It was an unusually hot day. They were all hot days in the desert, but this one was hotter than most—it was blistering hot. His throat was dry, his lips were cracked—he was parched and tired. No doubt his head was pounding and he felt dizzy. At that moment, he’d have given anything for a drink of water. He was in a foreign territory, an unfriendly neighborhood, and he notices a woman, alone, drawing water from a well. A man wasn’t even supposed to greet a woman in public, not even his wife or daughter, but he engages her in a conversation. He asks for a drink from the Samaritan well and he uses her cup. Was he that thirsty? We approach them from a distance and get close enough to listen in on what they’re saying. It turns out that it’s not just personal conversation; it’s meant for all of us. We learn that she’s an unmarried woman and her character is questionable. If Jesus is at all concerned, he shows no signs of it—there’s no rebuke, no dismissal, no judgment.
They continue to talk and it gets more serious. He puts her in the hot seat with all of her past and hidden secrets exposed, but, surprisingly, she doesn’t back away. They talk about some of life’s most important questions: “Who am I? What changes do I need to make in my life? What do I need to stop doing and start doing?” Then Jesus mentions something about water that quenches thirst, not just for a moment, but for an eternity. She doesn’t appear to understand, but she knows she wants that water. Maybe it was his gentleness, his sincerity, or his caring demeanor, but the most remarkable thing happens. A chance encounter with Christ, a little time in the hot seat, an honest scrutiny, and her life changes, spontaneously and radically—she moves from unbelief to faith, she becomes a witness, a herald, and she brings a whole town to Jesus.
Have you ever been in the hot seat? We think of the hot seat as being put on the spot in a pressure-packed situation where something really important is at stake. I remember that first time I was placed in the hot seat. It was a management assessment exercise used at GE where I was literally seated in the center of a room surrounded by all the people who worked for me. In turn, each of them told me what they thought of me, good and bad—what was there about me that they liked, what did they want me to stop doing, and what wasn’t I doing that they wanted me to start doing? It went on for almost three hours and all during that time I couldn’t say a word. I couldn’t defend myself; I couldn’t explain anything; I couldn’t even comment. At times it was grueling where my closely guarded secrets were disclosed; where everything about me was examined, poked-at, evaluated, and judged. It’s really tough to be in the hot seat to be exposed and scrutinized.
Today, our elect will be in the hot seat. They will be scrutinized in front of all of us. They will kneel among us and we’ll pray that their secret sins will be uncovered, that they will be able to let go of everything that will keep them from wholeheartedly committing their lives to Christ. Today they will humbly confess themselves as sinners.
Today they’re in the hot seat but that’s the very place we all should be—we’re all sinners. We all need to recommit ourselves to the things that were promised for us at our baptisms. The elect will kneel as a sign of their repentance, but we should all be on our knees. We all need to be scrutinized to uncover the dark and hidden parts of our lives that cast a shadow on our souls. We are all guilty of filling our lives with things, thoughts, and actions that take up the sacred place that should be left for Christ alone—eating and drinking, blaming and worrying, over-committing, over-working and under-praying. Nothing on earth can fill our sacred space, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
(Request the elect to stand as you conclude the homily.) These men and women have been preparing a long time for something incredible that most of us don’t even remember. It’s so easy to treat those baptismal waters as a lukewarm and tepid stream that we absentmindedly wade through and casually dip our hands into while quickly blessing ourselves. But it’s not so for our elect. For months, they have been dismissed from our presence before the rest of us go on to celebrate the Eucharist. That’s quickly coming to an end. Just a few weeks from now they will stand at the well, at the font, to receive that water that quenches thirst for eternity. They will walk into the font and be plunged into the warm water with Christ, finally letting go of the world and life as they have known it. They will become sharers of God’s life and brothers and sisters of Christ. They will be wrapped in white linen tunics and anointed with the golden chrism that will fill our church with its powerful sweet Easter fragrance. They have come a long way and they will soon pass from death into a new life that will never end. We all stand with them, in waiting, in expectation of that great vigil when water will flow from the rock that is Christ himself.
Inspiration & Resources:
Bergant, Dianne, with Richard Fragomeni. Preaching the New Lectionary, Year A. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 2001.
Buetow, Harold A. God Still Speaks, Cycle A. New York: Alba House, 1995.
Kavanagh, Aidan. “Rite of Passage” from a story within a lecture delivered in August 1977 at the Theology Institute held at Holy Cross Abbey in Colorado.
Siciliano, Jude. “First Impressions.” http://www.op.org/exchange/
Wallace, James A., Robert P. Waznak and Guerric DeBona. Lift Up Your Hearts, A Cycle. New York: Paulist Press, 2004.
©David J. Shea