Third Sunday of Lent

Today’s Bible Readings

First Reading Exodus 17:1-7 God brings forth water from bare rock in the safe the Israelites from dying of thirst.

Second Reading Romans 5:1-11 Paul explains how we have hope and salvation through the blood and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Gospel John 4:5-42 Jesus meets a sinful Samaritan woman at a well and tells her about the water of life. She believes him because he tells her “all that she has ever done” and goes to testify about him in her village so that the villagers come and hear Jesus and recognise him as the Saviour of the world.

HOMILY Come and See… “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29) by Fr Gerard

Being dyslexic, I’ve always been terrified of reading aloud, as words keep jumping across the page...which is why I have started wearing these green tinted reading glasses. Because of this, I constantly told myself that I would never be much use to the Church - until one day my school chaplain said: “Always remember, Gerard, the only person who was born perfect got nailed to a cross.”

Now, thankfully, one of the beauties of scripture is, the more we read it, the more we discover that just like with the woman at the well in our Gospel today, God can and does work through the most unlikely people in order to make his presence felt across the whole of humanity. I really believe it’s worthwhile for us, as missionaries here in Thorpe, to hold on to the phrase “the whole of humanity”. It reassuringly reminds us that, even in its infancy, Christianity was always global and inclusive. Why else are we told in verse forty-two that the villagers boldly declare “Jesus came as saviour for the whole world”?

So, what type of person do we need to be if we, like the woman at the well, feel called to share God’s love with others? Well, last week we heard about a Jewish leader called Nicodemus who, despite lengthy study of the scriptures, failed to recognize that Jesus is the Son of God.

Unlike our friend Nicodemus, the woman at the well isn’t recorded by name. Initially, I found this a bit strange. Normally, when somebody retells a story, they include key details such as names of those involved. However, I wonder if the author of our Gospel deliberately chose not to name this woman in order to emphasize that, unlike Nicodemus, she was not part of the establishment, but rather a normal person just like you and me. This has strong echoes of the reassuring words written by St Paul in his letter to the early Christian community in Corinth where God chose what the world deemed weak in order to shame the strong.

Let’s continue on our theme of how God chooses ordinary people, and not just academics, to spread his love for the whole of humanity: It’s worthwhile remembering that, as a woman, our main character wouldn’t have been allowed to receive the same level of schooling enjoyed by her male counterparts. I don’t think we’re being cruel by saying her education would have been limited. So our passage clearly shows that Jesus wants to work with what’s in our hearts and not just what’s in our minds.

It’s interesting to note that this woman has to collect the water herself, rather than having a servant do it for her. This clearly tells us that she wasn’t from a privileged background. And why on earth did she decide to come and collect water at the hottest part of the day? Surely, most people would have gone to the well when it was a bit cooler; either first thing in the morning, or later on in the evening. Now, if you can remember, Jesus tells us that this woman has had five husbands and is currently living with another fellow, who he points out is not her husband; could it be that her colourful lifestyle has resulted in her being cast out by the rest of the village? And therefore, to avoid being further ridiculed, she feels that she has no other choice than to go to the well when nobody else will be there? Yet again, perhaps the author of our Gospel is challenging us to think if we, too, wrongly judge others because of things that they have done in the past.

In our current society of equality, it’s easy to overlook just how countercultural this passage really is. In those days, Jewish men would not have dreamed of degrading themselves by publicly acknowledging and listening to those whom they deemed inferior, namely women and children. In fact, many Jewish men ignored even their own wives in public, and there was a phrase, frequently used to mock the lengths Jewish men would go to in order to protect themselves from the corrupted nature of women: “a bruised and bleeding Pharisee”. Apparently, this refers to the habit of strict Jewish men who, seeing a woman coming towards them, were so frightened of being defiled that they would close their eyes and, yes, you guessed it: end up walking into the side of a house. While this is quite comical, it does encourage us to stop for a moment and think about how our own behaviour in order to keep holy may be viewed by those on the outside.

And finally, our main character was a Samaritan. As the Gospel explains, both Jews and Samaritans proudly traced their religious heritage back to the same source of Jacob. But over time, the Samaritans had built their own temple and therefore didn’t use the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and as a result, the Jews hated the Samaritans with a passion. Could this contain a subtle message for us today as well? Do we perhaps unwittingly hold prejudices towards those who don’t practice their faith as we do?

Now I would like to conclude our reflection with the words of a prayer called the Knot Prayer, which I recently saw on a Church noticeboard in a poor London Parish:

Loving Father: Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart and my life. Remove the ‘have not’s, the ‘can not’s and the ‘do not’s that I have in my mind.

Lord Jesus, erase the ‘will not’s, ‘may not’s, ‘might not’s that have found a home in my heart.

Holy Spirit, release me from the ‘could not’s, ‘would not’s and ‘should not’s that obstruct my life.

And most of all, Holy Trinity, I ask that you remove from my mind, heart and life all of the ‘am not’s that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough. Amen.

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