Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent: In Spirit and In Truth

David Oatney Blog: Life at 25



Exodus 17:3-7

Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

John 4:5-42


It is noteworthy that the woman at the well in today’s Gospel was there drawing water at around Noon, the Scripture tells us. Not only are we told that this is Jacob’s well, which is mentioned in the Old Testament (so Jesus’ presence there already had a kind of heightened significance), but this woman is there drawing water at Noon. This is a part of the Holy Land which, although it wasn’t quite as arid as the extreme south of that country, it was still a place where water was scarce and if it was not the rainy season, it is going to be hot at that time of day. The women of the community would have gone to the well early in the morning when it was cool, this woman was there at Noon, and seems to have been alone because she didn’t have a very good reputation. The fine ladies of that place likely didn’t want to be seen with her.


Jesus was not afraid to be seen with her, and not only was he a man being seen with this woman of what we might call ill-repute, he was a Jewish man in Samaria being seen with this lady of less-than-stellar reputation. Samaritans were a people of mixed ethnic heritage who had Hebrew ancestry, but over the course of centuries intermarried with non-Israelite people, so for someone of Jesus’ heritage, himself of the House of David, to be seen with a Samaritan woman in a public place would have caused an unthinkable scandal. Jesus’ disciples, when they saw this, very probably thought that in that moment perhaps the Lord didn’t quite have all of his wits about him. Jesus asks her for a drink, and she wonders why he would ask her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink, and he explains that if only she understood who was asking, she would ask for living water in what was obviously a reference to the Sacrament of Baptism, although this woman probably did not understand that at the time.


The conversation does not stay on the illicit and immoral living arrangements of this lady, but it very quickly turns to a completely different subject: The worship of God. What is the worship of God, what constitutes right worship?


The woman says to Jesus that “our ancestors worshipped on this mountain but you people say that the right place to worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus begins by explaining to her a very central reality of salvation history, one which doesn’t change even though God’s requirements for right worship were about to change, as Jesus began to explain.  Because of a historical schism within Judaism, the Samaritans conducted their public worship on Mount Gerazim, while the people of the Jewish nation conducted their temple worship in Jerusalem on the mountain we know today as the Temple Mount. Jesus makes clear the historical reality of this situation when he tells the Samaritan woman “you worship what you do not understand, but we worship what we do understand because salvation is from the Jews.” It is interesting to note that Jesus uses this encounter with a Samaritan woman to re-enforce as a matter of undeniable truth that the knowledge of the One True God and the power that He has to save the humanity that He created came into the world by means of the Hebrew or the Jewish people. God could have chosen to save humanity through any manner of His choosing, but salvation history as we understand it effectively began when God Almighty said to a man called Abraham “get up and go out from among your own people and your father’s house and into a place that I will show you,” (cf. Genesis 12:1) and the great genealogies of Sacred Scripture re-enforce the reality that Jesus Christ is a direct descendant of both Abraham and David. (cf. Matt. 1:1-17) Worship is important to Jesus, so the first thing he does is give her what in those days was the right answer to that particular theological dispute, the correct place of worship in that day was Jerusalem, so in saying “salvation is from the Jews,” Jesus is telling the woman that in as gentle a way as he possibly can.


After making this important distinction, however, Jesus then tells the Samaritan woman that “the hour is coming, and now is (in other words, the new day of Grace is here)” when the right answer to the question of where God should be worshiped isn’t going to be on Mount Gerazim and it isn’t going to be in Jerusalem, true worshipers, he says, will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.” How can that be done? If Jesus is the Messiah, that is how it can be done. And this woman seems to know that the day when it won’t matter where the true worship of the Father takes place is the day when the Messiah comes, and Jesus reveals to her that he is that Messiah.


If you were here for any of our parish mission a couple of weeks ago right before the beginning of Lent, you heard our missioner, Michael Cumbie, talk especially on the second night of his series about the reality that true worship involves sacrifice. When we speak of worship, we should be clear that we are not talking about any private devotions or acts of adoration to God, but the public worship directed at God the Father. What sacrifice do we offer the Father? We return to the Father the sacrifice which He so willingly offered for our salvation when he offered His only begotten Son. Father Patrick offers, on behalf of all of us, the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ on the altar to my left under the accidents or the appearance of Bread and Wine, that is what Jesus did when he said to his disciples “this is my body which will be given up for you,” and “this is the chalice of my blood.” (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-26) That is why we properly refer to what we are doing here as “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,” and that is why we can say without reservation that our worship actually involves sacrifice, and therefore there is only one place in Jefferson County where you can come not only on Saturday evening or Sunday morning but each and every day and engage in a real act of worship to Almighty God, one that was prefigured even in Abraham’s day when Melchizedek, the priest of God most high, brought bread and wine to be offered to God. (cf. Gen 14:17-19, Heb. 7:1-22)


It is wonderful when we can leave our worship at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass feeling spiritually renewed and uplifted, and we should come to Mass with our hearts and minds in such a disposition that we might be open to the work of the Holy Spirit within the Mass so that we can indeed leave this Holy Place not only having physically received a blessing, but really feeling as though we have been blessed by our presence here. But let us not be fairweather followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ…


If we are sincere in our desire to follow Jesus, there are going to be plenty of times when we come here to Holy Mass and we don’t “feel” anything, we might even wonder where God was today, knowing we can at least take solace that we have come and received Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament…even if it didn’t “feel” like it. Many of the greatest saints in the history of the Church went through prolonged periods of spiritual dryness or even darkness, and some of them even testify to times when they just felt like all that they were doing was going through the motions…even St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote that there were many times when she felt that way.  


Some might come and think the music is not to their liking. Others may decide that Deacon David’s homily today was perfectly dreadful. Still more might think the Mass was too long, others that it was too short. Many love certain priests but do not want to attend Holy Worship led by some other one that they don’t like. Whether it is the musicians, or the ushers, or the deacons, or the priest, or the greeter at the door, everyone has a role to play and a ministry to carry out in the preparation or the unfolding of the Sacrifice that we offer here…but none of those people or things are the reason you or I are here.


This is not about how we feel, though it is my prayer in the end that whatever role God gives us in the Church (and we all have one) that we all embrace that with joy, and that usually does include feeling good about it. It is not about this homily, it is not about me, or Father, or the musicians, or the ushers, and it is not about how fast or slow we think the Liturgy is. To repeat one of the very first things they told us on my very first day of formation for the diaconate…”this is not about you.”


What the Mass is about is the worship of Almighty God who is Holy, Holy, Holy…and when what we do here becomes about us instead of being about God, we are all in sore spiritual shape, because this becomes a social hall instead of a House of God. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest single act of evangelization that the Church has in her arsenal, because the Mass is the one thing that is truly centered on God alone. If the world wants to meet God, come here on Sunday. “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.” (cf. John 4:22-24) Amen.