Easter is coming close! Next weekend... Laetare Sunday!
Homily: 3rd Sunday of Lent – Cycle C (Scrutinies)
Advertisers have a pretty simple job. (Now remember that when I say “simple” I don’t necessarily mean “easy”, I just mean “not complicated”). When creating an ad, they only have to accomplish two things: 1) they have to awaken a sense within the person that there is something missing from his or her life, something that he or she should not be living without, and 2) they have to prove to the person how their product can fill that void. Pretty simple, right?
Probably one of the clearest examples of this is the most recent Snickers candy bar ads. It reads "Hungry? Grab a Snickers.” First, its asking “Aren’t you hungry?”, which, if you haven’t eaten in the last 20 minutes, you will subconsciously answer “Yes, I am.” Then, it presents their product as the thing that you need to satisfy your hunger: either right now, or as the thing that you will think about the next time that you feel hungry. What they’ve done in two easy steps is that they’ve awakened in you a sense that you are missing something and they’ve presented their product as the way to fill that void.
Many ads are more clever and complex than this one—often proposing products that you wouldn’t think would have anything to do with fulfilling that need as being able to fulfill it: like how drinking a certain beverage can gain you friends and good times. You don’t need a beverage to make friends, but they want you to believe that you do.
This touches on a weakness of our human nature, I think. You see, we were meant for eternal things: things that don’t just satisfy us in the here and now, but that satisfy us eternally. Yet our nature, disfigured by sin, constantly strives to fill in the spaces that can only be fulfilled by eternal things with things of this world. These very often are material things—cars, houses, clothes, gadgets, etc.—but they can also be non-material things—like relationships, power, and prestige among our peers.
A case in point: there’s that famous scene from the movie “Jerry Maguire” in which Tom Cruise’s character confronts Renee Zellweger’s character to tell her his true feelings for her; and he says, with all dramatic sincerity, “You complete me.” Now, this is very touching (and I’m as much a romantic as many of you are), but what he says is patently false. The truth is that nothing in this world “completes” us, because we were meant for eternal things; and as long as we are living in this finite world we will never find completeness. Simply stated, we were meant for God and nothing less than God can complete us. Because our relationships can model for us the type of self-giving intimacy that we will experience when we are unified with God, we can feel as if they truly complete us; but the reality is that they can never fully complete us, because only God has in himself everything that we need to eternally complete us.
And don’t we see this happening all around us. People who are longing to feel that completeness and falling victim to every advertisement that says “those hungers that you have in your heart and in your body can be satisfied by this product”, when, if they knew the God who created them and who longs to fulfill all of those hungers within them, they would look past those things, using them for the goodness inherent in them, but not making saviors out of them. These are the people who eat too much, drink too much, work too much, shop too much, hop from one relationship to another (or one marriage to another), or from one church to another… They are failing to recognize that there is no satisfying our hungers in this finite world, because what we hunger for are things eternal.
This is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in today’s Gospel reading. It is the story of a person who has been seeking completeness in relationships so desperately that she has entered into marriage five times. Not finding the completeness that she was looking for, she has given up on marriage, it seems, and has resigned to living with another man outside of marriage, so she could at least be provided for. Her encounter with Jesus will awaken within her the realization that she is still longing for something more and how it is that she can find fulfillment.
Jesus, like a good ad executive, grabs her attention by doing something unexpected: he asks her to give him a drink. She was shocked because the social mores did not permit Jews and Samaritans to share utensils. Now that Jesus has her attention, however, he awakens in her a sense of what it is that she’s been missing. He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” At first she was skeptical: “How can this man, who doesn’t even have a bucket, give me flowing water?” Jesus then promises something even more curious: “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst”. Whoa. This is bigger than just a constant supply of water. This is eliminating thirst altogether! And the woman takes the bait: hook, line, and sinker. “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus awakened in her a sense of what she really wanted and offered her something that would satisfy that need, even if she didn’t understand how he could do it.
Jesus didn’t stop there, however. Rather, he went right on to awaken her to her deeper need. He tells her to call her husband and, when she claims not to have a husband, Jesus shocks her again and reveals that he knows her as well as she knows herself. Recognizing now that Jesus is more than just some random Jewish man, but that he is a prophet, she engages him in religious questions, ultimately prompting her to reveal that she was living in expectation of the coming of the Messiah—something that, whether or not she recognized it, was her deepest longing. Jesus responds by revealing that he is the Messiah, the one that she (along with all the Jews) had been waiting for.
Overwhelmed by this sudden taste of completeness, she runs off to tell everyone in town. Having tasted true completeness, she was no longer concerned about the judgments of the townspeople—their approval or disapproval was no longer an issue; rather, her only concern was to share this good news. In doing so, she brings others to know him (and, thus, to taste completeness), too. Many of the townspeople came to Jesus because of the testimony of the woman; and they listened to him and they came to know for themselves the same completeness that the woman had experienced: the completeness that can only be realized by entering into relationship with the eternal.
Eight of our brothers and sisters have had their sense of incompleteness awakened and have recognized that this incompleteness can only be satisfied by entering into a relationship with the eternal through baptism. Last weekend, they were “elected”—that is, “chosen”—to receive this grace by our Bishop because they have shown an understanding that it is Jesus alone who can fulfill their incompleteness and they have shown a willingness to follow him. Today (and in the following two weeks) we will “scrutinize” them: inviting them in concrete ways to leave off sin and to follow Christ. And this is a call that we all receive as we participate in these scrutinies with them: that is, to renew our commitment to turn away from sin—in whatever form it has crept into our lives—and to follow Christ, who is our eternal completeness, with our whole hearts once again.
Strengthened by our participation in this Eucharist, may we then go forth to proclaim with conviction to all those who are not with us that we have found everything that we have been longing for here, when we encountered Jesus Christ in his Church, and so invite them here to experience the same. Then and only then, my brothers and sisters, will we begin to realize the fullness of the completeness that awaits us when we are all united with Christ in the eternal life of heaven. May God strengthen us in our efforts to complete this good and holy work.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 28th, 2016