Third Sunday of Lent
Celebration of the Scrutinies
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
We continue to travel through the season of Lent on our way to celebrate the Easter Vigil - the sacred, ancient ritual that enshrines the essential mystery of our faith - passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In a very brief time, we will have walked the road of salvation history, listening to the words and stories, watching signs and symbols, seeing unfold before us God's plan and promise for human life.
It is a road that we have traveled personally and privately, together within the parish community and again as witnesses to catechumens throughout the Church as they prepare to become fully initiated members of the Church at the Easter Vigil. To the unbeliever this road leads to an empty tomb, which seems - at first glance - to be a strange and disappointing climax to the story of God's love for us. But the Gospel message is strong and clear: we must not look for the presence and the power of the risen Christ among the dead... we will not find him in the dead pages of a history book - we will not find him in a dead religion, frozen in time and mechanical rituals that have lost their meaning - we will not find him in a culture that idolizes wealth and power and comfort - we will not find him in the dark and empty tomb of our own sinful selfishness.
Jesus never did what folks expected, always frequented the wrong places, stayed with the wrong people, did the most outrageous things, and certainly preached a message that the more "important" people of His time did not want to hear. People called him "rabbi" but He didn't teach with theological treatises - He told strange stories - He never allowed the Law, or tradition, or the "proper thing to do" to take precedence over ministering to His people.
Witness the scene with the Samaritan woman. By all standards, she had no right to even speak with The Lord. After all, she was part of the outcast group, traditional adversaries of the Jews of the time - and a woman, no less! But that didn't stop Jesus from striking up a conversation with her. The disciples were aghast, and no doubt His enemies had more fuel for the fire.
The Samaritans were not evil people. They bore no arms against the people of Galilee, they didn't try to politically undermine society or government; they were not thieves or criminals - they were ordinary people trying to eke out a living just as everyone else. They even worshipped the same God - but they expressed that faith a little differently.
So, true to form, Jesus ignores the custom of the day and spends some time conversing with the Samaritan woman, eventually revealing Himself as the Messiah, the Son of God. He enters the town, and the town becomes His town. He enters a home, and it becomes His home. He enters a heart, and it becomes His heart.
As Henri Nouwen once said: "The guest becomes the host. He who was invited, now invites." At the heart of it all is the matter of our freedom. God invites - He will not force us. It is our job to try to understand what God is asking - and then we must make a choice. That is when we come face-to-face to our responsibility as children of God. What He asks may seem at the moment to be impossible, unreasonable, or purposeless. It might involve giving up our comfort, our traditional way of thinking or of doing things, our health, maybe even our life or the life of someone we love. But we trust, we obey, we choose freely to give the Lord what He asks... and then He reveals Himself to us: we discover how good God is, how tenderly and compassionately He will treat us, how much He loves us.
On our Lenten Journey, we try to reach out and freely embrace the Cross. In small ways, we test our willingness to die, to obey, to give up something precious, to pay the price of discipleship. But we can only do this if we have first experienced the desert; only if we have seen Christ Transfigured with our own eyes and have come down from the mountain with him; only if we see Him in the lives of those around us: even if we don't meet eye to eye with them, even if our disagreements are deep and painful, even if they believe differently than we. Only if we really believe in the Resurrection.
Through our faith, we have a foretaste of the glory of Risen Lord, and we must know that it is that same glory that is waiting for us. Then we can embrace the Life He has promised us - after sacrifice, freely, trustingly, lovingly - knowing that God is near, God understands our pain, God will sustain us and carry us through, beyond our Gethsemane, beyond our Calvary, to the triumph of our Easter - never to thirst again.