Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent - March 12, 2023

I was told that, centuries ago, in many cities in Spain there were public fountains for the people to draw water for daily consumption. A statue of Saint John the Baptist was usually placed overlooking the fountains, perhaps as a reference to baptism. People would come to draw water and stay there longer than they needed talking with other people. And knowing how we human beings act, they would talk about other people. So, in many of these statues, Saint John the Baptist appeared with the index finger of his right hand across his lips, as if he were telling people to be quiet.

When people from Spain migrated to Latin America in the XVI century, they brought along this practice of public fountains. Many people there did not know the identity of the statue and started to call it a monkey, “The Monkey of the Fountain”. Cities like Bogota, the capital of Colombia, and Tunja, the capital of my native State of Boyaca and the city where I attended Seminary, had these fountains downtown in the main square.

In those Colombian cities, when people would complain for anything and without reason, the following saying was what other people would say to them: “Go and complain to the Monkey of the Fountain”. Saint John the Baptist’s finger over his lips would tell people who complain everything they needed to be told.

The Holy Land has many desert places where wells were excavated for human and animal water consumption. Saint John the Evangelist in today’s gospel tells us about a Samaritan woman drawing water at a well. He tells us that the hour of the day is noon. We find it strange that she would pick the hottest hour of the day to walk through the desert carrying jars of water. We are correct assuming that she does it because she is avoiding the people who would come at times when the sun was down. As we learn from the conversation she has with the Lord, she is one person in town whose life is a source of continued conversation and gossip among the people.

Of course, it is not coincidence that the Lord goes by that well at the same time the Samaritan woman does. God knows us better than we know ourselves. It is fair to say that the Lord ordered things for that encounter to happen. The Lord’s conversation with the woman needed privacy and confidentiality, as it is the case with the sacrament of confession. The Lord does not have to worry about the disciples because they always forget to take food for the journey.

The woman’s need for water to satisfy her thirst reflects our most profound spiritual need for love, happiness, eternity, in a word, for God. We go through this life trying to quench our thirst for these spiritual needs. The problem is that many of us look for the things of this world as the sources for perfect fulfillment and happiness, but material things cannot provide them. Saint John of the Cross taught that inside our souls we have deep caverns ordered to the infinity of God which we try to fill with the goods of this world.

The Lord tells the Samaritan woman of a kind of water that quenches human thirst for good. He is talking about the divine gift of faith and of the Holy Spirit which is given to us in Baptism. The Samaritan woman is immediately interested in such a water, still thinking at the material level. Bringing her husband into the presence of the Lord is the condition he gives her to grant her the water. We should find this condition sort of strange. What the Lord is really asking her is to be truthful. The Lord must remove from her soul all the lies it has to give her his precious gift. Our confession of sin and the purpose of amendment is what the Lord asks us to offer him to receive his gifts.

Let us ask the Lord to grant us his grace to acknowledge the lies we build our lives upon, and to allow him to brighten the darkness in our souls with the splendor of his merciful love.