Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Homily: "Close Encounter"

Click here to listen to Sunday's homily.

The woman at the well.  This is one of the best stories in all of the Gospels.  There is so much here to unpack.  This story is used for the first Scrutiny with those preparing to be baptized at  the Easter Vigil; Jesus speaks of water “welling up to eternal life”.  The woman experiences a conversion of heart; we are in Lent, a season of conversion of heart.  We see her inner conversion exemplified even in the way her address of Our Lord progresses: from “Jew” to “Sir” to “Prophet” to “Messiah” to “Christ”.  Also, the well is a deep structure; the Lord goes deep with her as He has gone deep with us in the past or will go deep with us in the future.  But, I’d like to focus on the well and what is really going on here.
The well was where people met their future spouses.  In the Old Testament, we see many of these encounters.  Isaac met his future wife at a well.  Jacob and Moses also met their wives at a well.  And, the Samaritan woman meets her true husband at the well.  Jesus talks to her about her “husbands”.  Interestingly, the Hebrew word for husband commonly used was “Baal”.  A Baal husband was like a master-husband…like a master to a slave.  Men in the Old Testament often had a free wife and a slave wife.  Abraham, for example, had Sarah, his free wife (the wife he was supposed to have) and Hagar, his slave wife.  When the Lord says to the Samaritan woman that she has had five husbands, he is referring to her five Baal husbands.

And then, he says, “and the one you have now is not your husband”.  Not yet, at least.  He is referring to himself. Samaritans knew what the prophets foretold: that the Messiah would be the true spouse.  She recognizes this and says, “you are a prophet”.  I think she recognizes him, too, as the Messiah at that moment. She recognizes that he is her true spouse and that can be free in relationship to him.  We might see her as the first consecrated woman.  We see the fruits of their spousal relationship when she evangelizes those in her town, essentially giving birth to her new-found relationship in Christ.  How many women do we see evangelizing others in the Gospel! Mary Magdelene, for example, evangelizes the whole Christian world when she announces that Christ is risen.
The Samaritan woman is in a position to recognize Christ.  Life has pretty much brought her to her knees; we might say that she is at rock bottom.  Because she has suffered so much from the slavery of her Baal husbands, she can recognize and appreciate her true, free spouse in Christ.  We might have been in the same situations when we’ve had such powerful experiences with encountering Christ.  We have had our own Baal spouses: addictions, vices, sin, attachments (Lent helps us move away from attachments), maybe even tragedy or suffering.  We have been slaves to these “masters”; Christ has come to us as he came to her.  Maybe this was on a retreat or in prayer or in some other powerful moment.  He meets us where we are and doesn’t force himself on us.  He goes to the matters of our hearts…those things which means the most or have troubled us the most.  He reveals himself as our true love and offers us his freedom.  We are more able to recognize him when we’ve been brought to our knees…recognize him as the Christ and as our true spouse.

Finally, we have the same opportunity for an encounter with Christ that the woman had.  We encounter him in the Eucharist at Mass or in prayer; it is the same Christ.  May we recognize him as our true and free spouse.  May we have the same experience that she had: of having him change our heart and change our life.

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