Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 15, 2020.)

We have been watching the spread of the coronavirus for many weeks now. First we watched the alarming numbers in China, then the spread through Asia, then to Australia, then to Europe. Now what seemed like a distant problem is here at home.

The spreading of the virus and the impact is hitting all peoples and it is alarming. As the situation evolves, more hardships come to people: those infected first, especially the elderly among us; then those who fear they might get infected; college students who have to move home and everyone effected by the economic consequences. The leaders of countries, states and local governments are striving to help everyone, and we all must do our part to cooperate and protect.

Today we are reminded of another source of help and assistance. This help comes from the Lord. He comes into the midst of the anxiety and fear to remind us of his saving grace. He comes to lift our spirits, and to remind us that even in the darkest of times, there is a light to lead us forward so that we might find peace. The readings for today’s Mass carry this reminder.

The Gospel recalls the story of Jesus’ encounter of the woman at the well. When we first hear of the woman at the well, we might think she is just about her daily activity of getting water for the home. Yet as the story develops we learn more about her.

First, we learn that she is a Samaritan. The Samaritans were outcasts in the Jewish society. There was a great animosity between the two peoples living in the same land. She would have been looked down upon by the Jews.

We also learn that she has had several failed attempts in marriage. Her relationships are broken, so much so that the man she lives with now is not even her husband.

Things are not well in her life. There is something missing. Something is broken and begs for healing. Perhaps she is so caught up in her daily routine that she is not even fully aware of this herself. Regardless, she is weighed down by the situations life has presented her. It’s into this life that Jesus now enters.

Jesus comes to her and asks for water. She is surprised at the very least, and perhaps even shocked, that Jesus would speak with her, and she replies: “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

Jesus, however, breaks through custom and social expectation and encounters the woman as a person, as a human being. Just by doing so, he says to her that she has worth, that she matters, that she is important. He then offers to deliver her from her strife and to lift the burdens she faces.

This will not come from an outside intervention but from within. He promises her “living water” which will well up from inside her to provide life, eternal life.

As the dialogue continues, and the relationship develops, Jesus invites her to faith. The woman says to Jesus: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus responds: “I am he, the one speaking with you.” At this point, she goes back into town and tells the townsfolk of the encounter. Many come to him and believe. They press him to stay and he does.

The “living water” of which Jesus speaks is foreshadowed in various ways in the life of Israel. One prominent way is recounted in the first reading which recalls the Israelites traveling through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Delivered from slavery in Egypt, they now grumble against the Lord: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” The Lord ignores the grumbling but satisfies the need. He tells Moses to go to gather the elders so they can witness to the Lord’s saving activity. He assures Moses that he is near, “standing in front of the rock of Horeb.” The Lord then tells him to strick the rock. He does. Water flows out and the thirst of the people is satisfied.

God provided for his people in time of need. Many years later the psalmist wrote a song of praise, Psalm 95. Here he invites the people to sing God’s praises: “Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.” As the psalm progresses, the people are invited to remember God’s saving activity of the past and to hold firm to the God who saves: “Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the Lord who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”

We remember today that God has saved us through his son. In him, we have been reconciled to the Father and the gates of eternal life have been thrown open through his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The “living waters” of which Jesus speaks is the wellspring of life that is life in union with him. Our participation in this life began when the water of baptism was poured on our heads.

The living water now wells up from within. This is the water that can quench any thirst. The water that washes away fear. The water that dispels darkness. The water that gives life.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, reminds us that we live in the grace of the Lord Jesus. In him is our hope and “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

The Spirit has been poured forth into our hearts and resides within. He provides wisdom, courage, strength, to face the challenges and difficulties of life. He helps us remember that God saves us and pours his life into us and this life is eternal.

The days and weeks ahead will be challenging for us and our communities in so many ways. There will be sickness and death. There will be isolation and loneliness. There will be frustration and thirst. Today we are reminded that the Lord is present to us in all these situations. He is with us and will deliver us as he has done in the past. He will lead us from sorrow to joy, from fear to peace, from darkness to light and from death to life.


Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.