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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Worship at the Well

This weekend's Gospel reading presents us with St. John's account of the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  Three years ago, I wrote about perhaps the most forgotten passage in the whole account, the matter of worship.

I spoke to a friend of mine who is a priest about this topic.  He explained to me that fidelity to God and fidelity to one's spouse are linked.  After God rescued Ancient Israel from Egyptian slavery, the Chosen People rebelled against Him, worshipping a golden calf and engaging in all sorts of depravity.  Time and time again, Ancient Israel turned her back on God, worshipping false gods and engaging in immoral acts.  God had commanded Ancient Israel to remain pure, meaning intermarriage between the descendants of Jacob and pagans was not allowed because when these occur, the non-Israelite spouse would wind up bringing pagan influences and thus cause infidelity.  Such was the case with the Samaritans.  When the Assyrians conquered the northern part of Israel, they swallowed up 10 of the tribes of Jacob.  Then, they brought in their own peoples to the lands and intermarriage with the remaining Israelites and the pagans occurred.  The offspring, the Samaritans, recognized the Lord, the God of their fathers; however, pagan influences had crept into their worship of the One True God.

Now, when Jesus asks the Samaritan woman about her husband, she tells him that she has had five.  This is a metaphor of the five nations that intermingled with the remaining Israelites after the Assyrians had taken over the territory. In fact, the Samaritan woman embodies all of us, because in her person, both Ancient Israel and the Gentiles are united.

So, what does this have to do with worship?  After Jesus identifies the issue of her living arrangements (the sixth man is not her husband), the woman asks him about the proper place for worship.  This is not a strange question.  When the Jews (descendants of Judah) returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile, the Samaritans offered to help them rebuild the Temple.  The Jews declined the offer. Having been rebuffed, the Samaritans decided to worship the Lord on a mountain in their territory.  That is why the Samaritan woman asked Jesus where worship should take place.  Jesus tells her that the Jews worship what they understand because, despite all of the issues they have had, they retained the cultic sacrificial practices handed down from God (through Moses).  The Samaritans intermingled their worship of God with pagan practices.  Thus, their infidelity in not keeping the marital practices dictated by God led to their corrupting worship of Him.

In this day and age, the question of worship remains a key issue.  We do not worship God as we wish; we worship Him as we ought through the means given to us by the Church.  When we inject things into the Mass that simply do not belong there, we run the risk of corrupting the liturgy in much the same way that the Samaritans who had done so with their form of worshipping the Lord. 

One prime example is the music that is used for the Mass.  This weekend, I was at my parish.  If one were to peruse the musical selections (Blest be the Lord, I am the Bread of Life -Talbot), one would think that we were in Ordinary Time.  Not a song had anything to do with the Lenten season.  It was pretty much the usual fare from OCP's Spirit and Song.  While the choir and the music director mean well, it is sad that they do not seem to have a concept of the Church's liturgical seasons and the idea of sacred music.

The First Option of the Introit for the Third Sunday of Lent speaks to the plight of both the Samaritan woman and us.  The fact that she draws water during the hottest part of the day means that she is not accepted amongst the women because of her living situation.  She is ostracized.  When we sin, we are spiritually destitute.  Yet, there is hope.  Just as Jesus begins to transform the Samaritan woman, inspiring her to give of herself to both Him and her village (she begins to evangelize the very people who thought nothing of her), He looks upon us with that same love and mercy.   Somehow, "Flow, River Flow" does not quite capture that deep reality.

The account of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well has a myriad of rich meanings; however, it is the matter of the idea of proper worship that perhaps stands at the very heart of that encounter.  Worship prepares the heart for that deep encounter with God; however, if we only come to this on our terms, then, we have completely missed the point.

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