Deacon Cornell’s Homily


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


March 23-24, Third Sunday in Lent, Cycle A (RCIA)

This story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is one of those Gospel stories that is so well known that it is hard to be touched by it. On top of that, this particular story is so rich in the layers of meaning, the various symbolic meanings of elements in the story, and most of all the human interaction between the woman and Jesus that is is easy to fall into analyzing the story instead of letting it sink in and inspire us. And as with so many of these rich Gospel passages, there is more than one way to interpret this story. I want to share with you something in this story that I had never thought about before now but first I want dispel one of the more popular misconceptions about this story. This is NOT a story about Jesus meeting a woman who is a sinner, a person of poor morals who is shunned by her fellow townspeople because she had had 5 husbands and the one she is living with now is not her husband. I think most people here, if you think about it for a moment, would say that any woman who has had to put up with 6 men in her life is more likely a saint than a sinner.

First of all, in that culture, only the husband could write a bill of divorce so it is unlikely that she had 5 husbands who divorced her; after one or at most two such divorces it would be unlikely anyone else would want to marry her. So it is more likely that she has, tragically, had 5 husbands die, each time leaving her alone and bereft of support and protection. There would have been no shame attached to her, any more that there was in the Book of Tobit to Tobias' wife Sarah who had had 7 previous husbands, all killed by a demon on their wedding night. And there were several possibilities why the man she had now was not her husband. One possibility is that he was a freed slave and therefore unable to marry under Roman law.

This is a story of a very courageous woman who in the course of her encounter with Jesus goes from being very wary of even talking to him, to a connection at a very human level of acceptance and understanding, to recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah. And in response to seeing Jesus for who he really is, she becomes the first apostle, running off in excitement to share the news that she has discovered the Christ.

So I could stop here and we would have plenty to reflect on, seeing this story as a model for how we become intentional disciples: we encounter Jesus, overcome our wariness to enter into conversation with him, discover how much he knows and loves about me, and then realizing this, go and tell others. But I want to share another way of relating to this story.

How many people here are eager to face your particular judgment at the moment of death? I would suggest that most of us are not that eager because we picture that judgment as going before a judge who will review our life and then pass a sentence on us, assigning us to heaven or hell.

I just recently came across a different picture of God's judgment written by John Thiel, a theologian who teaches at Fairfield College. He says, "Let us imagine, then, that God's judgment, whether particular or universal, is not a verdict to which an eschatological Destiny is assigned. Imagine instead that God's judgment reveals something about what each and every one of our selves has been in time, as well as something about what the same selves might be eschatologically. ... God's Own presence, and perhaps the irresistibility of the beatific Vision itself in the midst of judgment, breaks through sinful resistance and gracefully causes an acceptance of judgment that is the truth of a person's character at this moment, at life's end. This acceptance is not in any way the self judgment, but the realization that God judgment is utterly true. God's judgment in such a scenario would be non competitive. It would not measure one person with another but rather would measure each and every person by a vision of who he or she might be, redeemed from his or her sinful resistance to Grace, and so standing in authentic relationship to the community of persons and to creation."[John Thiel - Icons of Hope : the Last Things in Catholic Imagination]

As I read today's Gospel I realized that this encounter is a perfect example of what Professor Thiel is describing. In the encounter, Jesus gradually reveals to the Samaritan woman, first what the truth about her is. She realizes that this understanding of Jesus is perfectly true. And in that realization she starts to understand who she might be if she even sips of this living water. This so fills her with eternal life, which means a sharing of God's life, that she cannot help but become who Jesus sees her to be: the first apostle.

Remember, the one called the Christ has come, and he has told us everything. Now all we have to do is have the courage of the Samaritan woman to accept what he has told us, and to become what Christ envisions us as being in eternity.

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