Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent Year A 2020 at Westmead Hospital Chapel, Westmead Adult Hospital
Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-42
15 March 2020
Growing beyond self-concern into self-giving discipleship
Dear brothers and sisters,
People can do the most selfish and thoughtless acts or the most heroic and altruistic when they are confronted with extreme situations. During the bushfire crisis some time ago, we witnessed some of the finest examples of selflessness and dedication on the part of our fire fighters. They battled the relentless conditions and put their own lives at risk in order to protect their communities. Their sacrifice represented the best of human nature in one of the worst crises in Australia.
Fast-forward three months and we are now in a different crisis, that of the coronavirus. This time, it seems that fear and hysteria have triggered irrational responses in many people that resulted in panic buying, hoarding, or worst, suspicion and xenophobia.
As followers of Christ, we are called to grow beyond self-concern and personal safety to a discipleship of trust and selfless service. The Word of God on this third Sunday in Lent focuses our attention on the importance of faith in trying times. Faith at its deepest and best is lived in our most vulnerable moments, in our trials and tribulations. It empowers us to break loose from our self-survival mode and to transcend our own limitations.
This is what the People of God were called to do as they made their pilgrim way to the Land of Promise. The exodus from Egypt had been an extraordinary experience of freedom and liberation. They had seen the marvels of their God who routed their enemies and led them dry shod through the sea. But the initial euphoria and excitement soon gave way to a sense of doubt and despair. Confronted with hunger and thirst, they vented their anger against Moses “Why did you bring us out of Egypt… that we should die of thirst, our children and cattle, too?” What a difference a journey can make!
In the face of adversity, the people of God succumbed to their basic survival instinct. Fear, rather than trust, won the day. They wanted their hunger and thirst satisfied even in exchange for their hard-won freedom(!). They would rather go back to the slavery in Egypt and have their bodily food than to persevere on the journey of transformation with the nourishment of the soul. They failed to pursue the higher calling which was to become the beacon of the new humanity, bonded not merely by the search for earthly securities but by truth, justice and communion.
This failure was in sharp contrast to the way Jesus responded to the temptations in the wilderness. Whereas the Jews acted with fear and nostalgia for the past, Jesus did not falter in the face of adversity. He showed us the power of vulnerable trust. He transcended survival instincts. He transcended the human limitations and lifted us into a deeper experience of the living God.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is also a story of human limitations overcome and transformed. She was branded with social, moral and religious stigma. She was a Samaritan woman whose search for happiness had failed. She was destined to a life of social isolation. Yet Jesus reaches out to her and enables her to grow from a consummate outsider to a witness for him. She begins the encounter as a curious inquirer and ends as a disciple of conviction. Her growth in faith is reflected in her profession of Jesus, first as a Jew, then a prophet, a rabbi and finally as the Christ.
The story begins with her search for drinking water and finishes with her leaving behind her vessel, going into the city, and inviting others to their own encounter with Jesus, the vessel of living water. That is one extraordinary transformation, one which we are all invited to undergo.
Our faith, like that of the Samaritan woman, needs to grow beyond its present limitations to higher levels of interiority and maturity. She is no longer inhibited by her gender, ethnicity, culture and social status. Transformed by Jesus, she is emboldened to share her faith experience with others. She breaks through moral strictures and social conventions to become a witness for Jesus in the same way that Mary of Magdala later became a witness for him after the resurrection.
Lent is a time when we resist the temptation to have things at our disposal. It is a time of going deeper in our faith life, of enriching the inner spirit and becoming worthy witnesses of the Gospel. In the current crisis, we must help others to break through fear and ignorance by living deeper levels of faith, hope and trust. It is the kind of hope that comes from what Paul says the love of God that has filled our hearts. In the light of Jesus reaching out and transforming the Samaritan woman, we must likewise learn to rupture our own prejudices and discomforts to learn more and grow in love for those we consider “other.”
May we, like her, become disciples of conviction and apostles for Jesus who came to invite all to the fullness of life in him.