Homily by Fr. Herbert Nicholls at the Mother of Light Convent on February 4, 2019.
Today there are growing concerns over the availability of fresh water, as the earth’s supply seems to be decreasing for any number of reasons. Water is one of the most basic necessities of life, so it seems natural that Jesus would use water to indicate entry into Christian life and grace.
It is noon, it is hot, it is a desert (cf. Jn 4: 1 – 26). Jesus was able to survive 40 days without food, but you can’t survive long without water. His simple request to the Samaritan woman opens up an honest, but delicate dialogue, which challengers the social norms of that time.
But He chose to reach out to her in order to open up the wellspring of her heart. Jesus knew all about her, her bad points, as well as her good. Certainly she must have been very nervous and reluctant to pursue any further conversation. But Jesus reached out to welcome her, enabling a conversation which broke down the barriers between genders and races. A conversation which leads to the discovery of some of the most basic truths.
Why is it necessary to go to the Temple (or to Church) to worship? I can worship God anywhere. Jesus answers: ‘True worship is not found in a physical place. True worship comes from an inner spirit.’
This woman who had come searching for water to drink from the well now searches for the living water of which Jesus was speaking. Do we also thirst for that which we believe satisfies our deepest thirsts? Is that thirst for the One who created and saved us?
This woman, perhaps still a bit uncertain of what will come out of the mouth of this Rabbi asks: ‘Are you a prophet? They say that there is a Messiah coming, are you the One?’ To which Jesus answered directly and simply: ‘The One speaking to you now, I am He.’
I’m sure many think this Gospel is a long Gospel and an even longer homily, but it is necessary to highlight the process by which misunderstanding and enmity can be transformed into friendship by a willingness to reach out in conversation for a lengthy period of time, longer than a glass of water or a cup of coffee. This transformation requires a willingness to stay with each other even as you stumble over differences.
The victory of this conversation is revealed in the woman’s impetus to ‘leave behind her water jar’, the symbol of all that she had formerly felt important and dependent. Now in the value of receiving love and acceptance she makes no effort to retrieve it.
Jesus had given her a love that would fill her and change her. He gave her a new source of life. This was the ultimate gift for the woman and for us. And the ultimate value was to share this faith with her neighbors.
Surely the town’s people must have been somewhat intrigued, but they did not turn away or insult her, they chose to listen, just as she had chosen to listen to Jesus. In time they went to see and hear for themselves. Based on that encounter and the experience of what they heard, they came to believe for themselves that Jesus truly is the Savior of the world.
Now, what about you? What have you heard? Has it begun to produce a new thirst in you? What is your water jar? What is in it that weighs you down? What is so important that you cannot part with it? Listen to Jesus! He is offering you living water that brings you closer to Him! I pray that you will be able to drink!