3rd Sunday of Lent
Ex 17:3-7; Rm 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
God seems to delight in choosing inferior instruments to work with. The case in point today would be the Samaritan woman he met at the well. She was probably not one of the most respected persons in the village. On the face of things, she would have been a rather unlikely candidate to choose to tell them the good news about Jesus. When Jesus probed into her personal life she gave a deceptive answer, and when he probed further she quickly diverted the conversation to another topic. The fact that she had come to the well at midday is another indicator. It was about half a mile from town, and the jug was probably somewhat heavy so that one wouldn’t have to make frequent trips. Doing that task at the hottest time of the day in that climate was not usual – most women went there in the morning or evening. She must have been trying to avoid the judgmental comments and glances. But despite all of that, Jesus did choose her to accomplish his task.
It might be sort of like a master-craftsman that has his favorite tools that were rescued from the trash can and repaired. Let’s imagine a sculptor in wood that makes statues and other things and has a world-wide reputation. He could buy brand new chisels and hammers and electric tools of the best name brands, but instead he finds a chisel that others have discarded, fixes it up, puts a new handle in it, maybe puts a couple of custom dents in it to make it fit his hand just right and sharpens it with a fine edge. He takes delight in this chisel and it becomes a favorite because he has put extra effort into it and saved it from being thrown away. Likewise, maybe his favorite electric dremel tool was something he found on the garbage heap. He took it apart, figured out what was wrong with it, and got it going again. He gets an added satisfaction from using it because he knows he rescued it from being scrapped. These tools are favorites because they took extra creativity and ability to bring into action. It adds to his joy to be able to create masterpieces with instruments that others have deemed unworthy and even trash.
There seems to be a pattern in salvation history of God choosing unlikely characters to accomplish his important tasks. We’ve been making our way through the Book of Exodus in our liturgical readings outside of Mass. When God called Moses from the burning bush to lead his people out of Egypt, Moses felt pretty inadequate. He replied, “If you please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor recently, nor now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex 4:10-13). Unfazed, God persisted, “Who gives one man speech and makes another deaf and dumb? Or who gives sight to one and makes another blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Go, then! It is I who will assist you in speaking and will teach you what you are to say.” But Moses still begged, “If you please, Lord, send someone else!” I love that: “If you please, Lord, send someone else!” I can so relate to Moses. And in our first reading today we heard one of the many times that Moses was feeling inadequate to the task he was called to. The people complained to him of their thirst in the desert, saying they would rather be slaves still back in Egypt. Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” But God once again came through in the clutch situation and supplied for the weaknesses of his inferior instrument. Now, Moses is famous worldwide. And the much more competent men of his time have long been forgotten.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah objected to his calling, “Ah, Lord God! I know not how to speak; I am too young” (Jr 1:6). And the prophet Amos explained his unlikely credentials: “I was not prophet, nor have I belonged to a company of prophets; I was a shepherd and a dresser of sycamores” (Am 7:14). Then, when the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity chose to become incarnate, he selected two very insignificant people, Mary and Joseph, in a very insignificant village to be his parents. He chose very ordinary men to be his Apostles, probably most of them unlettered. One of them had even been a despised tax collector. And yet these were the instruments who would get his message out. He chose Peter to be the head of his Church, even after he had denied him. He chose Paul even while he was persecuting his faithful followers.
Closer to our own day, he chose Sr. Bernadette to reveal messages of the Blessed Virgin Mary and to affirm her Immaculate Conception. She was a lowly peasant shepherdess and had no idea what the words “Immaculate Conception” meant. The children at Fatima were also nobodies in the eyes of the world. St. Faustina was a very unlikely choice for spreading the message of the Divine Mercy. The nuns who lived with her regarded her as kind of a simpleton. She very often felt inadequate to the tasks that Our Lord was asking her to do. And yet, God still accomplished his aim through her.
The person Jesus talked to at the well was not only a Samaritan, whom we are told Jews do not associate with, but she was a woman. Women were second-class citizens in that day and age. When the disciples returned, they were astonished not that he was conversing with a Samaritan but that his interlocutor was a woman. So, she had these three strikes against her: a woman, a Samaritan, and a bad reputation. But Jesus still chose this unlikely instrument and pulled off a successful catch of souls in that village. She was able to accomplish what others more competent were not. As St. Cyril of Alexandria points out in his Commentary, “After they hear about just one miracle, they go running to Jesus. They were not persuaded by the voices of the holy prophets, or the preaching of Moses or the pointed of John. Instead, one woman tells them about him – and she was a sinner at that!” (291)
Cyril observes also: “Immediately, she exercises love, the rarest virtue of all and the way of affection for others. She runs into the city, quickly announcing to the others the blessing that she had found. The Savior was echoing within her, at least so it seems, and whispering secretly in her mind, saying, “Freely you have received, freely give.” Let us learn from this not to imitate that timid servant who accordingly buried his talent in the earth, but let us be eager to put it to work. This famous woman does this well. She shares with others the good that fell to her. The water she has come to draw is longer taken from the breasts of the fountain, nor does she carry her earthen water jug home again, but with divine and heavenly grace and with the all-wise teaching of the Savior she fills the storehouses of her understanding.” (288)
Brothers and sisters, let us be encouraged and comforted by these examples we have looked at this morning. Like them, we may feel like very inadequate instruments for God to use. We may shrink from our tasks and the part that we have to play in his plan. But the more inferior we are, the more his omnipotence shines through. Remember, he delights in digging broken tools out of the trash and creating masterpieces with them.