Sunday, March 23, 2014

Questions and Answers (Lent 3A)

Something that happened this week reminded me things aren’t always what they seem.

A priest friend of mine sent me a photo of himself beside a nice-looking man, with the caption “Look who I saw in St. Peter’s Square!”

I recognized the man right away—my old friend Corrado, who lives in Rome. I haven’t seen Corrado for a couple of years, but I thought he looked pretty good for his age.

Later that day I was looking at a news website. One of the stories was headed “Actor Fails to Meet Pope.” I clicked on it, and there was another photo of
Corrado at St. Peter’s—only this time he was correctly identified as the Academy Award winner Russell Crowe!

As soon as I got over the shock of my mistake, I remembered what I’d e-mailed back to the priest: “Who recognized whom?” When I called him yesterday, he complimented me on my great sense of humour. I was rather reluctant to tell him the truth!

This morning’s Gospel isn’t such an obvious a comedy of errors, but it comes close. The Samaritan woman confuses the life-giving water of divine grace with an easier way of filling her pail with H2O. We’re in on the joke, so to speak, and we have to smile as she looks to see if Jesus has a bucket, and as she gets excited about being able to avoid her daily trip to the well.

Since St. John isn’t trying to amuse us, I asked myself why he tells us about the confusion of the woman at the well.

The answer I came up with was this: Jesus wants us to know it’s okay to be confused--because he wants us to ask him questions about the things we do not understand.

During the weeks that some of us have met for Lectio Divina, a way of praying with Scripture, we tried to make our prayer more of a conversation than a monologue. We asked our questions and listened for God’s answers.

We all need to ask questions to grow in faith. Someone wrote that learning usually passes through three stages. First you learn the right answers. Next you learn the right questions. And finally you learn which questions are worth asking.

There are many questions worth asking about today’s long Gospel.*

Why did the Samaritan woman come to draw water at noon, the hottest time of the day? Did she want to avoid the times the other women in town came to the well?

What are the places in my life where I am embarrassed, where I avoid interaction with others? What are the noon day wells of my life?

Can I imagine Jesus approaching me there?

Why was the woman of Samaria so dense in her dialogue with Jesus? Was she trying to keep him at a distance?

How do I put Jesus off? With excuses, with my problems? “I don't have time; I haven't done this before; my stuff's too complicated; I don't know how to find you in this mess”?

When Jesus shows the woman that he truly knows what’s going on in her life, she knows she's in the presence of someone special—perhaps the one she has thirsted for all her life.

Do I let Jesus show me that he knows and understands me?
Can I find the words to say he is the one I have thirsted for all my life?

And if I can’t, do I ask him why? Do I let him guide me along the steps through which he took the woman at the well?

Over-confidence is not a Christian virtue. One of the first paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic tells us why: “By love, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. He has thus provided the definitive, super­abundant answer to the questions” we ask ourselves about the meaning and purpose of our lives. (n. 68)

Today’s Gospel teaches that we must say we’re thirsty before the Lord can offer us the water that flows all the way to eternal life. We have to admit what we don’t understand before he can gently lead us to the life-giving waters of truth.

*The questions are "borrowed" from a fine reflection from Creighton University that you can read here, which also has interesting commentaries on the Gospels for the next three Sundays, during which we celebrate the "Scrutinies" with those preparing for baptism.

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