Well, the weather is finally warming up, and it’s supposed to reach the upper 80s this week.  I’m much more of a fan of cold weather myself, but that’s hard to come by here in Texas.  So every year when it gets hot, I try to find time to go for a swim to cool off.  Been doing it ever since I was a boy.  And back then, my friends with summer birthdays would often have a pool party, and without fail, anytime you have a pool party, you’re going to end up playing the game every kid knows—Marco Polo.  Everyone closes their eyes and yells Marco!  And the one playing Marco Polo has to respond, Polo!  And the kids listen for his voice and try to catch him, with their eyes closed the whole time.

There was a commercial not too long ago where the real Marco Polo was standing in the pool, Renaissance costume and all, and the kids were shouting Marco!  And he was saying, “Sì, ragazzi!  Sono qui!  Io sono Marco Polo!”  That is, “Yes kids, I’m here!  I am Marco Polo!”  He must have been thinking, what’s wrong with these kids?  Don’t they know I’m right here??

“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”[1]  This is the question in the hearts of the Israelites as they journeyed out of Egypt, thru the desert on the way to the Promised Land.  They have been enslaved in Egypt for generations, and God has just rescued his people by some pretty amazing signs.  First there’s all the plagues that befall Egypt.  Then there’s the Passover and the final plague, in which the Pharaoh actually asks the Israelites to leave immediately.  Then there’s that little thing where the Red Sea parted in two, and the Israelites passed thru on dry land, with the water like a wall on their right and on their left.  And yet, despite all these great and marvelous signs, what do the Israelites do?  They complain.  They rebel.  They even say that they were better off as slaves in Egypt!  And they wonder if God is really there.

So God, once again, manifests his presence by providing water in the desert for his people.  And this theme of God providing water is going to come up again.  The psalm we just heard recalls this miracle of the waters at Meribah, saying “We are his people, the flock he shepherds.”[2]

Now, it’s easy for us to sit here in judgment and say, “Are you kidding me?  Weren’t they paying attention?!  How could they so quickly forget all those great signs and wonders?  How could there be any question in their hearts whether God was at work in their lives?”

The reality is that the question on the hearts of the Israelites is the same question on the hearts of so many in our world today:  Is the Lord in OUR midst or not?  Maybe you yourself have asked yourself this question.  In the midst of suffering or loneliness, in the heart of darkness, is God really there?  Perhaps we have lost the ability to see God working in our lives.  This is not a new question—it’s the question that every man, woman, and child has always asked.

When Jesus first met the Samaritan woman at the well, she didn’t recognize the presence of God in her midst.

Slowly, she comes to believe.  But notice the obstacles in her life.  First, there’s a difference of religion.  Now everyone knows that the rule: in polite conversation, there’s two things you don’t talk about, and that’s politics and religion!  The initial tension between Jesus and the Samaritan was exactly that—a political and religious difference between them.  And both societies, Samaritans and Jews, had basically decided not to interact with each other.  You might say they were a polarized society living in the same country.  Not that we, today, would have any idea what that’s like.  But Jesus steps right over the line and presses the hot button, so to speak.

Then she misunderstands Jesus—when he says living water, she thinks he means flowing water.  And the two seem to talk past each other.  She stays on the surface of what Jesus is saying, only responding to her desire for convenience.  “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”[3]

So Jesus, undeterred, tries a different way—he brings up her many husbands, stepping right over yet another boundary of polite conversation.  Now he’s got her attention.  And she’s scared because the lie has been exposed.  The woman is a serial divorcée, now shacking up with a new boyfriend.  Somehow, this stranger at the well knows her deepest secrets.  This is turning into a super-awkward conversation.  But Jesus will not be deterred by a less-than-perfect life. He gets right there in the middle of it, as awkward as it may seem.  So the woman tries to change the subject back to politics and religion—and Jesus answers her, but not in a way she ever expected. He reveals himself as the Messiah and the Christ, and this revelation cuts right thru all her obstacles.  Now she has a decision to make—can I put my faith in this man, Jesus Christ?  Is he really the Messiah?  Can he really save us?  Can he really save me?

Christ responds to us in the same way he responds to the woman, in the same way that God responds to the Israelites—by giving us water.  And not just water, living water—the Holy Spirit.  As St. Paul said in the second reading:

“…the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”[4]

We receive this living water, the Holy Spirit, in baptism.  We are strengthened in the Holy Spirit in confirmation.  The gift of the Holy Spirit infuses the divine life into our souls!  Faith, hope, charity—these virtues are given by the Holy Spirit and are the very lifeblood of the Christian.  And this gift of the Holy Spirit impels us to live our lives in accord with Jesus’ life.  Not only that, but the Christian in possession of these virtues cannot help but draw others to Christ.  Notice the reaction of the Samaritan woman.  She immediately goes back into town to tell everyone what just happened.  She had an encounter with the Messiah, and she can’t keep it bottled up—she is impelled by this gift of the Holy Spirit to share Christ with others.  And then what happens?

“Many… began to believe because of the woman who testified….”[5]

The Samaritan woman had an encounter with Jesus, and she brought others to faith thru her witness of that encounter.  Brothers and sisters, if we too have had an encounter with Jesus, we cannot keep it to ourselves.  We must be witnesses to the presence of God in our lives.

Too often in our world, the people around us are silently asking that question, “Is God really there?”  And we have the opportunity to answer that question.  YES.  I have experienced the living God, and he really is there.  The beauty of evangelization is that each of us encounter Jesus in a unique way.  How he helps us to carry our crosses, how he heals us, how he challenges us, how he remains with us.

How do we bear witness?  By knowing our own story.  How have we experienced God working in our lives?  If we don’t know the answer, then we need to ask God for a tender heart—a heart that can recognize God working in our midst, a heart that listens for the voice of God.  Then, and only then, can we share the Living Water with others.

But it doesn’t end there.  After the Samaritan woman went forth and testified, she brought others to Jesus.  And “many more began to believe in him because of his word….”[6]

Notice that in both verses, John writes that they began to believeImagine that faith is like a plant.  I’m going to call it the “faith-plant.” (I never said I was good at naming things!)  So you’ve got this faith-plant within you.  When we witness to the presence of Jesus in our lives, it’s sort of like planting seeds.  But it is Jesus who gives the Living Water needed for those seeds to take root and grow.  In time, the work of the Holy Spirit within the hearts of believers will cause that faith-plant to flourish and blossom.  Then, if the faith-plant is healthy, it will bear fruit.  And what does the fruit do?  It carries more seeds.  And so the cycle continues.

Brothers and sisters, this season of Lent, we should take a moment to ask ourselves: “In what stage of growth is my faith-plant?  Is it bearing fruit by carrying the seed of faith to others?  Is it just beginning to blossom into a trusting relationship with Jesus?  Is it growing, or is it dying?  Is my faith just a dormant seed?”

If we only knew the gift of God, then we, like the Samaritan woman, would ask him to give us the Living Water that we need to survive.  If we knew the gift of God, then we would invite the Holy Spirit to change us and remain in us so that we may have eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, I implore you, harden not your hearts.[7]  Listen for the voice of God, for indeed God is in our midst.

 

[1] Exodus 17:7

[2] Psalm 95:7

[3] John 4:15

[4] Romans 5:5

[5] John 4:39

[6] John 4:41

[7] Psalm 95:8