The arc of this life

There is a document from the US Bishops, “Fulfilled in your Hearing” that is a wonderful reflection on what is the purpose and mission of the Sunday homily. There is a line in the document that says the purpose of the homily is to shine the light of the gospel into the lives of the people of the parish. I hope I come close to fulfilling that purpose. The document makes clear that a homily is not a Bible study, although it can include salient points. It is not a theological discourse nor a course in ethics or philosophy. The document holds up one image that captures the purpose: to shine the light of the Gospel into people’s lives so that they can see the path leading to Jesus so that there is a personal encounter with the Incarnate Son of God, Son of Mary. An encounter that fulfills the divine command from the top of the mountain: This is my beloved Son… listen to him. An encounter that fulfills the Blessed Virgin Mary’ words to us as she points to her Son: Do whatever he tells you. An encounter that changes, or begins to change, the way you see the world, your community, yourself and your Savior.

Just before Lent, the gospel told us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. I reflected that “perfect” (telios – to be whole, complete) is worked out in the course of one’s life marked by moments along the way. There are many perfect moments, some are larger than life but most are quiet moments when we feel the remembered presence of a loved one or know that God is near. And we take another step on the road. Just last weekend, with the Gospel of the Transfiguration, I spoke about the encounters with God, be they large or small, in the end we are to listen to Jesus and follow him down the mountain to the flatlands, into the ordinary and the everyday, to be the presence of God to others. More steps on the journey.

In today’s gospel, right in the middle of an ordinary day, away from the majesty of a mountain top, in the middle of the mundane task of drawing water from the well, the arc of a Samaritan woman’s life intersects the presence of Jesus. She had not sought out Jesus, hadn’t even heard of him. He was just a guy who wanted a drink from the well but didn’t have the common sense to bring a bucket.

In the Gospel of John this simple story follows the encounter of Jesus with Nicodemus, a leading figure in Jewish religious life, a man who was well versed in the prophecies of the Messiah. He had also heard the stories of Jesus, and so Nicodemus sought out an encounter with Jesus. By any measure, Nicodemus’ conversation should have led him to connect the dots and come to know Jesus as the promised Messiah. He was knowledgeable but he wasn’t ready to have his life changed. He wasn’t ready to let it be personal. Eventually he did, but not that night. Afterall, it is a journey of life.

Turn the page and we have, by any measures, a person who did not have the prestigious background of Nicodemus, and yet she was open to the encounter, to the presence of Jesus, to let it be personal. It is a long conversation during which you can see that she is open, curious, engaged, and slowly comes to an ever deepening realization of who she is talking with. Listen to the words of identity she offers during the encounter: man, Jew, compared to Jacob, a prophet, and lastly, Messiah. They mark the developing realization of who Jesus is and who Jesus can be for her:

  • The One who supplies living water so that she never thirst again.
  • The One who makes clear the way to worship God in Spirit and Truth.
  • The One who will reveal everything

She comes to an understanding, a trust in the person of Jesus. The light of the living Gospel has shone onto the path of her life. She takes first steps. In that moment she becomes the first apostle to the Samaritan people. The one sent with the Good News.

It was a perfect moment in the ordinary flatlands of life where she encountered the presence of God and then became the presence of God for others.

Nicodemus knew all he needed to prepare him to meet the Messiah, but that didn’t seem to help him. He wasn’t open, curious and did not engage and so not only did not see the light, but was unable to take the first step on the path of salvation. 

I am sure she felt unworthy, unprepared and did not think she knew enough but she slowly took one step after another and it changed the arc of her life.

What about you and me? What are we to take away from this Gospel? Many things to be sure. Here are but two:

As the prophet Isaiah says, the Word of God is sent out to accomplish its purpose and will not return to God until the mission is complete. The Word of God keeps coming and coming. Its arc will intersect you again and again. It did for Nicodemus who eventually came to believe. It did for the Samaritan woman. It has already and will again come for you. It is here now.

Your life-long encounter might be a slow roll instead of “slain-in-the-Spirit” instant conversion, but look back down the path and I suspect you will see “man, Jew, prophet, Messiah.”  You’ve already journeyed so far. Trust that the best is yet to come and the light of the Gospel is ever there to shine upon your path, ever leading to the presence of God.  That your joy be complete. That you will become whole, complete: perfect.


Image credit: Samaritan Woman at the Well,  Rudall30 | -ID 191658499

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