Third Sunday of Lent (A) - Conversations that Save

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Third Sunday of Lent (A)
Conversations that save

This Gospel chosen to be read on the third Sunday of Lent has been used since ancient times to help instruct the catechumens as they prepare for initiation into the Church at Easter. So it is helpful for us today as we listen to the account of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well to interpret it in the light of the Sacrament of Baptism.

And the links are obvious – Jesus says, “the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside”. Baptismal water is a sacramental sign of the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit, which St Paul reminded us in the second reading is “poured into our hearts”.

Let us explore this image of the life-giving water for a moment.

We human beings need water to live. It is more essential for us than food. This woman had to go to the well daily to draw water for her needs of those of her household. The Lord uses this to say to her that there is a more important water that human beings need. He says to her: “Whoever drinks this water will be thirsty again.” And then adds, “anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again.”
We notice that the Lord has actually moved the conversation from the physical to the spiritual level.

The Lord wants to move the woman from her preoccupation with the basic physical need for water to the level of the inner, spiritual need of every person. The Lord leads the woman to consider what finally and fully satisfies the thirst of the human soul. Every human being - whether they know it or not – thirsts for God. Each of us has a soul that yearns for the things of the spirit. We human beings are not just flesh and bones. We are more even than intellect and emotions. We have a soul. Things of this world will never finally satisfy the human soul. As St Augustine came to realise God has made us for himself and we are restless until we rest in God.

That helps explain why it is that as some people have abandoned their Christian heritage they have become caught up in New Age, or Eastern religions, or become fascinated by the occult. They are searching for something to replace the inner spiritual void caused by leaving their Christian life. Sadly they have turned to drinking polluted waters, rather than seeking the pure water of the Spirit.
The Lord who sees into the heart of the Samaritan woman knows that she has a deep thirst. She has sought satisfaction in a succession of husbands – five in fact. Like so many today she is chasing the fulfilment of her felt needs, and has gone to all the wrong places.

Even our human relationships, like material things, are not finally satisfying. There is only one relationship that embraces the needs of the human person. It is a relationship with God founded in Jesus Christ and nourished by the presence of the Holy Spirit. There is only final source of lasting inner life. It is a life with God.

This is where the life-giving water is to be found. This is the only place where this live-giving water can be found.

This conversation between the Lord and the Samaritan woman illustrates something important for us. The Lord took the opportunity presented by this meeting at the well to engage with this woman as he sought to reach out to her and guide her back to the path of life. He could have just sat there and waited for the disciples to return. He could have just exchanged pleasantries with the woman.

He chose to engage with her in a most significant way. This is the shepherd seeking out the lost sheep. This reveals the deep pastoral intent of the Lord. This reveals the heart of Jesus burning in love for those who are far away.

It reminds us that the Lord reaches out to people. God has not and never will leave humanity to its own resources. This is the whole history of salvation. Finally and ultimately he reached out by sending his Son. God reaches out to us, constantly. He wants to engage in dialogue with us and guide us in the ways of salvation.

This story reveals the thirst for souls that the Lord has. That thirst for souls is alive today. Now however the Lord relies on us to be instruments of this desire draw people to himself and align their lives with him.

It challenges me to think when was the last time that I sought to move a conversation from the superficial to the spiritual? When was the last time that I took the opportunity offered by a chance meeting with someone to be an instrument of grace for them?

What Jesus did at the well challenges us to do the same. We all have opportunities to be instruments of grace by turning conversations towards the things of the spirit. We don’t have to force conversations, but there are appropriate moments. 
We can enter conversations that save, as Jesus did for the woman at the well.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 22 March 2014