Homily: The Threshold of New Life, Living Water

                Gospel Summary

    It is high noon when Jesus stops to rest by the well of Jacob. His revelation about life-giving water will provide a light that challenges the sun. A woman walks up to the well, quite deliberately, at the noon hour when no one else is around, an unusual time of day to visit the well. The other women would have visited during the cooler hours of the day. She clearly wanted to avoid the other women, with their gossipy tongues and their judging glances.

   When he asks the woman for a drink, she’s amazed that he seems so unaware of how things really are.   Does he not know about the human conventions that have condemned her to social invisibility? And especially this woman, who is ‘other’ is so many senses of the word; as a Samaritan, yes, but also as one with a questionable past, How can Jesus be so out of touch?

    But each little wrinkle, every large failure, our regrets, our wanderings, the losses we have known – the broken places in our hearts and lives. We can’t hide things so easily in the noonday sun. In the 1st century, there were rules about how Jesus, a Jewish male and teacher, should interact with people, especially Samaritan women. There were many complicated reasons for those harsh rules, But religion too often instigates differing groups to feel more justified in judging, avoiding, belittling and even hating other groups of people.

    We sit with Jesus in the bright heat of the noonday sun shining on his head. When Jesus answers her, we discover that it is she who is out of touch. For she does not know about the “gift of God” that Jesus offers–a gift that is as refreshing and enlivening as bubbling, cool spring water, and thus so much better than the stale, stagnant well water on which she has been trying to survive. The woman’s eyes must have sparkled as Jesus awakened in her the dream of a life of freedom and dignity. “Sir, give me this water.”

    We learn about the nature of this “living water” a bit later when the woman asks Jesus whether it is better to worship in Jerusalem or on the Samaritan Mt. Gerizim. Jesus defers to Jerusalem but adds immediately that such considerations are no longer relevant. What counts now is to welcome the Spirit who can transform the hearts of people by enabling them to experience the ultimate truth of God’s love for them. Religious places and rituals remain important but only insofar as they lead to this experience of God’s love made manifest in one’s personal union with Christ.

            Life Implications

    It is all too easy for most of us to identify with the Samaritan woman when she experienced life as often unfair and unjust, that is, as stale well water. Many powerful human institutions conceal systemic injustice in the sense that opportunities and rewards are too often provided on the basis of connections rather than of ability or merit.

    Even those who benefit from such arrangements can sense that it is really empty privilege, that even then, deep down, they know that, in life, love is so much more important than security. To shrug off injustice as simply ‘the way things are’ is to be condemned to the half-life of stagnant well water.

  Today’s gospel invites us to dream about the possibility of a world where opportunity and hope replace the bondage of fear and despair. God really does not want us to live a life of quiet desperation. Jesus has come to reveal the Father’s love and the Spirit is ready to convince us of that fact.

   The Spirit of Jesus whispers constantly to us: “If you only knew the gift of God…” Our eyes too can sparkle as we dare to imagine a world, at least within our hearts, where the experience of God’s invincible love becomes a source of refreshing, life-giving water to quench our thirst for goodness and justice. To stand beside that well is to stand at the Threshold of New Life, where we can be forever refreshed, or remain stagnant in continuing to benefit from a culture of prejudice, privilege and hatred.

   In order to avoid a cynical attitude toward life, we need to realize that the Holy Spirit wants us to redeem our own little corner of the world. We do not need to be a Messiah, but we do need to inject some messianic hope into the area of life that we can influence. The conversion of the world begins with the conversion of a kitchen or a church pew or a workplace. If each one of us would do that, the larger world would soon become what God intended it to be–a place where justice blossoms and where love bears wonderful fruit.

   The water itself, that dances, and sings, and slakes the wonderful thirst–symbol and picture of that draught for which the woman of Samaria made her prayer to Jesus–this lovely thing itself, whose very wetness is a delight to every inch of the human body in its embrace–this live thing which, if I might, I would have running through my room, babbling along my table — this water is its own self its own truth, and is therein a truth of God.

    We can view salvation as healing, too, as in passing through a threshold. What needed to be healed in the Samaritan woman, and in her people? What needs to be healed in our congregation, in our community, in our families, in the spirits of those who come to hear this good news? How do barriers create a need for healing?

   Who are the people in our congregation who will recognize the rules and restrictions in this Gospel story more readily, and perhaps more painfully, than others will? Which of them come to ‘the community well’ at a different, more uncomfortable time, than the rest of the community? Who experiences this isolation and loneliness? Who in our congregation truly thirsts for good news, for community, for salvation and for grace?

   The brilliance of high noon.  Sometimes being listened to is so much like being loved, it is impossible to tell the difference.  Someone feeling wronged is like someone feeling thirsty. Don’t tell them they aren’t. Sit with them and have a drink.”

(Kathryn Matthews Huey and Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.)



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