Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily March 19.
One of the principles of physics is that nature abhors a vacuum. My brother and his wife have a plaque on their wall that says “Thirst is a Dangerous Thing.” Most sins are wrongheaded attempts to meet some thirst, some genuine need, by wrongful means. Looking for love in all the wrong places.
The pursuit of power, possessions and prestige as if these could satisfy our inner thirst for meaning and purpose in life. And the needier we become and the more we try to satisfy our needs in wrongful ways, the more alienated we become — from ourselves, from others and from God. And here I’m not just talking about our desires, I’m talking about our needs. Food, clothing and shelter are needs, not just desires. So also are love, self-worth and security.
In today’s Gospel we have Jesus’ encounter with a very needy woman. Why does this woman go to the well at noon? Everyone else goes at dawn while it’s still cool, but she’s apparently avoiding them and so braves the heat and comes at the very time of the day when she’s least likely to find anyone else at the well. She prefers the physical discomfort of the mid-day heat to the chill of other people’s rejection.
She’s a very needy woman who has bad luck with men: she’s already married five losers and now she’s not even married to her latest prize. And in a small town like hers, word gets around.
Jesus asked her for a drink, but he already knew that she was the thirsty one. Thirsty for acceptance, hungry for a life worth living, starving with needs that only God could fill. And so Jesus proceeded to tell her where she could go and what she could do to meet these needs.
Have you ever noticed that Jesus seems to pick the most unlikely people with whom to discuss theology? In this he reminds me of Pope Francis. He challenges people who think of themselves as upstanding and God-fearing — but who reject others as being inferior — to shape up and reform their lives. Those they reject may have moral issues or understandings of doctrine that are wrong-headed, but God loves them just the same.
And then Jesus turns right around and without any challenge to her notorious marital status and doctrinal confusion, engages this troubled woman in one of the theologically richest conversations in the entire Bible. And the most amazing thing is that unlike the righteous people, she’s up to it. Where religious people refused to accept Jesus, decided they didn’t need what he had to offer, this broken woman knew she was needy.
Nature abhors a vacuum and she was empty and she knew it, and so she was thirsty for the new life Jesus had to offer. And he offered to quench that dangerous inner thirst (that had gotten her into so much trouble before) with divine grace, what he describes figuratively as living water, a fountain within, leaping up to provide eternal life.
And then having filled her with this grace, with God’s power and light, they go on to discuss worshipping God in spirit and truth. And then Jesus tells her that he is the long-awaited Messiah.
First she feels loved by God, and only then is she ready for solid doctrine. Solid doctrine that is not just a matter of theological interest, but which really makes a difference in her sense of self and the meaning of her life going forward! And then she goes to evangelize her neighbors.
This woman — who was an outcast in the eyes of her neighbors and doctrinally dubious in the eyes of Jews — gave such eloquent, grace-filled witness to Jesus that even those who had looked down on her came to believe, first on the strength of her own witness to Jesus, and then especially as her words were verified by what they themselves then heard Jesus say and saw him do.
All of Jesus’ disciples are like that Samaritan woman. We have a thirst that only Jesus can satisfy — a need for love that will truly set us free. Once we truly experience God’s love and are empowered by the Holy Spirit in confirmation — like those first disciples on Pentecost — Jesus sends us forth to do what this woman did: evangelize others, starting with our neighbors.
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