alone at noon would probably have been the only one around capable of helping Jesus.

Affliction is a powerful experience, capable of transforming a hardened heart into a grateful and confident heart. God, in sharing with us his concerns for his flock, demonstrates renewed confidence in all of us, whatever happens. As Saint Paul tells us today: God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. And the Spirit has been poured into our hearts.

We never know how people can change by our humble actions. These actions do not have to be grand; they can be as simple as reaching into a well for water. And this for at least two reasons, first, the life of our neighbor is a mystery and second, we are not alone, the Holy Spirit is always prompt to respond to our generosity.

A “mundane” example of the first remark:

Mr. Karnofsky was a business man in New Orleans. As he made coal deliveries around New Orleans, his son and his son’s friend rode the coal delivery wagon, helping Mr. Karnofsky with the deliveries. Each day as they passed a particular store, the son’s friend pointed to an old cornet in the window, a cornet he couldn’t hope to buy but longed to play. One day, Mr. Karnofsky stopped at the store, walked in and came out with the cornet. He handed it to his son’s friend and told him he could work it off. The young man did and went on to play a pretty good horn. His name was Louis Armstrong.

Today’s Psalm sums up perfectly the origin of the divine Affliction: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts. We continuously receive a call for help from the most Holy Trinity, especially through the suffering and the dreams of our fellowmen. Jesus was tired, but not too tired to see the needs in someone’s life. How do we act when we are tired? Do we become grouchy and could not care less about the needs of anyone else?  Or do we still keep our eyes and hearts open for opportunities to love people like Jesus did?  Similarly, when the Samaritan woman heard the voice of Christ, her heart was not hardened. She cooperated with Christ and took the dialogue ahead, even when she would be surprised further at the turnout of the dialogue. She could have responded by rejecting what He said, or she could have opened her heart to the truth, as she did

Once she was fully opened to received that water the personal dialogue reached its climax, entering in that way completely in a dialogue of life; a dialogue of thirsts, Jesus’ and hers. This dialogue (actually with each of the divine persons) is only possible through a concrete and renewed commitment of prayer. By starting our days with an explicit offering through our morning prayer (Trisagio), we will prepare our hearts to our encounter with God and with our neighbor. Like the Israelites in the first reading we have doubts about God’s plans: Is the Lord in our midst or not? Our fears, anger, resentment, hopelessness, guilt and anxieties make us prisoners of ourselves.  Most of all, our prejudices, like the hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans, cause us to be separated and hostile to each other.

Most probably, because of our endeavors and concerns, we have not fully experienced this Affliction, like Moses did: What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me! Moses’ experience and our experience too, says that God will respond always and typically in a very unexpected way: Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.

We all have noticed that people are often drawn to Christ because someone has invited them to use their talent or gift in the service of their neighbors.

Jesus told the Samaritan woman, that He had vastly more to give than we can give Him but he honors us and this woman by asking for our help. When we evangelize people we sometimes forget that God has given them gifts and we might usefully open our apostolate by inviting them to use them, to help. Of course we have to remember what Christ has to offer them but His opening move to the woman at the well is a request. Can you help me?

Instead of looking deep into ourselves, we have to be open to the voices of the Most Holy Trinity speaking from an unexpected source. When we hear the voice of the Lord, we might not like what he has to say. It may draw attention to our failures. It may make demands on us, that we abandon a way of life which is not acceptable to Him. Throughout this dialogue, Jesus draws the Samaritan woman to God through His love and compassion. He does not condemn. He does invite to another way of living.

Is not all water living? Dead water is the same thought, the same old argument you get into every day. Dead water is that little habit you persist in nourishing, that habit which is small in itself, but which divides you from God. Dead water is what may have nourished somebody long ago, but it sure does not give you joy and vigor today. Dead water is especially your loneliness, your suffering (even spiritual suffering!) when it is not explicitly offered to our Heavenly Father, your rebellions against God because you don’t get what you want when you want it.

The reaction of the Samaritan woman is striking; she left her water jar, representing that which had most weighed her down, and returned to the city, to the same people she had been hoping to avoid, to bring her testimony about this intimate encounter with the Messiah. She began with an open invitation… Come and see… Our challenge is to proclaim the Kingdom in a way that is compelling because of the witness of our own personal lives.

The Samaritan woman became a missionary immediately after speaking with Jesus and many Samaritans come to believe in him because of the woman’s testimony (Jn 4:39). So too, Saint Paul, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, immediately proclaimed Jesus (Acts 9:20). So what are we waiting for? (Evangelii Gaudium).