3 Golfers get struck by lightning and next find themselves in front of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter tells the men that they’ll be able to pass through to heaven if they can answer one question. “What is Easter?” The first man says, “No problem, I got this. Easter is when families get together in late November, have turkey, and be thankful.” The second man says, “No, no, that’s no right, Easter has to do with Jesus, when he was born, in late December and we exchange gifts.” Before St. Peter can answer, the third man jumps in “Eh, you’re both wrong! Easter is when we remember Jesus at the Last Supper, how he endured the Passion, was crucified for us and was buried in a cave with a huge stone rolled in front of it. Every year the stone is rolled away and Jesus comes out. And if he sees his shadow, it’s six more weeks of winter!”
Believe it or not that joke actually relates to today’s Gospel, because today’s Gospel is all about knowledge, but more specifically knowing. If you’ll recall, when I gave the homily last month it was about us getting to know ourselves, today it’s about Jesus knowing us and our response.
Let’s start with our first reading from Exodus. Complain, complain, complain. Here we find the Israelites unhappy with their current situation. I imagine it’s just a vocal minority, but someone implies that they were better off back in Egypt. We do that in our own lives don’t we? I’m embarrassed to admit this in front of my wife, but there are some days, when the things of the family can try one’s patience, where I say to myself “Boy, I wish I was single.” In that moment, am I stupid or what? Our struggles can cloud our vision and our thinking where we wish to go back to days that were “better”? The lesson here is that we should KNOW that God is with us. We don’t need proof. Love transcends all that, and our journey towards Jesus is going to take us to places we don’t necessarily want to go, oh like that crucifix back there. But, it’s in those struggles that we become holy.
In our second reading, St. Paul tells us that it’s our faith that gives us hope, for a better tomorrow. I love to give St. Paul as an example of faith and hope. We think we have bad days? St. Paul was scourged, beaten with rods three other times, and survived a stoning. He was shipwrecked three times and nearly drown in one of those. St. Paul was always on the run trying to stay ahead of those who wanted him martyred. Did he have it easier before or after his conversion to Jesus? Before, sure. Yet, here is St. Paul telling us about a faith that brings us, hope, love, and peace, and never disappoints. Almost every time I visit the jail, one of the young men or women will come up to me and ask for prayers because they’re having their hearing either the next day or sometime that week. When we pray, I tell them we’re not praying specifically for their release, we’re praying for God to work through the courts and lead us to what’s best. Through many of those times of prayer, I get a vision of Jesus standing before Pilate, having his hearing, if you will. Jesus stands there innocent. But, He completely puts His trust in the Father and accepts that the decision handed down is what’s best. The question we should ask ourselves is, do we really trust God with our lives? Do we really have faith to accept the difficult things that enter our lives and place our trust completely in Jesus to lead us to what’s best? Again, the lesson here is do we KNOW that God is with us, no matter where we go or what happens to us?
Which brings us to our Gospel. Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman. The first thing we should take note of is that this is a Samaritan woman. Here Jesus is showing that he has come to save everyone. As we know, Samaritans were as “loathsome” to the Israelites as Baltimore Ravens fans are to Steelers fans. Jesus shows that love of God transcends “what” we are and loves us for “who” we are. Because Jesus sees who we are, in truth, the child of God that we are, He is able to go where no one else can. He is able to touch the soul, the God inside of us, and help us to change in very profound ways. Jesus KNOWS us. Yes, better than we know ourselves. Now the question here is, do WE KNOW who we are?
Let me share with you a little story about a Deacon friend of mine from Philadelphia. Really, the man who introduced me to the Diaconate and helped me to hear my call. To protect the innocent, let’s just call him Deacon Ray (he was always a ray of sunlight to me). I met Deacon Ray as part of a small faith group back in 1998, and he and I became good friends. In 2002, we came back to Pittsburgh and in 2005 I entered the diaconal seminary. Not long after I entered seminary I had to take a business trip to Philadelphia and I contacted Deacon Ray to see if I could visit him. He said, absolutely, that he was thrilled to hear I was in seminary and that he had a story for me. So I was able to meet Deacon Ray for dinner, and he told me this story. Deacon Ray had grown up in Argentina, in a relatively poor section of Buenos Aires, and from the time he was a young man, he felt this gnawing need to “be somebody.” So he threw himself into sports, specifically soccer. So he practiced and practiced and practiced and became the best player on his high school soccer team. He actually got some offers to play professional soccer right out of high school. But at his graduation, despite his success, he felt like a nobody. So he thought maybe, it’s not sports by academic success where I can be somebody. So he went to university, worked very hard and graduated at the top of his class with an engineering degree. Again, after all that, he still felt unfulfilled. Then he thought, perhaps it’s my career that will lead to me being somebody. And he worked very hard to get to the top of his profession in Argentina and got an offer to work and live in the United States. He was sure he had found it now. But after a couple years here in the USA, he still had that same feeling that he was nobody. Finally, he thought, maybe the answer lies in the Church. So he applied for seminary, was accepted and worked very hard to become a Deacon. After a couple years as a Deacon though, he still had not found his answer. Then one day, while ministering to the underprivileged, a young women he met, who, because of her addiction, had lost everything, and said to Deacon Ray that she felt like she was a loser, a real nobody. Deacon Ray then told me that the answer he gave wasn’t his, it was the Holy Spirit most definitely at work. He told her she could never be a loser or a nobody, because she was loved by God. As soon as he said it, he knew he found the answer to his own fulfillment. No matter what he did or where he went, his fulfillment would not be found in the world. He was a somebody because God loved him. That’s what our Gospel is all about today. The Samaritan woman at the well was probably feeling like a real nobody, having had five husbands and all. Yet, Jesus knew exactly who she was, what she was feeling, and was able to touch her so deeply, her life was changed immediately.
Jesus calls to us right this very minute. He is telling us He loves us right there on the cross and right here in a few minutes in the Eucharist. When someone says they love us, no matter who it is, it could be someone that just comes up to us in Walmart, we don’t ignore them, in fact we may not know what to say, but we respond.
So, what should our response to Jesus be? Jesus knows us, we need to get to know Him. No better way than the Discovering Christ series coming up here at St. Frances Cabrini starting right after Easter on April 19th. I’m actually using a shorter version of this at the jail, and the response has been stunning. You will not regret it.
We need Jesus. We cannot do this alone. Our spiritual development and growth relies on our prayer, fellowship, and study. We most certainly owe it to ourselves to get to know Jesus so we can really find out what He means to teach us and truly follow Him. So, when our time comes in front of St. Peter at the gates of heaven, we’ll really know what Easter is all about.