Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church
Jennings, Louisiana
March 27, 2011
Third Sunday of Lent

“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.”  John 4:29

They say that St. John Vianney, the Patron of Priests, had the gift of reading hearts.  He sat in his confessional for hours on end, most of the day in fact, hearing people confess their sins and giving them absolution.  He would in turn often reveal to them sins that they either had forgotten or deliberately concealed or not even considered necessary to confess. 

We have also met those unusually wise individuals—perhaps a teacher in school or an insightful old aunt—who was able to give us excellent advice because they seemed to know us so well.  They could read our mind, if not our hearts, and lead us on a path that needed to be taken.  Such is the encounter between the Samaritan woman in the Gospel today and Jesus, but there is much more.  The Samaritan woman is hearing the message of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.

The encounter begins harmlessly enough.  Jesus asked her for a drink of water.  This is unusual because Jesus is a Jew and she is a Samaritan.  These two peoples held animosity towards each other.  Jesus overcomes this obstacle by wetting the woman’s appetite—shall we say—by proposing an attractive and transcendent alternative.  “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). 

What is marvelous about the approach of Jesus is its simplicity.  He does what every good teacher does.  He moves from the known to the unknown.  Here at the well, the known is water and the quenching of thirst.  The woman, as a matter of fact remains, rooted in these tangible objects for some time, failing to see that there is a spiritual dimension to what Jesus is teaching. 

The exchange that really catches her attention and turns the tide of the conversation is when Jesus asks her, “Go call your husband and come back” (John 4:16).  At this point Jesus exhibits that “reading of hearts” that would later manifest itself so powerfully in the life of St. John Vianney.  Jesus says, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’  For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.  What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18).   This revelation brings the woman to the first step, which is to acknowledge that Jesus is a prophet. 

From here Jesus instructs the woman on a number of topics, including the place for true worship and the coming of the Messiah.  His disciples arrive and are “amazed” that he is “talking with a woman” (John 4:27).  We can only imagine why this is so.  The woman at this point leaves her water jug at the well, forgetting her original purpose, and returns to town.  “Come see a man,” she says, “who told me everything I have done” (John 4:29).  The townspeople then go out to meet Jesus, and He stays with them for two days.  The Gospel concludes, “Many more began to believe in him because of his word” (John 4:41). 

Faith is an indispensible reality.  To what can we compare it?  By faith the door opens to us on the real presence of God in our lives.  We can live in a house for years and then one day we open a door and discover something we had overlooked or never knew existed.  Behind a previously closed door we find a room full of curious and beautiful things that enrich our lives.   

How similar the life of faith is to the encounter of the Samaritan woman!  We go to a well to pursue an everyday task, and there we find Jesus, whom we do not recognize at first.  Slowly but surely He reveals himself by capturing our attention.  He reads our hearts.  Perhaps it is by means of revealing a moment of suffering in our lives, as it was for the Samaritan woman.  She must have lived a terribly complex life with five husbands.  However, Jesus embraces us where we are and we begin to see more clearly who He is and what we are supposed to do—believe ever more deeply.

In Lent, we are called to have a deeper faith.  To say I believe in Jesus is to say I believe not only in His existence but also His reality.  He is the way, the truth, and the life for me.  Too many today say they believe in Jesus.  They would never deny His existence, but what does knowing He exists mean?  What significance does it have?  How does it change our lives?  It reminds me of the person who said, “I’ve been praying the ‘Our Father’ every day of my life since I was a child but this morning I paused and realized what it was I was saying.  A whole new reality revealed itself to me.”  This moment was a moment of Grace.  God began a conversation and asked for a cup of water.   Jesus waits for us at the well.