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Bishop's Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent

March 12, 2023

[Holy Family Church, Honolulu (Episcopal Visitation)]

The people of this parish know very well the difference between living water and toxic water.  For months, many of you who live in this area could not stay in your own homes because the water was contaminated by a jet fuel leak from the fuel storage tanks on Red Hill.  Drinking or even washing in this toxic water could lead to temporary and even long-term illness – the opposite of what water is supposed to do for us.  The kind of water we drink or wash in is very important.

So it was in this encounter of Jesus with the woman of Samaria.  We are not referring to the water in the well of Jacob, which apparently was good, fresh water, but the other kinds of toxic waters she – and we – are often exposed to.  First, there was the toxic water of racial and religious division.  Jews do not talk to Samaritans nor Samaritans to Jews.  Samaritans worshipped on one mountain, while Jews worshipped in Jerusalem.  To this situation, Jesus brought living, life-giving water when he dissolved those barriers, speaking to the Samaritan woman and explaining that true worship is not tied to any particular locale but is worship in Spirit and in truth.

Then the was the woman’s thirst for love, which she sought in one husband after another, all the while filling herself – and probably her partners – with a toxic sense of incompletion and dissatisfaction.  It is also said that her going to the well at noon was a further indication of her thirst for this toxic water of lust, since most women would go to draw water in the early morning, before the heat would make carrying water even more difficult, while men would more likely be at the well in midday because they were watering the flocks.  She was probably not just interested in the water but in meeting even more men to help her fill up her loneliness.  To this situation, Jesus scrutinizes her, exposes her self-destructive habits, and opens her heart to his chaste love, a love that would finally quench her thirst, because he knew all she ever did and still loved her.

So it is that we are often like that woman, swimming in the toxic waters of our culture that sometimes divide the world sharply into those in our camp and those who are not – whether we are talking about race, politics, or religion.  We can easily drink in this water that thrives on divisions, which we all know are very toxic to ourselves and our culture.  We can drink in the water that is all around us that convinces us that we ourselves have the authority to decide when life begins or ends, what gender I will be, or what truth is.  We can become so accustomed to the taste of water that promotes lust and self-indulging sexuality rather than the sacrifice and self-giving that are a part of God’s plan for our sexuality, and we know how toxically addicting this can be.

But the same Jesus who offered himself to that Samaritan woman as living water, welling up to eternal life, is here with us today, making himself present to us in his Word, in the Church, which is his living Body, and in the Eucharist, where he is truly present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.  Like the woman, we come as sinners, sometimes not even aware of our sinful behavior or our toxic desires, but hopefully leave transformed by the life-giving water we drink in when we encounter Jesus.  Especially during this time of Lent, he wants us to scrutinize ourselves so that he can point out of faults and failings, just as he did to the woman.  They are as embarrassing to us as they were to her.  We may want to huff away in hurt and anger as she may have wanted to do, but she stuck around to further engage Jesus.  She argued and debated with him, just as we often do when he points out our sins to us, wanting to justify ourselves.  But in the end, if we open the channel of our hearts, Jesus pours in his living, soothing and refreshing water of mercy.

Today our Elect, those who preparing for Christian initiation at the Easter Vigil, make their First Scrutiny.  Like the woman, they are asked to scrutinize themselves, to go and retrieve the people and things they have attached themselves to that are filling them with toxicity.  This is not an easy journey, just as I am sure the woman was uncomfortable being confronted with her sins.  But  they do this so that they can be immersed in the living water of Baptism, be sealed with the Holy Spirit who opens true worship for them, and encounter the Lord Jesus himself as the true Bridegroom of their souls.  And we who are already initiated walk with them, because we can often go back to the wells of toxicity, and need to renew our commitment to Jesus, the living water within us, so that we can splash and frolic forever in the fountain of eternal life.