Deacon Cornell’s Homily


Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2,5-8
John 4:5-42


March 18-19, 2006 Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle A (RCIA)

Have you ever been asked to say what the one thing of a category you would take with you if you were stranded on a desert island, or if you were running out of a burning building, etc.? I usually find it very hard to come up with just one thing in most categories. But if the question was what one Gospel story, I think I would pick this story of the woman at the well. That is because this story contains the whole message of the Gospel and how we are to apply it as disciples.

If you were trying to read along with the lector or with me as I read the Gospel, you are probably wondering why these are not the readings you have in the Breaking Bread for the 3rd Sunday of Lent. Well, the reason is that we are blessed to have a member of the elect preparing for the sacraments of initiation on the Easter Vigil and so we are using the RCIA readings from cycle A this Sunday for the part of the RCIA called the scrutinies. This week we will present Gloria with the Creed. Too often we think of faith as a set of ideas we agree with instead of a way of experiencing reality that makes us live life differently because of this experience. This story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman makes it clear that faith is about coming to know the person Jesus the Christ, and responding to him. So it is also very relevant for those of us who are renewing our baptism and confirmation this Lenten season.

It starts out with Jesus breaking the rules by talking to a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that. Jesus asks for a simple drink of water. It is no wonder that the woman starts out being very suspicious; the Samaritans and Jews hated each other. Jesus continues to talk with her, drawing her gently into the conversation with compassion. He does not judge her. He reveals details of her life not to shame her or even to call her to repentence but to reveal how well he knows her. He knows what she is longing for, and holds out the promise that he is the fulfillment of her longing. Gradually her distrust turns to faith, and as with any true conversion experience, her faith moves her to run back to share the good news with her neighbors. Trusting her word, they come out to see for themselves, and then they too are drawn into a conversion experience, no longer needing the testimony of the woman because they have experienced Jesus directly.

There are so many lessons we can take from this story. I would just like to mention two of them.

Jesus came to call all to discipleship, without regard to background, gender, race, or religion. This woman is the first apostle, which means one who is sent. Before any of those we traditionally identify as having been personally sent by Jesus, this Samaritan woman was sent by Jesus to announce the kingdom to her neighbors. John's Gospel is full of such stories of the faithful witness of women, often as in this story, in stark contrast to the bewilderment and temerity of the men. In this Gospel, Jesus' public ministry starts with a woman (his mother at the wedding at Cana), has this Samaritan woman among the first to profess Jesus as the Christ, and ends with that same confession by the sisters of Lazarus. This first apostle is also not a Jew, nor would she be considered a model of propriety. But she encounters Jesus and he sends her as his apostle to spread the good news, and becuase she has experience the saving power of Jesus personally, her testimony is compelling.

I spoke a few weeks ago about what it takes to be a Catholic here in the 3rd millennium, and this story illustrates what I was trying to say then. It takes a personal experience of Christ. All the layers of clergy and ministries and all the rituals have only one purpose and that is to bring people to a personal experience of Christ. This first apostle successfully drew people into contact with Jesus, and then they believed because of their own experience with Jesus. We who are clergy and ministers and teachers and parents have to remember that we are not the exclusive channel between God and God's people. Our job is to do the introductions and then get out of the way. We will do our job as clergy and teachers and evangelizers best when we focus on the ideal outcome of our ministry, and that is what we hear on the lips of the townspeople: " 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."

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