On Being a Sacrament of Hope

Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday in Lent, 2020.

We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves. We hear these words in our Collect, and for many of us these might be difficult words to hear, difficult words to take seriously, difficult words, that is, to believe. Of course I have power to help myself, we might think to ourselves. I can be a responsible person; I can live morally; I can take care of my family and provide for them as I am able; I can clean up my room and my house; I can cook and clean; my gosh, I can dress myself; I can read books or whatever in order to improve my mind; I can make sure I am in relationship with others in case I need their help, or they need mind. What do you mean, holy Mother Church, that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves? Has God given me nothing?

And of course, God has given us the faculties to help ourselves, in all those ways I just listed. And we are to use them, use them as best we are able, even when it hurts. And we are to remember that God has given them to us. God has given us bodies to live in; God has given us morals towards which to aspire; God has given us a sense of responsibility to our family members; God has given us hands and legs to do the cleaning and cooking; God has given us a mind, and He has given us a conscience. And underneath it all, God has given us the very reality of love—true love, what is called charity, self-less giving of oneself for others. And He has given us His peace, which is what His love feels like when it is received. We have no power of ourselves to help ourselves because the power of peace and love by which the world even exists comes only from God.

Through our faith—that is, living relationship with God—we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, is what Saint Paul teaches us. Through Him, Paul continues, we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoices in our hope of sharing the glory of God. Through our faith, our living relationship, we participate in the redemptive Body of Jesus Christ; and through Him, we have obtained access to the grace by which we stand—and, Paul might have added to elaborate—the grace by which we breath, the grace by which we move, the grace by which we think, the grace by which we listen and pray and love and sleep and serve. This grace is called by Jesus “living water,” and the living water has been poured into our hearts. If we would drink of it, let us not harden our hearts, brothers and sisters.

Although our translation of scripture is often very good, the translation of the beginning of our lesson from Saint John does not quite capture the sense of the original. It reads that Jesus, wearied as He was with His journey, sat down beside the well. No—it is literally that Jesus sat down not beside the well, but that Jesus sat down on the well. The water of the well, in other words, is no longer the water that truly quenches thirst. Rather, Jesus is the Temple, the Temple is His Body, and the living water flows through the Temple which is Him.

His sitting upon it is deeply symbolic, in that His doing so recapitulates, or sums up, all of the well-scenes of Scripture: Isaac’s servant and Rebekah in Gen 24; Jacob and Rachel in Gen 29; Moses and Zipporah in Ex 2. And note, too, each of these well scenes have something to do with marriage, as does this scene with Our Lord. Living relationship with Jesus means marriage to Him, Who is the Bridegroom, and the Church His Bride; and this is the deepest meaning of baptism: through the waters, we are married to God. And there is symbolism in the location. On this mountain where the well is, is where Abraham sacrificed Isaac, where Jacob had his vision, and where God revealed Himself to Moses. Images of Christ nailed to the Cross often have at the very bottom of the Cross a mountain—it is all one well of grace, it is all one mountain of pilgrimage. By His holy Cross has Christ redeemed the world.

And note as well that it is the Samaritan women who so shares the Gospel with her people that her people believe in Jesus through her. She has no power of herself to help herself or help her people find Truth—but Jesus works through her, being fully present in her proclamation of Him.

Brothers and sisters, what are we to make of all this? In this time of plague and uncertainly, we are to make of it this: in our love for others, Christ makes Himself known through us. The living waters that flow between Him and the Father flow through us in our service to the lonely. We have no power of ourselves to help the world—but when we recognize that, we have at our disposal the power of heaven, the living power of God Almighty, His heavenly peace and love. Let us be this Sacrament of Hope for the world.