The Third Sunday of Lent

11 March 2012


The Third Sunday of Lent
March 11, 2012

     Years ago, just before I came here as pastor, I spent part of this third week of Lent with the ecumenical community of Taizé.  Taizé is located in the rolling hills of the Burgundy region of France, not far from a place called Cluny, arguably the greatest and most powerful monastery of the Middle Ages.

     The ironies of history:  Today, Cluny is in ruins but a few miles down the road from it Taizé is flourishing, and has been ever since the end of World War II when a Swiss Protestant gentleman by the name of Roger Schutz began this unique monastic community. Taizé has about 100 brothers, both Protestant and Catholic, and it's dedicated to being a sign of reconciliation and a model for unity in a church and a world badly torn and racked by division.

     Over the years, millions of pilgrims, most of them young people, have made their way to Taizé to witness this unique community and to imbibe its remarkable spirit.  Among the pilgrims have been Pope John Paul II and, before him, Pope John XXIII who used to refer to Taizé as "that little Springtime."

     Taizé was a "springtime" for me personally when I went there in March of 1988. It was just a few months before I came here as pastor and, to be honest, I was feeling more than a little anxious and inadequate about what I was getting into! Happily, Taizé was just what I needed: an oasis of peace and calm. I remember so well sitting in the church there one morning and reading the passage we just heard from John’s gospel, the beautiful story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus became very real to me as he spoke of living water, the gift of God, and reminded me that all my anxieties were really pointless, and that all my thirsting could be satisfied by him, the living water.

     I went away from Taizé refreshed and renewed in hope and confidence.

     Every year on this Third Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us the story of the Woman at the Well. For a very good reason.  We are right in the midst of our Lenten journey: some among us are preparing for the waters of Baptism which will flow over them just a month from now.  The rest of us are preparing to renew our Baptismal commitment: to stand once again as we will on Easter and publicly own that Jesus is for us the way, the truth and the life.

     In many ways, the story of the woman at the well is a wonderful Baptism story:  it's the story of a woman who discovers the deepest kind of thirst in her life, deeper by far than the thirst for water.  It's the story of a woman coming to faith through meeting Jesus; discovering the emptiness of her life without him; turning her life over to him decisively, almost recklessly.

     The church would like us to see something of ourselves in the Samaritan woman.  That may seem a bit far-fetched at first, but it really isn't.  Look at her all by herself at the village well under the blazing midday sun.  There's a loneliness about her -- a sad isolation.  She's not popular in her village, that's for sure.  If she were she would have been drawing her water in the cool of the early morning with the rest of the women of the village.  No, she's something of an outcast, this woman.  Her life appears out of order. She's been running from one dissatisfying relationship to another, and no one of them has brought her peace or happiness.

     And then Jesus comes along and challenges her to take a new look at the thirsts of her life -- to stop running, to stop living on the surface, to stop drinking from wells that promise to satisfy (and do seem at first to satisfy), but which in the end only increase her thirst.  He challenges her to turn from all of this and to begin drawing water from a well that gives "living water," to use his expression: "Water leaping up from within to provide eternal life."

     Jesus challenges us to the same, my friends.  We are really not all that different from the Samaritan woman.  Our lives can get pretty unfocused and out-of-order.  Often they lack a center where there is quiet and peace and calm.  Instead, there can be an almost frantic quality about them. Maybe we don't run from one relationship to another as the woman did, but "run" we surely do:  from ourselves, from our responsibilities, from healthy relationships, even sometimes from God.  We run and we thirst. And today, Jesus let us run right into him, and in doing so, we find living water, the only water that will ever satisfy all our thirsts.

     My friends in Christ, the Samaritan woman, after many attempts at love, found in Jesus one love:  one single, satisfying, faithful love that was deeper than any of the shallow ones she'd settled for previously. And we can find the same.  Or, even better, He’s the one who finds us! He finds us right now and invites us to approach the table of the Eucharist, and he says to us, "Whoever drinks the water I give will never again be thirsty."

     Father Michael G. Ryan


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