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2/28/2013 10:29:00 AM
We are led to Freedom by the Water of Baptism

Mary Jo Tully
Chancellor, Archdiocese of Portland

MARCH 3, 2013
Third Sunday of Lent

Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15
1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10-12
Luke 13:1-9
Or for Cycle A (28):
(These reading are used when the Scrutinies are read)
Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2,5-8
John 4:5-42

The Gospel that recounts the story of the Samaritan Woman is rich with symbolism. We read this Gospel when the Scrutinies are read and our immediate concern is those who are preparing for Baptism.

While the primary symbol in the Gospel story is the water, most are distracted by the Samaritan Woman herself. She is a Samaritan, a woman, and an obvious sinner. All of these were reasons for a Jewish man to avoid her. They are reasons many of us understand. Many Oregonians remember cross burnings on our church lawns and still more recall billboards in the 1990s announcing that the Pope is the anti-Christ. Women today are critical of both society and the Church for their offenses against women. Within the Church itself a surprising number of Catholics are quick to criticize others for their moral lapses. All in all, we would have to admit that most know what it is to be ignored, discriminated against, or even reviled.

We have always known that attitudes of oppression were never learned from Jesus. Episodes from Jesus’ life reveal a total absence of the misogyny and the assumption of the inferiority of women that prevailed in the Jewish world of his time. Again and again, he reached out to the downtrodden and the sinner.

Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman has profound theological implications that are particularly appropriate during this time when catechumens are preparing to enter the Church. In one single conversation we discover the many obstacles that stand in the way of conversion. Up until this time, Jesus has seemed reluctant to acknowledge that he is the messiah in the presence of the Jews. Yet, he announces his identity to the Samaritan woman.

Jesus begins his dialogue with water and skillfully interweaves that theme and faith. Our familiarity with water sometimes causes us to us to forget its fundamental symbolism—its sacredness.  

The people of Jesus’ time saw that water was granted or withheld by Yahweh in accord with the behavior of his people. If they are faithful, water comes. If they are not, there is a drought. The association between water and the salvation-event is an obvious one. It is through the water of the Red Sea that the People of God are led to freedom. Jesus is the rock from whose side water gushes. He is the living water that satisfies eternally. Water in the Church has particular meaning and dignity because it is integral to the celebration of Baptism. When the neophyte enters the water and emerges, we remember his burial with Christ and his resurrection. It is by the water of Baptism that we are freed from sin.

All this—and more—is found in this short dialogue shared with a Samaritan woman. It is not accidental that Jesus' encounter with the woman ends with a reference to mission.

Today, we pray with all those in our RCIA programs. As we move to the altar we praise God through Christ and thank Him for the faith we share.


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