Dcn. Phil Anderson
Homily March 15th 2020
Woman at the Well
We are at a critical turning point in our World and in our Country and there is only one path forward for we Catholics and that is to rely more than ever on the importance of prayer and strengthening our relationship with our Lord Jesus. We are never alone…He is right here with us and when times get tough, He is our anchor.
When we moved back to Boston several years ago I was very concerned about being able to regularly visit the Blessed Sacrament as I had done most of my life. Thanks to Father Tom, I was made aware of a small chapel in the Prudential Mall, a short five minute walk from my office on Huntington Ave. The Oblates of the Virgin Mary expose the Blessed Sacrament for adoration in the morning and afternoon in their Chapel in the Pru. It is a little odd to find a quiet little chapel among the extravagance and conspicuous consumption of the high end retail outlets. For me it has become a beautiful respite.
One beautiful late summer morning in early September two and half years ago, I left my office to find Saint Francis Chapel for the first time. Relying on my smartphone, I set out on what resulted in the least expeditious route to Saint Francis, taking me all the way around the mall to Boylston Street and the back entrance. Along the way, I encountered a homeless lady who asked me for money as has happened countless times over the course of my life. My reaction was automatic. I gave the homeless lady two of the six dollars remaining in my wallet. She immediately told me she needed ten dollars and eighty five cents as I remember it. She then proceeded to pleadingly describe a detailed grocery list that would require that amount of money to satisfy. I apologized to her for not having the additional funds and gave her all that I had. I was consumed by the personal nature of this interaction, the pleading words and face, a child of God! I couldn’t recall anything like this happening previously. I also realized that while I didn’t have all that she wanted or seemingly needed, I gave her what I could.
The woman Jesus encounters at the well also has a history. Things done and left undone, some good and some not so good…regrets, fears, sorrows and secrets just like all of us but her life experience is even more extreme having had five husbands and now living unmarried with a sixth man. Looked at but seldom seen and labelled yet nameless, she remains unknown to everyone except Jesus.
Women of her day had very little choice or control over their own lives. She had no right of divorce. If she is not divorced then she has suffered the death of five husbands. Five times left alone to start over….a truly tragic life. Although a natural response to Saint John’s Gospel, we should not be too quick to judge.
People like the Samaritan woman, people like us, people with a past, often live in fear of being found out. It is not just the fear that another will know the truth, the facts, about us but that they will do so without ever really seeing us and without ever really knowing us. We all want to be seen and known at a deep and intimate level. We all want to pour our lives out to one who will really know us. That is exactly what Jesus is asking of this woman with a past when he says, “Give me a drink.” It is the invitation to let herself be known. To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.
To be found out without being known leaves us alone and perhaps in a state of desperation and wanting something more, something different, but always returning to the same old wells.
We all go down to some well. For some, like the Samaritan woman, it is the marriage well. For others it is the well of perfectionism. Some go to the well of hiding and isolation. Others will draw from the well of power, authority, and control. Many will drink from the wells of addiction. Many live at the well of excuse and denial.
We could each name the wells from which we drink. Day after day, month after month, year after year we go to the same well to drink. We arrive hoping our thirst will be quenched. We leave as thirsty as when we arrived only to return the next day. For too long we have drunk from the well that never satisfies, the well that can never satisfy. Husband after husband this is the well to which the Samaritan woman has returned.
There is another well... the well of our Lord Jesus. It is the well that washes us clean of our past. This is the well from which new life and new possibilities spring forth. It is the well that frees us from the patterns and habits that keep us living as thirsty people.
In today’s Gospel, that is the well the Samaritan woman found. She intended to go to the same old well she had gone to for years, the well that her ancestors and their flocks drank from. Today is different. Jesus holds before her two realities of her life; the reality of what is and the reality of what might be. He brings her past to the light of the noon day. “You have had five husbands,” he says, “and the one you have now is not your husband.” It is not a statement of condemnation but simply a statement of what is. He tells her everything she has ever done. She has been found out.
But it doesn’t end there. Jesus is more interested in her future than her past. He wants to satisfy her thirst more than judge her history. Jesus knows her. He looks beyond her past and sees a woman dying of thirst; a woman thirsting to be loved, to be seen, to be accepted, to be included, to be forgiven, to be known. Her thirst will never be quenched by the external wells of life. Nor will ours. Jesus says so.
Jesus tells us, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” This is the living water of new life, new possibilities, and freedom from the past. This living water is Jesus’ own life. It became in the Samaritan woman “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” She discovered within herself the interior well and left her water jar behind. She had now become the well in which Jesus’ life flows.
Until we come to the well of Jesus’ life within us we will continue returning to the dry wells of our lives. We will continue to live thirsty. We will continue to live in fear of being found out. So, from what wells do you drink? How much longer will you carry your water jars? There is another well, one that promises life, one by which we are known and loved. Come to a new well. Come to the well of Jesus’ life, His love, Jesus’ presence that is right here, right now in the Eucharist.
The thing that stands in the way of people recognizing Jesus in John's Gospel today is their tendency to look only as deep as appearances, to stay at the literal level rather than go deeper with Jesus to the spiritual level. Let us go forth today and allow Jesus to turn around the way we think about things.