New York, March 15, 2020. | Third Sunday of Lent.
by f. Luis CASASUS, General Superior of the men’s branch of the Idente missionaries
Book of Exodus 17: 3-7; Letter to the Romans 5: 1-2.5-8; Saint John 4: 5-42.
In the Bible, the image of water occurs in the most varied contexts. The heartfelt words of the prophet who calls his people to conversion: Come here, all of you who are thirsty, come to the water! (Is 55:1) prelude to those spoken by Jesus: Let anyone thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink (Jn 7:38). He is the source of pure water that quenches all thirst.
A contemporary philosopher said that man is, by nature, thirsty or hungry. But in his thirst or hunger, man turns to material things or pleasant experiences and emotions to quench his thirst or satisfy his hunger. Sadly, there will never be quenching or satisfaction because it would merely turn into a vicious circle. This will only end until one finds God, who can ultimately quench our thirst.
But, much earlier, this was clearly formulated by St. Augustine, who said: You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. Admittedly, these are different ways of expressing what the Samaritan woman said to Christ. She was a person who embodied the fourth beatitude: Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice.
What do I really have to do in this life? This is the question that people of goodwill will ask themselves, some while suffering and others in the comfort of the world. They are the people who open their hearts. The woman who dialogued with Christ at the well did not remain closed. She did not hold on to pride, rationalizations, and habits that held her back from understanding and accepting the truth. In other words, she let go, she surrendered and just allowed Jesus to take over her life.
Before we ask ourselves who we are or where we come from, natural compassion and God-inspired mercy lead us to seek how to truly love our fellow men. Whether we are willing to listen to God’s suggestions, to embrace wisdom as the Samaritan woman did, is another matter:
A rich man had a pet dog and took care of it very well. But the dog like any other being, it too wanted a change. It left the house and wandered on the street to look out for its food. It roamed around in vain for days together. It was unable to fight the street dogs. On not having got food even from the garbage and the leaves thrown there with leftover morsels, it came across a dried bone. Being hungry, the dog bit the bone.
While chewing the bone, its gum got punctured, and blood started oozing out. In the process, the dog thought that the blood was coming out from the bone and started chewing well. A wise dog looked at it and said, Hey! The blood is coming from your gums and not from the bone; it is only a dried bone that you are chewing. The dog looked at it with disdain and said, Until I bit the bone, my tongue had not known the taste of blood! Only after biting this bone, I came to know this taste. So, the blood is coming from the bone. You cannot trick me! Saying so, the dog bit the bone more ferociously.
Similarly, sometimes we follow the dog’s logic, not the Samaritan woman’s logic. Is there any difference between this dog and us, when we pretend to seek happiness following our instincts and experience?
Of course, listening is not sufficient. We need to open our hearts, as well. We must be careful not to reduce our relationship with God to an intellectual enterprise. Because the Samaritan was open to Jesus, she was able to have a real relationship with Him and thus was liberated from her bondage to her broken life. We must learn to relate to Christ in prayer in a personal manner. In speaking to Him about ourselves, we, too, will be released from all those bondages that prevent us from becoming the person God meant us to be. He will tell us how to do it: Go and get your husband first.
He further said, My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. Food, like water, is a basic need. We cannot live without it. When Jesus said that his food is to do the will of God, he suggests that he cannot live without obedience to the will of the Father. This is also something that we should reflect on. Obedience or following God and his laws should also be the food that enriches us.
In the final analysis, our physical and emotional needs, while undoubtedly important, cannot give us the fulfillment that we are really seeking. Even if our body is well looked after because we have attended to our physical needs; and our soul is satisfied because we have healthy relationships with people; our spirit is starved because the Spirit of God is missing in our lives. The Samaritan woman is the symbol of the most intimate needs of the human being: a deep affection, sharing life and belonging to a community, that is why she had desperately and unsuccessfully looked for a good husband. But once something is given, we immediately seek something else. That is the trouble with human beings. Once the thirst of the Israelites was quenched, they complained about the lack of bread, and then after being provided, they complained that they had no meat. No amount of material goods, experiences, or emotions can satisfy the needs of a person. Such satisfaction will not turn into a spring of fulfillment but only emptiness and frustration.
God is irreplaceable. No human person can rest so long as his spirit is not in touch with the Spirit of God. For this reason, we need more than mere water and human relationships to satisfy us. We need living water, which is the Spirit of God, to nurture and strengthen us. This is what Paul speaks about in the Second Reading. On this basis, we could say with him that this hope is not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, which has been given us.
Apostolic conversations. Christ gives us an exemplary lesson today about how to bring people closer to our heavenly Father. He does so by his own example in his dialogue at the well. It is well known that there are three levels of interpersonal communication.
The first level is that of cliché, that is, the superficial level of talking about things, events and happenings: The weather is good… The coronavirus is being defeated… This lasagna is excellent…Give me a drink…This was the beginning of their conversation between Jesus and the woman.
The second level is the rational or the level of exchanging ideas, opinions, views, thoughts, and functions. What I see in political life is corruption… If God exists, he certainly doesn’t care about us… I know that the Messiah is coming … God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth …Are you greater than our father Jacob?
The third level is that of sharing hearts and fears, feelings and dreams, visions, and aspirations. I wish I could have more faith… I regret the words I said to that person… The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth …Could he possibly be the Messiah?…
On the first level, we talk; on the second level, we exchange; on the third level, we share. It is at the third level that the woman shared and opened her heart and soul to Jesus.
Faith requires a deep sharing of the same spirit of Jesus, the spirit of the Gospel, which is the sharing of the same mind and heart. If we genuinely want to have the mind of Christ, we too must listen attentively to His word that is read and proclaimed. His word is perceptible in people’s lives, in their anxieties, their virtues, and their limitations, guilty or not. For instance, when we are thirsty, we feel restless, uncomfortable, tired, weary, irritable, and unable to focus on what we are doing. For this reason, today’s readings use the symbol of thirst to express these feelings of ours, which extend beyond merely physical thirst. Indeed, we are all seeking something in life that can fulfill us. Such a need can be as tormenting as the need for water. That is a sign of a null, superficial, or only rational contact with our Savior.
It is said that education is to replace mirrors with windows. This explains why Christ invites us to be like children, to always look with new eyes at what is great, moving, beautiful, or generous. And for that reason, our Father Founder invites us to share in community, in the most appropriate way, all aspects of our lives, and especially what constitutes our relationship with the Blessed Trinity, by means of the Examination of Perfection.
Let us pay attention to the words of other Samaritan villagers whom the woman brings to Jesus. They said to the woman: We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.
Through these words, we see that there are two stages of the conversion process. The first is believing, because of what someone told us about Jesus, and the second, because we have come personally to know Jesus ourselves. The Samaritan woman simply told people, with joy, confidence, and conviction, what Jesus had done for her. And she invited people to come and experience him for themselves.
The experience of Israel that comes out of Egypt is repeated in the life of every Christian. Each conversion is an abandonment of the “land of slavery” and marks the beginning of an exodus. The first moments of a new life can be quite serene, mainly if it is supported by goodwill and enthusiasm and is encouraged and assisted by the brothers in the faith. Then begin the inevitable, regrets, and nostalgia and, sometimes, the disappointing experience of the life of the Christian community. The last words of the First Reading are the synthesis of their challenge: Is the Lord with us or not? Doubts, hesitations, and the temptation to call into question the choice made. One feels the need for some signs, claiming from God the proof of his loyalty.
Paul assures us today. Hope is not founded on our good works but on God’s love. We can love only the good ones, friends, those who do us good. For these, we could, in some exceptional cases, be even willing to sacrifice our life. God is different. He loves even his enemies, and he has given the evidence: while the Israelites refused his love, despised him, and kept themselves away from him, he sent them his Son. For this reason, Paul assures, our hope does not disappoint us not because we are good, but because he is good… and therefore, we are enabled to love like Him, unconditionally.
Strange as it might seem, God is thirstier for us than we are for Him! Jesus goes beyond barriers that we, human beings, create and quickly moves from the superficial to the things that really matter. Jesus, with infinite patience, leads The Samaritan from the water of that well to the real water which he can give her, which will turn into a spring within that leads to life. He was tired from the trip. No distance, difficulty, nor effort has discouraged him. One immediately thinks of the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians: Though he was in the form of God… he emptied himself, taking on the nature of a servant… made in human likeness… humbled himself till death on a cross (Phil 2:6-8).