HOMILY FOR THE 3RD SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A.
THEME: Breaking Walls of Prejudice and Division
BY: Fr. Luke Ijezie
Resp. Psalm 95: 1-2,6-9
Human relationships are made difficult by many artificial walls of prejudice we often build. These walls end up separating us from others and even from God Himself. Jesus came to puncture these walls and similar obstacles and bind us together as one. We find these forms of prejudicial conduct displayed in the readings of today, especially the Gospel text which narrates the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
1. Wall of Suspicion and Grumbling: In the first reading from Exod 17:3-7, the people of Israel grumble against Moses in the face of thirst and hunger. They entertain the suspicion that Moses had an evil, ulterior motive in bringing them out from Egypt. So they agitate to go back to Egypt. This type of suspicion is often a problem in human relations. When such suspicious mindset is allowed to fester, the result is hate, opposition and rebellion against the leader and all he stands for. The dire consequence is serious tension, conflict and division in the community, as conspiracy theories continue to multiply. Moses suffered this as the people accused him of having brought them out in order to kill them in the desert.
2. Walls of Ethnic and Religious Prejudice: The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman in the Gospel of John (4:5-42) has much to say about the walls of separation. Jesus wanted a normal encounter with the woman, but she makes it difficult because of her historically internalized biases and prejudices. First, there is the ethnic prejudice: You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. This is a great barrier to communication and relationship. Jews and Samaritans do not see eye to eye, as the Jews looked down on them. For the Samaritan woman, Jesus has no business communicating with her talk less of asking for water to drink, because they are supposed to be ethnic enemies. Added to this, she is a woman and Jesus, being a Jewish man, is not supposed to be talking to her. This is another separating wall with many unspoken suspicions. Jesus does not give up. He plays along the same track. He asks her to call her husband. Again the woman tries to hide under another guise – that she has no husband. Gradually Jesus breaks her shell, telling her of her complex marital life. At this point the woman recognizes that all her defences are in shatters. Another wall to break before the woman gets fully converted is the religious wall. She senses that Jesus is a prophet, but she is not sure a Jewish prophet can appear on that suppposedly holy mountain in Samaria since the Jews see Jerusalem as the only holy ground. Again Jesus breaks this wall of separation by telling the woman that genuine worshippers of God worship in spirit and in truth and not necessarily in Jerusalem or any other mountain. The fact is that God is a spirit and is not limited to any space and time. At this point, the woman begins to see clearly as Jesus reveals himself to her. Now all the walls are broken. Instantly, she runs into the city proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.
3. Walls of Inadequacy and Sin: Just like in the case of the Samaritan woman, God comes to meet us when we feel weak, inadequate, incompetent, useless and terribly sinful. Psychologically, the consciousness of these Inadequacies block us from opening up to God and to fellow humanbeings. In this light, the second reading of today from Rom 5:1-2,5-8 makes us understand that Jesus came to save us not when we were capable and righteous. No, he saved us while we were yet sinners. This means that God is not scared of our sins and weaknesses in entering into encounter with us. We are the ones who block every avenue of relationship because of our sins.
4. The readings of today invite us to break through our walls of prejudice and fear and enter into harmonious relationships with God and fellow human beings. In our society today many little things, unfortunately, separate us. Many times we judge people only on the basis of their ethnicity, gender and religious affiliation. The common humanity is sacrificed on the altar of these primordial considerations. Some are hated not necessarily because they have done anything wrong but simply and only because “they are not one of us”. They don’t belong. They are of a different race, ethnic group, religion or language. But the Christian life invites us to ponder everyday that in Jesus, there is neither Jew nor gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female (Gal 3:38). All disruptive and divisive social differentiations are harmonised in our common heritage in Christ as brothers and sisters and in our common belonging as children of the same Creator God and Father. So, if today we hear his voice, as the Psalmist of Psalm 95 urges us, may we never harden our hearts!
May God continue to inspire us with the spirit of unity and love so that we may keep breaking the walls that hamper harmonious relationships and peace!
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