Lent – 3rd Sunday
February 24, 2008
This weekend, and the next two weekend liturgies present these longer readings from the gospel of John. Each one is a reflection on the paschal mystery – that is, the death and resurrection of the Lord. Each one, therefore, also asks us to think about the meaning of baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist.
So let’s take a look at today’s gospel, the story of the woman at the well, and see what it tells us about the meaning of baptism, confirmation, and Holy Communion – the three sacraments of initiation.
So first, let’s revisit the story. Jesus meets the woman at the well, asks for a drink, and then they have this little bout of friendly verbal banter in the form of little riddles. You can almost see them having some fun with it, talking about water, then living water, and then getting a drink. Until, of course, Jesus throws in the zinger about stating the woman’s history with six different men. Then the conversation turns more serious and Jesus begins telling her about salvation. She gets all excited, forgets about the well water, runs off, tells the people of the town to come and listen to the rabbi at the well. The disciples show up while she runs off and Jesus tells more riddles to his disciples about food to eat that they don’t know about. In the end, the people in the town listen to Jesus and come to faith in him.
Now, let’s learn what to do with this story.
The first symbol is the “living water.” It refers both to the sacrament of Baptism and to the Holy Spirit conferred in baptism and confirmation and all the gifts we receive from those sacraments.
When Jesus begins to explain living water to the woman he does so by explaining worship. This is the fundamental purpose for our creation. To be in relationship with God. We are in relationship with God by receiving His gift to us and then offering it back with thanksgiving. Let me say that again. We are in relationship with God by receiving his gifts to us and then offering them back with thanksgiving. This is the essence of worship. We do this at mass. In fact, the word, “eucharist” means “to give thanks and praise” That’s what we do at mass. And the mass teaches us about a fundamental attitude we can apply to everything we do. To worship in Spirit is to truthfully acknowledge God’s gifts to us and give thanks. Therefore, in everything, give thanks to God.
So, our first Lenten instruction is this: Worship God in spirit and truth. How? By giving thanks in everything. This is worship in spirit and in truth.
The second symbol is the “Food which you do not know” and has the double meaning of the Eucharist and to the effect of the Eucharist in our lives.
The story of the Last Supper in the gospel of John does not include the institution narrative but does, however, uniquely include the story of the washing of feet. That is to say, Eucharist turned into action. After all, we Catholics believe the biblical truth that we are saved by both faith and works.
So Jesus talks about the food that means doing the will of God and finishing his work. Then he gives the example of the harvest – obviously referring not to crops but to people. Helping other people come to faith in Jesus.
This brings us to the second Lenten instruction which is: Help others people come to faith in Jesus.
How? Helping them to receive the living water of baptism and the Holy Spirit. To receive the true food of the Eucharist that strengthens us to do God’s will.
Consider: Have you ever helped somebody to convert to faith in Jesus and to be baptized, confirmed, and receive first Eucharist? Pray to the Holy Spirit to give you the opportunity to help others come to faith in Jesus.
The third symbol in the story is the woman at the well. She represents sinful humanity in need of salvation. Notice that she was there getting water in the heat of the day, not in the morning when the respectable women of the town would gather together. She was obviously something of an outcast in her town. Jesus talks to her – in and of itself something remarkable to her because this simply was not done. Then, Jesus tells her of her sins, but not in a way that judges or condemns her – even more remarkable. He just says that he knows her and repeats his offer of living water. The water of worship that wipes away past sins. That washes away guilt and regret. The water of the Holy Spirit that brings us into communion with God and with the saints. The flow of the Holy Spirit that sends us to tell others about how Jesus saves us from our sins. The woman at the well – with shame turned to joyful hope – became the first evangelist for her town.
Our third Lenten instruction. No more regrets. For Jesus has redeemed us by his death and resurrection. He has given us the living water of the Holy Spirit and bread from heaven – his own body and blood. He brings us into communion with our Heavenly Father along with all the saints. Jesus makes all things new.
Come, let us worship in spirit and in truth.