3rd Sunday of Lent

In the Gospel today, we hear about the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  The Gospel tells us that Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.  There was a lot of bad history between the Jewish people and the Samaritans.  The Samaritans were half-Jewish.  At one point in Israel’s history, the Kingdom of Israel was divided between the North and the South.  Both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms were conquered by other nations, but the Northern Kingdom was conquered over a hundred years before the Southern Kingdom was conquered.  When the Northern Kingdom was conquered the conquerors not only deported many people out of the Land, they also imported many people from other nations into the Land in an attempt to force them to lose their own identity and assimilate more easily into the empire.  The people who remained in the Land did, eventually, inter-marry with the pagans from other nations.  Through many generations of inter-marriage, the people of the Northern Kingdom lost their Jewish identity.  They continued to consider themselves as part of the Chosen People, Israel, and they continued to worship God, as the Israelites did, but they began to worship Him in pagan ways and they also began to worship other gods as well; they viewed God as one god among many others.  As a result of this loss of identity and loss of pure faith, the Jewish people of the Southern Kingdom resented the people of the Northern Kingdom, the Samaritans as they became known, and they didn’t want anything to do with them.  The Southern Kingdom was also conquered and exiled, as I mentioned.  When they eventually returned to the Land after 40 years of exile they set to the task of rebuilding the Temple.  When they first began to rebuild the Temple, the Samaritans offered to help.  The Jewish people of the Southern Kingdom wanted nothing to do with the Samaritans from the North.  They viewed the Samaritans as even worse than the pagans, and they did not want them assisting in the rebuilding of the Temple.  This of course greatly offended the Samaritans and they rejected outright the worship that the Jews offered in the Temple.  From that time all the way down to Jesus’ time, the Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with one another.  So it was rather shocking (even to the woman at the well) that Jesus (a Jew) would talk to her (a Samaritan).  Clearly Jesus was not restricted by the cultural norms of His day.

Through His conversation with the woman, Jesus slowly helped her to realize with Whom she was speaking.  Ultimately, He revealed Himself to her by showing her that He knew all about her life and her sins.  Many of us have a similar experience: when we first encountered the Lord, we were convicted of our sins.  God is all holy and in order for us to draw near to Him, we need to rid ourselves of sin.  The Saints all felt themselves to be the greatest of sinners; this is because the closer one is to God, the more one realizes how unworthy they are before the Lord.  The Lord wants us to turn away from sin and give our whole heart to Him.  We cannot love the Lord with our whole heart if we are still attached to sin.  When we encounter the Lord, He calls us to leave sin behind.  It is impossible to encounter the Lord (I mean really encounter the Lord) and not come away changed.  The Lord is not content to leave us in our sins: when we encounter Him, He calls us to leave sin behind and follow Him with all our hearts.

After the woman-at-the-well encountered Jesus, she was not content to keep her knowledge of Him to herself.  She went into town and told others about Jesus; she drew other people to come and encounter Jesus for themselves.  That is also the mission of every Christian.  We are not given the gift of faith for ourselves only: we are given the gift of faith that we may share it with others.  Once we have encountered Jesus, we are called to share what Jesus has done for us with others and thus draw them to encounter Jesus for themselves.

At first, the people of the town went to see Jesus solely based on the testimony of the woman.  Once they encountered Jesus for themselves, they no longer believed based on the testimony of another, they too had their own personal encounter with Jesus.  If we do not share the faith with others, they will not come to believe.  Faith comes through hearing.  How can people hear, if no one shares the message with them?  And how could people share the message, unless they were sent?  We are all sent: by virtue of our baptism we are commissioned to take the Good News of Jesus Christ out into the world.  We are all called to bear witness to Christ in our daily lives: both in our words and in our actions.

Today we celebrate the first of three Scrutinies with the Elect in the RCIA process.  The Scrutinies are a rite that those who are seeking to enter the Church go through: they are meant to help the elect be more aware of sin and their own need for redemption.  During the Scrutinies, we will all pray that the elect will encounter Christ and have the power to overcome sin in their lives, just as the woman at the well did.  These last few weeks before Easter is a time for you, elect, to grow in your knowledge of Christ and in self-knowledge.  The prayers of these Scrutinies encourage you to come to a deeper knowledge and love of Christ, and they also encourage you to seriously examine your own hearts that you may come to a true repentance and sorrow for past sins.  The Church’s hope is that during these last few weeks of Lent you will grow in your desire for Christ: just as the Samaritan woman did.  The woman encountered Christ, which made more aware of her sin, and then after coming to know Christ, she went out and shared her faith with others.

My dear elect: someone undoubtedly led you to Christ.  You are not here by accident; someone likely invited you to join the Catholic Church.  In a very short time, you will encounter Christ in a very special way in the Sacraments of Initiation.  The Church’s prayer for you today is that your encounter with Christ will turn your hearts away from sin and make you faithful witnesses of the Gospel to others.  Remember that faith is a gift; and like the Samaritan woman, we need to share our faith.  When we share our faith, it grows within us.  Faith is like a fire: when it is shared it is not diminished: it spreads.  We are all called to be witnesses to those whom we encounter in our lives; we are called to be light for the world.  Dear elect, may God strengthen you through these final weeks of preparation.  May we all let our light shine before others and draw many to the Lord.  Amen.

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