3rd Sunday in Lent. March 23rd 2014
Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2,5-8; Jn 4:5-42
Worshipping God in spirit and truth
A few months ago I thought I’d get in touch with a college buddy and roommate of mine whom I had lost contact with since we graduated from college. I did an internet search for him and was shocked and pained to find out that my dear friend was now serving jail time in Nigeria for financial fraud. I asked myself the question, “Why me?” How come we were so close then in college and now have come to go our separate paths in life? Why am I a priest today and my close friend is serving jail time for fraud? God knows that it is not about who is holier or who prayed more or who went to Church more or who is more devout. Just live with me for a while and you will know why it would be unpardonable madness for me to suggest that God’s choice has anything to do with personal holiness.
The bottom line is that I stand here today before you as a priest only because God loves me and continuously desires to sustain my response to His love with His grace. God loves us all even in our sinfulness and has freely chosen to sustain us with His grace so that we make our response of love to Him wherever we find ourselves in life and in the spiritual journey. In His love, He has called me and graced me to respond to His loving invitation even as I struggle with my own sinfulness. If not for the grace of God, I would surely do worse than my friend had done. And I mean a lot worse! We can only realize this truth when we stop and ask, “Why me?”
“Why me?” This is undoubtedly the question on the mind of the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel passage. Why is Jesus, a Jew, speaking to her of all people and asking her to give Him a drink? First, He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan, sworn mutual enemies of the Jews. Secondly, Jesus’ speaking to her one-on-one goes against the custom. Jesus’ disciples were shocked to find Him talking to her on. Thirdly, she was a woman with a sinful life with her long list of husbands. According to some biblical commentators, she came at the time of the noonday heat and not at the earlier and cooler hours of the day as others do because she wanted to avoid contact with those who looked down on her because of her sinful lifestyle. Of all the possible choices, why was she the one so privileged to have this life-changing conversation with Our Lord Jesus Christ? The answer is simple – because God loves her and wishes to sustain her own loving response with His grace.
Jesus reminds her that this His encounter with her is not merited on her part but God’s way of gifting her with something that she could never merit: “If only you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he will have given you living water.” When she failed to realize the import of these words, Jesus goes ahead to remind her that this gift of His was far beyond ordinary water: “The water that I shall give will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” This living water is a reference to the grace of the Spirit of love (See Jn 7:39) It is only after talking of the unmerited nature of this gift and its power to introduce one into sharing in the divine life that Jesus taught that true worship cannot be limited to certain conditions or places, be it Jerusalem (as the Jews believed) or Mount Gerizim (as the Samaritans believed). “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” It is impossible for us to worship God in spirit and in truth and to do so in every time and place without realizing and accepting the great love that He has for us sinners and the power of His grace to move and sustain us in our somewhat pathetic efforts at loving Him back.
What happens when we forget why God has chosen us? We find an answer in the First Reading where the newly liberated Israelites forgot why God had chosen them among all the other nations. Moses had informed them earlier why God chose them: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” (Deut 7:7-11) God chose them out of His love for them and intended to sustain them in the journey to the Promised Land. This fact was to be the impulse to faithful worship of God on their part. But faced with lack of water, they failed to remember this truth and ended up complaining and grumbling to Moses, even regretting that God had brought them out of Egypt in the first place. Failure to ask and ponder the question, “Why me?” inevitably led to ungrateful and rebellious hearts.
St. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that through Jesus Christ, “we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand” and the “love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We did not merit this love and grace at all but it is out of God’s love alone: “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Christ Jesus died for us ungodly ones “while we were still helpless.” If Jesus so loved us when we were both ungodly and helpless, why should we think that our sins and weaknesses now will overcome His love and grace in our lives and thwart His plan to bring us to Himself through this valley of tears? On the contrary we should be so confident that His grace will sustain us in our own response to His love so that our worship and service of God is deified by divine grace, inspired by love alone, and not limited to certain places and times and conditions. This is what it means to worship the omnipresent God in spirit and in truth.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are we people who worship God in spirit and in truth or are we people who constantly complain and grumble about everything? Are we getting discouraged about our sins? Maybe we are among the many that have had a lousy Lenten season so far and have abandoned the Lenten disciplines. Or maybe we are facing deep pains and sufferings in our lives now that have shaken our faith. Please let us stop and ask ourselves the question, “Why me?” Why are you a Catholic today when many have lost their faith? Why are you called to participate so closely in Christ’s saving mission today? Why are you persistent in seeking holiness of life? Why are you sensing an invitation to share intimately in His sufferings at this time? Why do you still have that desire to give of yourself even in your moments of pain? Why do you have that light of hope that others seem to search for in vain? Why are you here on this beautiful day seeking to receive our Lord Jesus in Holy Communion? Why do you have any love for the Blessed Mother and the Saints when many ignore them? Why do you strive to live in obedience to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in an age of dissent and rebellion? The only answer is this: because God loves you and His grace is sustaining you now and always wherever you find yourself.
It is only when our minds and hearts are open to this love and grace that we can ever hope to worship God in Spirit and in truth.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!