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The Third Sunday of Lent
March 24, 2019


    We are steadily making our way through the desert of Lent and, happily, today’s readings bring us to a kind of oasis, to cool refreshing waters. The reading from Exodus took us to the wondrous waters that gushed forth from the rock at Meriba in the desert: waters that revived the faith of some very thirsty and weary and disillusioned Israelites. And the gospel brought us to the waters of Jacob’s well where Jesus revealed himself to the Samaritan woman as Living Water, more abundant and more life-giving by far than water from any well.

     Both readings tell of the power of water to bring life and to make new: water, that wonderful metaphor for the life of grace, the life God shares with us in such abundance. Like water, grace flows freely. It’s unpredictable and cannot be contained.  No wonder Jesus in his conversation with the Samaritan woman so quickly turned talk of well water into talk of what he called “living water.”  The water of Jacob’s well, he said, refreshing though it was, would still leave the drinker thirsty, but living water would become for the one who drank, “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

     Scripture scholars assure us that, as with all the stories in John’s Gospel, there is more here than first meets the eye.  It is rich in meaning, with many layers, open to many interpretations.  It’s a story about how Jesus always puts people first: ahead of laws or social conventions; it’s a story about Jesus’ revolutionary attitude toward women – Jesus who flaunted social convention and engaged in prolonged, public conversation with a woman, a Samaritan woman, and a sinful Samaritan woman at that!  It’s also a conversion story, as well as a story about the nature of worship - what it is and isn’t - and it’s a story about how God loves all people without exception.  But because we are supposed to be waking up to the meaning of our baptism during these Lenten days, I want simply to let water tell the story: the water of Jacob’s Well, and the Living Water that is Jesus.

     Think of the water of Jacob’s well as whatever it is you crave or yearn for, whatever it is you set your heart on and are convinced will bring you happiness.  There are lots of possibilities, aren’t there?  Not all terribly worthy. Think of things like pleasure, popularity, prestige, even power. Or maybe unlimited resources: a secure and comfortable future. These can seem like promising waters, so why wouldn’t we thirst for them?  But if that’s all we thirst for, then the more we drink, the thirstier we’re going to get. Cool, refreshing water can turn bitter and, before long, turn into whirlpools that suck us in, or swirling rapids that sweep us along and carry us downstream.

     Jesus offered the Samaritan woman a better kind of water and he offers the same to us.  In her thirst, she had been seeking love and acceptance wherever she could find it, but time and again, husband after husband, she ended up lonely and isolated, and still very thirsty.  And we, in our own search for love and acceptance - restless and often selfish - we, too, end up lonely, isolated, unsatisfied, and still very thirsty.  The soon-to-be-sainted Cardinal Newman captured this beautifully in one of his sermons when he said, “God who made the heart is alone sufficient for it.” He was echoing the great St. Augustine who, when he finally awakened to the real thirst of his own life, found himself crying out, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you!”  Augustine knew what he was talking about.  He had spent years trying to satisfy his thirst: seeking fulfillment in pursuits of the mind and pleasures of the flesh. And when he would begin to awaken to what would truly satisfy, even then he was afraid to find it.  “Make me chaste, Lord,” he would pray, “but not yet...!”

      Can you relate to that?  I think we all can in one way or another. We want to center our lives on Christ – we wouldn’t be coming here if we didn’t. All of us want to say “yes” to Jesus, but our yes to him is not always our only yes.  We hedge our bets and keep drinking from more than one well. All too easily, we forget that Jesus said that it is the pure of heart who will see God.  And who are the pure of heart?  I don’t think Jesus was talking about physical or moral purity; he was talking about the single-minded. That’s who the pure of heart are.  The great Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kirkegaard, had it exactly right when he entitled his book, “Purity Of Heart Is To Will One Thing.”  Or, in light of today’s readings, we might say today, “purity of heart is to drink from one well.” It simply won’t do for us always to keep our options open, dithering between the promising but puny wells that dot the landscape of our lives and the vast reservoir that is God’s love.

       My friends, every time we celebrate the Eucharist we come as close to Jesus as the Samaritan woman did. So my question today is: can we, with her, drop our defenses, face the truth about ourselves, and quietly take Jesus at his word?  If we can, if we do, there will be life for us: abundant life, and transformation, and hope beyond our imagining, for “Whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty; the water I give shall become a fountain within, springing up to eternal life."

Father Michael G. Ryan




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Seattle, Washington  98104
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