What is it that you expect to gain by your Lenten sacrifice? What change or reward is the expected result from your faithfulness? I believe there is a larger issue we fail to grasp because we have become so focused on our own improvement during Lent. We approach Lent as that time of year when we look back and try to see where we have gone off track. We may have grown lazy in our personal prayer so we make a pledge to ourselves that we will be more attentive each day. We may have grown complacent with our spiritual life so we read or attend things to help us grow spiritually. We may have decided we are lax in extending ourselves to serve those in need and vow to be more attentive to others.
Those Lenten actions are generally done within the walls of the church or in the privacy of our own homes. The world does not see us as we worship each week but they do see our daily actions.
I have come to realize there is a dimension to Lent that we have overlooked in our efforts to be better people. We have been so intent on our desire to grow closer to God we have missed being a part of the mission of the church. We are called as a body of Christ to tell others about the love and forgiveness of God. Our faith during lent has us looking inward and yet we are by God’s design to be an outward looking people. I know how strange this may sound to you but give me a minute and I will explain. The scriptures tell us the world will know us by the way we love (Jn. 13:35). If this is how the world knows us how well are we doing? If we were honest we would admit how we have trouble getting along within our own tradition much less with other faiths.
The woman at the well can teach us something if we could only look beyond the familiarity of the story. We know from the story how she has searched to satisfy some deep need in her life. She did that by marrying 5 men and discarding them because her need to be loved was not satisfied. She was now living with another man but had not married him. Her reputation in town was very obviously extremely low for she was going to the well when no other person would be there.
It is at the moment when she is trying to avoid contact with anyone that she encounters Jesus. She is willing to enter into a discussion with him about wells, Samaritans and Jews but avoids the deeper questions about her need. This is a picture of us in our approach to living our faith. We will sign up for every program offered by the parish but we avoid the deeper encounter with Jesus and allow him to touch our hearts. We study, learn, discuss, serve but do we listen to Jesus as he calls us to follow him.
Jesus deflected all those meaningless topics and challenges her with his words and ultimately she realizes all she seeks is found in Jesus.
This is the gospel message from every gospel and epistle – all we seek is found in Jesus. This is the message the woman cannot any longer contain so she runs to tell the men of the village. Here we have a woman who has a reputation so poor that no one even wants to encounter her and she does not care about what they think. She seeks them out and tells them about how Jesus changed her and they believe in him because of her testimony.
This is the mission of the church and we are by Vatican II and by our baptism called to give witness to the love of God, the mercy of God and the forgiveness of God. We are called to give witness to everyone we meet. Yet I find that we are frightened by the prospect of talking about Jesus. Are we so uncertain of our own knowledge of our faith we hesitate because we are afraid to be challenged or questioned? Or is the reason we hesitate because we have not had that kind of conversation with Jesus?
We can learn a lesson from the Samaritan woman and move from a meaningless discussion of faith to allowing Jesus to show us how to live our faith.
If you have not had an encounter with Jesus then that should be your Lenten quest. You should not be trying to be a better version of yourself but you should be trying to encounter Jesus.
How do you do that? It is simple you must like the woman at the well just say to Jesus – give me to drink of what you offer so that I will never thirst again.
Then the next time you encounter Jesus in the Eucharist as you look on that host say yes I want what you offer me.