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Monday, March 28, 2011

Worship in Spirit and Truth

There are so many angles that one can take from Sunday's Gospel account of the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.    

First and foremost, we can infer from the onset that the woman is an outcast.   She does not draw water from the well early in the morning as was the custom at the time, taking advantage of the coolness of the morning and enjoying the company of the other women who also go to the well at that time.  Rather, she goes to the well at noon, the hottest part of the day.  She goes alone.  It is here where she encounters a young Jewish man.   As St. John notes in his Gospel, Jews and Samaritans have nothing to do with each other, let alone Samaritan women and Jewish men. 

But, this is no ordinary encounter.  This young Jewish man is no ordinary man. He is Jesus, the Son of God.   The Samaritan woman thinks that all Jesus wants is water.  But, he wants more, her faith.  In return, he wants to give her something.  What He offers her is nothing short of eternal life, itself, using the metaphor of water.  Water is essential for life.  Water, in the sacred sense, is also essential for one's spiritual life, as through the waters of Baptism, we become incorporated into the Body of Christ.

As Pope Benedict XVI noted in yesterday's Angelus address:

In the meeting with the Samaritan woman the symbol of water is prominent. It clearly alludes to the sacrament of baptism, the source of new life through faith in the grace of God. This Gospel, in fact -- as I pointed out in the catechesis on Ash Wednesday -- is part of the ancient program of preparation of the catechumens for Christian initiation, which took place in the great Vigil on Easter night. "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give," Jesus says, "will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). This water represents the Holy Spirit, the "gift" par excellence that Jesus has come to bring us from God the Father. Whoever is reborn by the water of the Holy Spirit, that is, baptism, enters into a real relation with God, a filial relation, and can worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23, 24), as Jesus discloses to the Samaritan woman. Thanks to the encounter with Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, man's faith comes to its fulfillment, as an answer to God's revelation.

Much later, in St. John's Gospel account, water plays an integral part in the Apostle's record of the Crucifixion.  At Jesus' death, a Roman soldier pierces the Lord's side, gushing forth blood and water, symbolizing the Eucharist and Baptism.

In his dialogue with the Samaritan woman, Jesus, Himself, alludes to the Eucharist when he talks about worshipping in Spirit and in Truth.  Where do we find this perfectly fulfilled?  We find it in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 But, how, some may ask?   Before we can answer that question, a brief history lesson is in order.  When the Ark of the Covenant culminated its journey in Jerusalem, King David met it with great joy and celebration.  He wanted to build a Temple for the Lord, but God would not permit him to do so.  It fell to David's son, Solomon to construct it.  The Temple stood for generations until the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.  Prior to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the resulting exile, the Kingdom of Israel had been divided, with 10 of the tribes staying in the north while Judah and Benjamin remained in what is now known as Judea.  When the Assyrians invaded the northern territories, they pretty much wiped out most of the 10 tribes.  The wealthy and the learned among Israel were taken captive while the poor remained behind.  Then, the Assyrians brought in their own people to mingle with the remaining Israelites.  This brought about the Samaritans.  While the Samriatans were of mixed ancestry, they, for the most part, held on to the faith of Jacob to the point that they built their own Temple, on the mountain referenced by the Samaritan woman during her dialogue with Jesus, even though the Lord had dictated that sacrificial worship could only happen in the Temple in Jerusalem. 

The sacrificial cultic of Ancientn Israel, as preserved by the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem is of great importance to us, as the Church, as these rituals find their ultimate culmination in the supreme Sacrifice of Jesus, the true Lamb of God, on the cross.   The rabbis knew that the blood of lambs and goats was not sufficient atonement; however, they obeyed the ritual because God commanded them to do so.  Little did they know that the blood of these lambs and goats would foreshadow the crucifixion of the Son of God.

Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the time has now come when the faithful will worship God neither in the Temple or on the mountain.  They will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.  This may sound rather enigmatic; however, Jesus is alluding to the fact that He has come to establish a perpetual, everlasting covenant sealed with His own blood.  Such a sacrifice will come in the very near future.  In the meantime, Jesus is preparing the woman for what will come.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass embodies this worship in Spirit and in Truth.  In the Church's liturgy, which is her supreme prayer, she prays to the Father, offering her Divine Spouse, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit.  The Eucharist she offers is the oblation of the Lamb of God, the ultimate source of Truth.  To this Sacrifice, we unite ourselves, everything that we are and have, to Jesus and joining our humble offering to His.  It is an exchange of gifts; we offer ourselves to the Father, through Jesus, and, in return, Jesus gives us His very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in Holy Communion. 

The woman at the well came to draw water.  However, she received so much more in return.  Jesus, for His part, had a thirst not so much for the water from the cistern, but, rather, for her faith, which He awakened.  Is it not the same with us?   Every time we come to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, it is as though we are coming to the well to meet Jesus.  We encounter him in Sacred Scripture.  Then, we encounter Him in a most profound way in the Holy Eucharist where he comes to unite Himself to us.  As the celebrant is lifting up the Sacred Host and the Chalice, we once again look upon Him whom they have pierced.  Once again, blood and water flow from His side.  That is worship in Spirit and in Truth.


1 comment:

  1. This story of the woman at the well is one of my favorite passages for its theological depth. A very good reflection on the Gospel can be found here:

    The author is a convert and a professor at Franciscan University of Steubenville.