Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on March 15, 2020 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
“On the intranet, nobody knows you are a dog.” Or a cat. Or a monkey. Or a potato. It’s an old quote that has been around almost as long as the intranet. It describes the truth that when you are online, you can remain anonymous, create a new persona, become whoever you want to be, essentially reinvent yourself. If you are shy and reserved in person, online you can be bold and opinionated. If you want to meet someone, you can post a picture of some good looking and athletic model to attract others. If you want to appear to be an expert, you can attach an MD or PhD to your name.
I myself am not immune to this. When I post pictures online my house is neat, my lawn is manicured, my car is clean, and I’m smiling while running ten miles on a treadmill. The truth is my house, lawn, and car can often be a mess and that picture of me on the treadmill is taken at the start of my run. I’m not even sweating in the picture. I look completely different at the end of ten miles, like someone who has run a hundred miles on a broken leg. When we are online we have the chance to be someone we are not or have our lives look better than they really are. We can hide our true selves.
In today’s gospel we have the story of the woman at the well, someone who is also hiding her true self. The woman goes to Jacob’s well to draw water at noon, which is not the time of day that you would draw water. For one thing, water is needed first thing in the morning. You need to wash, cook breakfast, and make coffee. For another thing, you would not go to get water during the heat of the day. Getting water was hard work back then. You did not just turn a faucet on. You had to walk across town with a very heavy bucket. The bucket was very heavy so that it would sink into the water at the bottom of the well. Jacob’s well still exists to this day and is on the grounds of a monastery. It is 135 feet deep. So to get water you would lift a heavy bucket filled with about 40 pounds of water 135 feet straight up out of the ground by pulling on a rope, very hard work that you would not do in the heat of the day.
We learn in the gospel why the woman might be hiding her true self. She has led a life that might cause people to look down upon her, gossip about her, or outright shun her. She has had five husbands and is living with someone whom she is not married. She was probably going to the well at noon to avoid running into large crowds of people, she was social distancing, much like many people are doing today because of the Coronavirus. She probably wanted to remain hidden, to avoid the comments and the eyes of those looking down upon her. She probably hoped for a new life or looked for a way to reinvent herself, and that happens when she unexpectedly meets Jesus at the well.
The woman at the well is an example for us. We all have things about ourselves and our lives that we want to hide from others, not just our less than perfect homes, lawns, and cars, but our sins, our character flaws, our mistakes, and the other brokenness in our less than perfect lives – all those things we don’t post online and some stuff that we might even be horrified if people found out about us. As the woman at the well found out, you can’t hide your brokenness from the Lord. He knows. But as the woman also found out, when you encounter the Lord “in Spirit and truth,” openly and honestly, in transforms you and your life. That is the purpose of Lent – transformation, and the story of the woman at the well gives us an example of doing just that.
Jesus does not confront her about what she has done, he allows her to open up about her failings. She reveals to Jesus what she has done –about living with a man who is not her husband – not the other way around. Jesus knows. He doesn’t need to be told. He could tell her everything about her. But her sharing her brokenness with him is part of her healing. Lent is a time for us to bring our brokenness to the Lord openly and honestly in prayer and in sacramental confession. We don’t like to focus on the negative and it is often very difficult to confront brokenness, but knowing what is wrong is part of our healing process. The reason the Coronavirus is so scary right now is because so much about it is unknown. Knowing just how broken we are leads to our transformation, as it did for the woman at the well.
Jesus never judges the woman. He never condemns her for what she has done. He does not get angry with her. He just listens. That’s what he does for us as well. He is like a good friend who sits and silently listens to us as we get everything off our chest, the person we can tell absolutely anything (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and they never look down on us, whatever we tell them makes them love us even more. That’s the friend we have in Jesus. Relationships are built on honesty and truth, and that is true in our relationship with Jesus. We can just be ourselves. We do not have to be something we’re not. We can say anything to him, get rid of all of our burdens, and he takes them from us: our sins, our character faults, our mistakes, and all of our brokenness – even our frustrations about our lives, our families, and even the Coronavirus. I have unloaded on the Lord about the Coronavirus this week and I yell at him any time I believe things in my life are a complete dumpster fire, which includes things going on in my life right now. He is God. He can take it.
If we hold on to our burdens, they weigh us down. If we get rid of them and give them to Jesus, we are transformed, just as the woman at the well was transformed. After leaving her burdens with Jesus she faces her greatest fear – the other townspeople – and she does so boldly, proclaiming Jesus to them. Her sins, her brokenness, became the basis for her witness to others and she led them to Jesus.
Lent is our time to do some spring cleaning in our spiritual lives, to clean up some of the clutter, to be like the woman at the well and have our burdens relieved by the Lord. We do not have to hide who we are. We do not have to create a new persona. We can be ourselves. He knows us completely. The remaining weeks of Lent are an opportunity to have open and honest conversations with Jesus in prayer and in sacramental confession. Lent is our time to give the brokenness of our life over to our Lord and receive healing, peace, and transformation. As we say each week during Stations of the Cross here at Holy Sepulcher, “The cross is a large and heavy one, not simply because of its physical composition, but because all of our sins are attached to it. Every heartache and pain, every injustice and illness, every oppression and poverty, every human misery is attached to this cross.” Give Jesus all the brokenness and it will be transformed into wholeness and new life.
Rejoice and be glad!