mercy and compassion
3rd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: March 15, 2020
What is Jesus doing in this encounter with the Samaritan woman? It is something scandalous. In fact, we are told that when the disciples returned and saw him with her, they were astonished. It was inappropriate at that time for several reasons.
First, she is a Samaritan. For the Jews at that time, the Samaritans were seen as heretics and a schismatic group. They were detested even more than pagans. They saw them as having a false religion. What is Jesus doing having a discussion with this Samaritan?
Second, she is a woman. In that society, a man would not be alone with a woman other than his wife.
Third, she is not just any woman, but a woman who was in her 5th relationship and no longer with her husband. She would have been seen as promiscuous and unfaithful. In fact, she is coming to get water on her own. Normally, women would have went together to take water from the well, this shows that the other women did not want anything to do with her.
So, it is scandalous and surprising that Jesus would be there in discussion with her.
In this act, Jesus offers us a model for being with others. We see many miracles of Jesus, healing the blind or paralyzed. But, this may be his greatest miracle. By the end of his discussion with her, she is really changed. She realizes her need for God, her thirst for God. She comes to believe that she too can be loved by God. She is set free from the desperate search for love and acceptance with the variety of men she was with. She has changed and starts a new life.
How does Jesus treat her? He listens to her, he cares about her. He shows mercy and compassion. A kind, listening heart caring for a person has the power to bring about real positive change. In this encounter Jesus offers us a model for any spouse, a model for any priest, a model for a good friend, a model for a good human being.
I had a whole homily prepared, but I am going off script. Coronavirus pandemic. Much being closed and shut down. Many things that we rely on for entertainment. Even things we rely on for our faith. Perhaps even Mass will be taken away from us. This can be an opportunity for us. As we let go of many things we rely on, what will we do with the time we have? How will we use this extra free time? Perhaps for extra time of prayer, extra time of silence, extra time for spiritual reading. Perhaps time to phone friends and family we have not seen for a while.
In this encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, we have so much to learn about how to be with others. Much to learn about how to be with others in a way that brings life.
But, I just want to point out two things we can learn based on two quotes from Saints.
First, St. Vincent de Paul once said, “Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favourable light at all times and under all circumstances.”
The others immediately judged the Samaritan woman as someone to be avoided, someone who was a sinner distant from God. Jesus sees deeper. Sees beyond her present situation to the deep thirst within her heart. Sees her need for true love, that she too is deserving of God’s love.
How do we see others? Do we see them with harsh judgment or with an understanding heart that sees the often hidden thirst within others?
Second, St. Mother Teresa once said, “Many people are talking about the poor, but very few people talk to the poor.” Is it not true that politicians, church leaders, parents, teachers, often are ready to tell people what to do, tell people what is wrong with them. But, it would be so much more helpful if they would actually speak to and listen to the people they are supposed to serve.
Jesus offers all of us a great model. A model of a kind, listening heart. A model of caring for others, including those who are rejected by others in society. Such a presence can bring about real change, can help others to realize their deep thirst for God. It can open a person’s heart.