Sunday, March 12
Third Sunday of Lent
Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
The next three Sundays, our readings are very closely linked to the meaning of Christian initiation. In fact, even in the other two years of the Sunday liturgical readings, these readings are used at the Masses for the Elect preparing for baptism. On this Third Sunday of Lent we hear of Jesus, the source of life-giving water, while next week we learn that he is the light of the world as he gives sight to the man born blind. In two weeks, as he raises Lazarus from the dead, we will see his power over death – as he gives life to the world.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman and assures her: “(W)hoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus’s meeting with this woman has many elements, but at the heart we find his identity, as the One who can give life-giving water and allow those who come to him the possibility of sharing that life with others. We can see in the approach that Jesus takes with the woman that he is seeking to draw her (and us) to understand more deeply who he is and to share fully in his life.
When Jesus first meets the woman, he breaks social boundaries in multiple ways. He speaks to a woman, while he and she are unaccompanied. He speaks to a Samaritan, with whom Jews had no dealings. He asks for a drink, when he had nothing to drink with — and so he would have had to use her bucket and thus make himself ritually impure. In all these ways, Jesus is showing that he wants to draw this woman to faith in him and to communion with him. Eventually, she will come to faith and bring her whole community to that faith in Jesus as well. In this process, there are moments of partial understanding and misunderstanding. A key moment is when Jesus shows that he knows the truth about the woman (“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”). Here he shows that he knows her heart. By the end of the encounter, he has led her to faith in him as the Messiah and has made her an evangelist: “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”
We who have been baptized can, as St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans, say that we have been justified by faith. At the same time, we can sometimes long for the apparent freedom of a life of sin. Like the Israelites in the desert we can cry out: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” Today’s readings serve as a reminder to all of us that Jesus knows who we are and what we have done, and that he heals us and gives us life.
Each time we bless ourselves with holy water (but don’t drink it, please!), we are reminded of our identity in baptism, of the life Jesus has given us. Every time we approach the sacrament of reconciliation (referred to sometimes as the “second baptism”), Jesus shows us that he knows the darkest secrets of our hearts and even so loves us and calls us to communion with him. If in your parish, you see some of our Elect celebrate the Scrutinies today, pray for them — and for all of us as Catholic Christians — that receiving life at the font of life-giving water, we may may be bearers of life to the whole world.
Father Alfredo Hernández is the rector/president of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He is a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach.
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