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No 'social distance' between Jesus, sinners

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Little Flower, Coral Gables, Third Sunday of Lent

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily on the Third Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2023, at Little Flower Church in Coral Gables. During the Mass, Little Flower’s pastor, Father Manny Alvarez, was invested as a Knight of Malta.

In the Gospel today, we encounter the touching story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. You remember the phrase “social distancing” – well, the Samaritan woman was a victim of a type of “social distancing.” Her being a Samaritan, a woman, and a “sinner” caused people to put distance between themselves and her. 

In the world that surrounds us, we know that many people are like the Samaritan woman, people that are thirsting for love. In their loneliness and isolation, they are thirsting to belong and thirsting to know the meaning and purpose of their lives.  There are those who think that they have made such a mess of their lives that God wouldn't want to have anything to do with them. They are, of course, quite wrong. We should note that the Samaritan woman had made a mess of her life and yet Jesus loved her and wanted to restore her to wholeness, to bring her back into a wholesome way of living. That was news to her ears, indeed, it was “good news,” very good news.

The Samaritan woman, even though she at first did not realize it, thirsted for that good news. People today like the Samaritan woman may not at first recognize what they are really thirsting for. (That explains her failure in relationships and many of our own missteps.) 

Yes, we have a hard time knowing what we thirst for. Today's culture of "no" — the "no" to life represented by legalized abortion, the "no" to the future represented by a contraceptive mentality that has brought to many parts of the world a “demographic winter,” the "no" to enduring commitments necessary to foster a family — has coarsened human relationships and spiritually impoverished our society. 

The individualism in our postmodern and globalized era fosters a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships. Without that stability our world becomes an increasingly hostile place, as much a desert as the Israelites traversed. 

Human beings cannot flourish in isolation and loneliness; like the Samaritan woman, we thirst to belong, we thirst to know the meaning and purpose of our lives. 

But, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading, hope does not disappoint. Jesus came to save sinners. And he doesn't wait for sinners to come to him. He takes the initiative. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly – for us.  As we see in the Gospel, it was Jesus who approached the Samaritan woman. The Samaritan woman did not first approach Jesus. And in doing so, Jesus bridged the distance between himself and the Samaritan woman.

As Jesus bridged the distance between himself and the Samaritan woman, we pray that Jesus will help us bridge any spiritual distances between ourselves and him; or any distances that divide us from one another.

The Lenten season's 40 days of fasting recalls Jesus' fast in the desert; but it also harkens back to the Exodus experience of the Hebrews, the 40 years they spent in the desert. Lent calls us to a personal exodus, a going out of ourselves and our preoccupations with the petty things that sometimes lead us, like the Israelites, to grumble against God. 

In his apostolic exhortation, Evangeliae Gaudium, Pope Francis writes: "The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness." 

The Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well experienced the joy of the Gospel and was set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. The Samaritan woman doesn't let her past inhibit her from being a messenger of good news. She brings others to meet Jesus and becomes another “good” Samaritan we learn about in the gospels.

To be a Christian is not a burden. It is a gift. To know Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened to us. To share him with others – as this Samaritan woman did – is our joy.