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Now that we have been at it for 18 days, on the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A, Jesus comes to us to double check that our Lent is on the right track.
Jesus helps the Samaritan Woman at the Well discover what Lent is for by taking her step by step through what he has to offer. Since the Gospel is long, here is a brief run-down of the major applications of her story to our Lent.
First, Lent is supposed to show you how little the material things we value are actually worth.
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,” Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well at noon as the Gospel begins.
Starting with water, he takes the Samaritan woman step by step, to see her own nature and needsand the order of goods in the world: We need material goods now; we will need spiritual good forever.
Lent should make us realize this also. Our Lenten fast should make us realize that food was not as necessary as we once thought — snacking, alcohol, the meal we gave up, or even the chocolate we skipped isn’t necessary. Nothing in the world will satisfy. Everything will fade and lose its effectiveness.
This is what Moses and the Israelites had to learn in the desert, in the First Reading and the Psalm, when they longed for water more than they longed for God. And this is what we have to learn in the desert of our Lenten fast.
Second, when Lent works as it should, we fall in love with God.
Look briefly at the three movements in the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
This is what God does for each of us in Lent.
First, Christ in his Church asks each of us to fast with him in the desert as Lent begins. I don’t know about you, but I can remember even as a child feeling a little honored by that. Jesus wants me to do this with him and for him? Jesus cares if I don’t do it? It’s clear that Jesus doesn’t just love humanity in the abstract, he loves each of us and wants to be in a relationship with us.
Second, Jesus, through the Church’s Lenten prayer, initiates a conversation with us. At first, it is a conversation about how he fits into our plans — but then, if we let it, it becomes a conversation about how we fit into his plans.
Third, we confess our sins and accept a new way of life. He helps us see that his love for us isn’t a matter of him changing what he offers to fit our needs, like human love; it’s a love that helps us simultaneously see how worthy and unworthy we are such that he improve our life after his model.
Last, a good Lent makes ambassadors for Jesus.
Everyone who is truly touched by God becomes his missionary.
The woman does this by running to her village to tell people to come and meet Jesus. The townspeople later discover that “this is truly the savior of the world.” In the long version of the Gospel, the apostles get schooled by Christ in how easy their job is. It merely involves inviting in the souls he has already prepared. That is exactly what the Samaritan woman found in town.
It is what Paul found too in the Second Reading: “hope that does not disappoint” because “God proves his life for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
He does that each Lent, step by step, as he engages each of us in conversation, like the woman at the well. All we have to do is respond.