Be Agents of Hope: Homily for 3rd Sunday in Lent 2008

Today’s gospel is one that tells us a famous story. We see all the details and as in many of the gospels, we need to read between the lines and see what else is told in the story. As the saying goes, a story is not only judged by what the writer says, but what he does not say.
frustration.jpgHere we know that the woman is coming out alone. She is a Samaritan woman and therefore a total reject in the eyes of the Jews. They hated the Samaritans due to an ancient dispute over doctrine. She is a woman, and therefore had a lower status in society and she is a sinner and therefore had an even lower status in society. The fact that she is coming along to get water at this hot time of day says that she comes when no one else does to avoid being ostracized by others for her lifestyle. Yet, it is to her that Jesus comes.
When the story goes further, we can see many of the classic principles in the bible playing themselves out. One of the first things we may notice is that Jesus tells her that he has living water. He is speaking spiritually, she is hearing literally. This is a big difference. She is using well water, which is found by digging down to the water table. Living water in her mind is water flowing from a spring. Such water is naturally purified because it comes to the surface and it comes through natural aquifers, therefore it is purer. Of the two, the latter is greatly preferred. Yet, we also understand the biblical imagery in which that which is in touch with a spring finds life in the desert even in the worst of times. So Jesus is telling her that despite living in a desert of life’s reality, he can offer a spring that will bring her true life. The spring is the word of God and it is the same term seen throughout the Old Testament. Jeremiah talks about the spring of living water that is forsaken by the people who dig their own wells.
Yet, notice what Jesus then does, he confronts her in her sinfulness. Remember, she is on her sixth husband. We don’t know what happened to the other five, but we can think what might be the case just looking around us today. There was no commitment to marriage and the two decided to live together until they decide not to live together. In such arrangements, from my experience, it is always the woman who gets the short end of the stick. You can be sure that there are children that she is caring for from each man. Maybe each child has a different last name. Possibly the man left when the Samaritan woman was pregnant. These things do happen today, so you can rest assured they happened then. The man goes and finds another and the Samaritan woman is left caring for each man’s child alone. The woman always comes out on the short end of the stick in these relationships. If we add the same dynamics to the gay community, then again you will find similar victims of exploitation and narcissism with the possible exception of the issue of children.
Jesus confronts but does not condemn. He gets in touch and gets her in touch with how she is being used over and over again seeking to find happiness and finding misery and alienation instead. He then opens her up to conversion. This means he gives her the one thing that we can give as a church. He gives her hope. This changes her life.
Let’s look at this for a second. We are going through a painful time to be Catholic. Many people are attacking us, are dimissing our beliefs and why? It is simple; they live in a prosperous society and have no need for what we have to offer, which is hope for those who fall through the cracks. Those who dismiss us are not those who have fallen through the cracks. They are those who have found all they want and need in this world. But they offer nothing to those who are not sharing their great prosperity. One of the politicians that has crossed our path he is not running for office and has not run for several years is described as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal. He was praised by many, but don’t fall into any cracks in the society. Don’t get arrested or you are lost. Yet, we are here for those who do fall into the cracks of society.
Jesus makes that statement over and over again. The people who reject sin, the people who are looking only for what this world can offer, the people who put their hope in politics alone and turn their back on faith. They have no interest in what we have to offer and see us as an obstacle to getting what they want. But we are not here for them either. We are here for those who are the collateral damage of their policies and practices. This is why Catholicism and Socialism and Communism are mutually exclusive. The reason can be seen in this story. We offer what no other agency can offer a hope that leads to eternal life. This is what Jesus offers the Samaritan woman who likewise has fallen through the cracks of life. This is the message of Christ. There is also a biblical verse that describes it. God chose the weak to shame the strong.
It is to this woman that Jesus comes. The woman who needs to learn of the God’s mercy and grace. She is not hearing of it from her neighbors or even from her worshipping community, if she attends one. She learns if directly from Christ. Then she is so excited by what she hears she spreads the message to others. The people most receptive to the message of God’s mercy are those who are most in need of it in this case the ostracized Samaritans.
Do not ever forget, as people of faith you are agents for hope. Not necessarily politicalfrustration2.jpg change, but hope for those who suffer in areas that politics cannot and will not touch. One of my favorite blunders in the local media is the story on how the unemployment was affecting minorities. So one of our local dailies, back when I was reading it, which I no longer do, had a story how Blacks, Latinos and white women were suffering from higher rates of unemployment than white men. Yet, of the three the demographic most likely to be employed sooner was white women. But the reporter interviewed a white woman on how she was coping with unemployment. It was such a story blind to the more painful struggles of the other minorities, that it was absurd. Here the story was about those who fell through the cracks in American Prosperity, but the ones who fell the deepest were ignored. This is a classic position. In society who is there for those who fall deepest through the cracks. You and me. We are agents of hope as Church.
This is an important reality because lately you have seen a lot of shootings that have happened in schools and in work. A recent sociologist on one of the news networks was asked why this is happening. The answer was that the shooters have lost hope. When we allow our voice to be silenced, there are no more agents of hope. Jesus gave her hope and calls on us to follow his example. Be agents of hope by living your faith in a way that people know that Christ is alive and you will be doing the will of God.


Top Jessica Bethke from

Bottom: Hank Shiffman from