Third Sunday of Lent, March 15
John 4: 5-42
Today’s Liturgy offers a choice of Gospels. The one we choose for this Sunday’s homily is from St. John and tells the rather lengthy story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s well. In this Gospel Jesus strikes up a conversation with the woman and proceeds to lead her from her uncertainty to faith. This is a journey each of us makes many times in our lives. The water that Jesus offers her is the same water given to us at our Baptism. It is the water of life in Jesus, the water that opens us to the way, the truth, and the life of Jesus.
Once we see the uselessness of our human attempts and ways for attaining happiness and peace in life, hopefully we become open to the way of Jesus. Maybe he is right. This is what happens to the Samaritan woman. She discovers that there is little in her present life bringing her any happiness, not even her five husbands. She has tried “her way” and the result was five divorces. Of course, with this record, she was still thirsting for happiness and peace in her life. Once we, like the Samaritan woman, become open to Jesus as the Messiah and to his values as the road to happiness, we are on our way to “not thirsting anymore – ever.” We have found the re-freshment that leads to the Kingdom here on earth and to eternal life after death. This is truly the way.
Jesus points out to the woman the fallacy of her ways and invites her to drink of this “water of life.” I believe the woman is really taken by the words of Jesus and senses that while he knows all of her life’s mistakes, he still forgives her and is urging her to make better choices from now on. What is particularly interesting here is a step taken by this woman that all of us must take if we truly want Jesus in our lives: we must forgive ourselves. I believe she reflected on this in her words: “He has told me everything I have done.” Here she saw and regretted the uselessness of her ways and sought the ways of Jesus, as did the townspeople when she confided in them whom she had met. She had made mistakes and now sensing the forgiveness of Jesus, she forgave herself for that and began to follow Jesus’ way.
It is necessary for us to forgive ourselves, too, for what we have done in the past. We have to make a U turn and begin to follow Jesus. The past is gone, over, finished. We have made mistakes and chosen the wrong way often. We have taken our bumps and we have become sick and tired of being sick and tired. And now we must forgive ourselves. When God forgives us, he lets it go, and we must do the same. Quit bringing the past up again, especially in those so-called “general confessions.” When God forgives us, our sins cease to have further existence.
Now, through our openness to God’s grace, by opening our eyes to his ways, our ears to his words, we have found the way that brings us to what we always wanted – happiness, joy and peace – a life where I do not have to “thirst” any longer for these things because now they are God’s gift to me. This Gospel is not only the “life-story” of the Samaritan woman; it is our “life-story” too.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your gift of life-giving water and the happiness and joy it brings with it.
Monday of the Third Week of Lent, March 16
Book of Kings 5: 1-15
I truly love the story of Naaman, the leper, told in today’s first reading from the Book of Kings. The moral of this reading might well be: Why not give Jesus’ way, truth and life a chance? What do you have to lose? You can always go back to your way and what you have now.
Naaman was a so-called “big shot” in his day. He was an army commander highly esteemed and respected by all for his many victories. But, alas, he was also a leper and that threw a bucket of water on his fire. He heard in a round-a-bout way of a prophet named Elisha who lived in the land of Israel and who could cure him of his leprosy. So Naaman prepared for the journey to see Elisha; still, however, going about things in his own way. The story tells us he took with him ten silver talents, six thousand gold pieces and ten festal garments, plus his retinue of servants, horses, chariots and soldiers. He was covering all the bases for a cure.
When all of this reached Elisha’s door, however, Elisha himself never even came out of his house to see Naaman in person! Rather he sent a servant telling Naaman to go and wash seven times in the Jordan River and his leprosy would be cured. Naaman was insulted. Elisha hadn’t even come out to see him personally and all he told him to do was go and bathe in the Jordan River seven times. Had he come all this way with all this money, horses, chariots and soldiers to take a bath in a river? There were rivers at home he could have bathed in without coming all the way to Israel!
Naaman was ready to throw in the towel and head back home when one of his servants came up to him and told him that he had indeed made the long trip to Israel with all its difficulties, but as long as he was here, why not try what Elisha had told him to do? What do you have to lose? You can always have your leprosy back!
The end of the story is what anyone might imagine: Naaman tried it Elisha’s way and was cured of his leprosy and lived happily ever after. Does this story ring any bells in our own lives?
Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent, March 17
Mt. 18, 21-35
In our parable found in the Gospel for today, I really don’t understand how the “wicked servant” could fail to forgive his fellow servant after the Master had forgiven him for the same offense. This really puzzles me.
I know that sometimes things happen that are terribly difficult to forgive. I am aware of this from the many who have come to me seeking help in doing so. I believe one of the requirements for forgiving another is having been forgiven yourself. That is the way it is with me. I really don’t have a very difficult time forgiving others today because I have experienced the feelings of joy at being forgiven myself. In my alcoholic days, I hurt a lot of people in my parish that I really wasn’t even aware of. When I got into the treatment center and started to think about things, I realized how many of them I had hurt and that I owed them an amends. I asked my counselor if I could return home to do this and found out he was dead against my doing this at this particular time. After a couple of weeks of battling with him about this issue, he finally got tired of me asking him and gave me a conditional OK. I had to agree to write out what I wanted to say to the people, give it to him to edit and retype, and then promise to stick to the script and sit down and shut up immediately after I finished reading it to the people. I agreed to all his stipulations. When the time came to do it, I was scared to death. I had no idea at all what the response of the people was going to be. Maybe I would be out of a job! But all my worrying proved to be useless. After I finished reading my statement at all the Masses on a Sunday morning, the people stood up, applauded, and welcomed me back. What a happy, teary moment that was for me.
I had experienced the joyous and happy feelings of having been forgiven. How could I ever not want those same feelings for others seeking forgiveness for something they did to me?
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent, March 18
Mt. 5: 17-19
We note that this Gospel reading is from chapter 5 in Matthew’s Gospel, and that makes it part of the Sermon on the Mount. This Sermon gives the highlights of Jesus’ message for us. Right off the bat he tells us he has not come to abolish or do away with the commandments, the law or the teachings of the prophets. He tells us further that whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven. He comes, Jesus tells us, not to abolish but to fulfill the law, to give it further relevance and completion.
We will begin to see this shortly in Matthew’s Gospel in the “antitheses” which take the law and the commandments and extend and deepen them. Jesus came to challenge us, to demand a little bit more. Jesus pushes us to our limits and raises our human consciousness to new heights. It seems that in following Jesus we can always go that little bit more, that one more step.
Am I willing to follow Jesus in my life today by giving this little extra, a little more love, compassion and service to others?
Solemnity of Joseph, Husband of Mary, March 19
Luke 2: 41-51
The Church celebrates two feasts every year in honor of St. Joseph: March 19 for Joseph the Husband of Mary and May 1 for Joseph the Worker. Everything we know about St. Joseph comes from the Scriptures. We would often like to know more, but that is not going to happen.
We do know that Joseph was a carpenter, a working man. He was not rich, for when he took Jesus to be presented in the Temple he could afford only the sacrifice of two pigeons allowed only for those who could not afford a lamb. Other things we know of Joseph: He came from the house of David, the greatest King of Israel. He was also a compassionate and caring man in his care for Mary and Jesus. Joseph was a man of faith, obedient to God without knowing the outcome. We know Joseph loved Jesus and respected the commands of God the Father. Even though we know but little about Joseph, we know enough for our own imitation of him in many areas of our own lives.
St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the dying, since we assume that he died with Jesus and Mary close by him. He is also the Patron of the universal Church, fathers, carpenters and social justice.
St. Joseph, pray for us.
Friday of the Third Week of Lent, March 20
Mark 12: 28-34
In today’s Gospel reading one of the Scribes came to Jesus and asked him, “Which is first of all the commandments?” In answer Jesus quoted the “Shema, Israel,” “Hear, O Israel”from the Book of Deuteronomy. We call this the Great Commandment: Love of God and Love of Neighbor. Actually this Greatest of all the Commandments includes all the rest of the Commandments. All of them fit in one of the two categories of the Great Commandment.
Today’s Gospel is from St. Mark and this is the sum total of what Mark says about the Great Commandment. In Luke’s Gospel, after Luke quotes the Great Commandment (Luke 10: 25-28), he immediately gives us the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 29-37) and the story of Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary’s home (Luke 10: 38-42).
The story of Martha and Mary explains to us how we “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” In a word, we do this by listening attentively to his words and then putting them into practice. And the parable of the Good Samaritan, of course, tells us how to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Having read this marvelous Lenten Gospel, let’s take the time to read Luke’s rendition of the Great Commandment and the Parable and Story which follow. This, plus a bit of meditation, makes a great Lenten prayer.
Saturday of the Third Week of Lent, March 21
Luke 18: 9-14
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Most of us have found these words working in our own lives from time to time and have found them to be very true: Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. When we go around exalting ourselves, humiliation is not too far behind.
I remember this happening to me one time on a golf course. Four of us, all pretty good golfers, were out for 18 holes and suddenly found ourselves behind a foursome of women. They were having a good time, but of course they didn’t hit the ball as far as we did and were slowing up our progress. We tried to let them know we would like to play through with little success. Finally we caught up to them on a tee and I asked them if we could play through and promised them we would not hold them up. They finally said yes, and stood there watching the expert. I teed off and hooked the ball over some railroad tracks, into a lake and out of bounds.
Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled. A word to the wise is sufficient.