Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A.
I want you to imagine going to your kitchen late at night to make yourself a midnight snack. For some of you, that’s not hard to imagine; it’s a regular occurrence. But imagine going to your kitchen late at night to make yourself a sandwich. It’s midnight, everyone else is sleeping, and you’re on a mission. You go to the kitchen, open and close your refrigerator door as you try to decide what to make, and suddenly you discover that you’re not alone. Somehow, inexplicably, the Lord Jesus has gotten Himself into your kitchen.
Confronted by Jesus in your own kitchen, you are understandably at a loss for words. Thankfully, Jesus speaks first. “Make me a sandwich,” He says to you. “You want me to make you a sandwich?” you say in reply. “If you really knew who I was, and what I could give to you, you would have asked me, and I would have given you a heavenly sandwich…” “You really want me to make you a sandwich?” “I do,” Jesus says. You then proceed to make Him a sandwich, the best sandwich that you can dream up in that very dream-like moment. You sit down together, and as Jesus enjoys your best creation, you try to make small talk with Him. You try to talk about the weather, and whether you think Aaron Rodgers will return for another season, but Jesus simply looks at you while He eats. Before long, He finishes. You offer to make Him another sandwich, but He offers no reply. He simply looks at you, staring into the depths of your soul, as you desperately try to avoid His gaze and come up with something else to say.
Like a volcano, long dormant but now suddenly erupting, you feel a surging pressure in your heart to tell Jesus something you’ve never told anyone else. You have a secret that you’ve been dying to tell someone—not literally dying, of course, but it has been killing your soul to keep it hidden. Something has been withering away inside of you for many years, suffocating for lack of air, for lack of being shared with someone who knows you and loves you. It’s something that you’re guilty of, that you’re ashamed of, something from your past. What is that for you? What secret have you been dying to tell someone else, but you’ve been too afraid or ashamed to tell it? And are you willing, like the Samaritan woman in our gospel, to tell that secret to Jesus? Are you willing to lift back the veil, ever so slightly, on that corner of your heart, knowing that Jesus will help you pull back and uncover the rest?
All of us have a public life and a private life; we all have things which we are fine with everyone else knowing, and those things which we’d rather only a few people know. In addition to a public and a private life, we also have a secret life: things which we’d rather no one knew, sometimes not even ourselves. These are the things we try to keep hidden from others and which, when they come to mind, we try to forget or distract ourselves from thinking about. Some of these secrets are killing us, at least spiritually. These are the things that came to your mind as you found yourself in that imaginary scenario, making Jesus a sandwich, as unlikely as it may have seemed. Would it really be any less likely, though, to encounter Jesus at midnight as you’re going to fetch a snack than it was for the Samaritan woman to encounter Jesus at midday on her way to fetch some water?
The point is, as the Samaritan woman discovered in our gospel, that Jesus already knows our secrets. He knows what lies in the depths of our soul—the things that we’re guilty of, that we’re ashamed of, that we don’t want anyone else to know, and that we don’t want to think about ourselves. Jesus already knows these secrets. But the challenge is to share these things with Jesus. The challenge is to tell Him the truth about our sinfulness, our brokenness, our fears and our failures. Even if we can’t share these secrets with anyone else, or we’ve never tried to, we should share them with Jesus.
The secret of the Samaritan woman is that she had had five husbands and that the man she was living with at the present moment was not her husband. While we may be reluctant to say that the woman was at fault in this situation, since we don’t know the circumstances of her previous marriages, it’s clear from the context that we are to understand that there was some sin involved. Jesus, after all, is talking to the woman about the gift of Baptism, the living water which cleanses from sin and makes one capable of worshiping in Spirit and in Truth.
As a representative of the Samaritan people, we can also understand the woman’s five marriages, as have many ancient commentators on our gospel, as symbolic of the five pagan deities that the Samaritans historically worshiped in addition to the God of Israel. The pagan deities were called “Baals,” which literally means “husbands.” “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband.” In other words, you have worshiped five other gods besides me, and you do not really worship me.
While we may have many secrets that we are dying to tell Jesus, and we should take the opportunity to tell Jesus all of them, the one that is truly killing us is the secret about our idolatry, our worship of false gods. This idol is the thing in life that we are attached to and addicted to. It’s the thing that we bound to in an unholy matrimony and cannot seem to break free of. It’s the thing we put before God. Almost all of us have an idol like this in our life. If nothing else, the false god that we worship is ourselves. We often place ourselves at the center of our own universe and expect God and everyone else to revolve around us. It’s our needs, our wants, our desires, that matter. It’s “My will be done” not “Thy will be done.”
My challenge this week is to take fifteen minutes—which is only 1% of your day—and spend some quality time with the Lord Jesus. Sit down with a glass of water, make yourself a sandwich, and have a heart to heart with the One who knows you and loves you. Jesus already knows your secret; it’s high time that you shared it with Him. Tell him about what you’re attached to, what you’re addicted to, the sinful behavior that you can’t seem to shake. Be honest about what you worship; don’t easily excuse yourself from the sin of idolatry. Unveil that dark, hidden corner of your heart, the corner that you don’t want anyone else to see and which you’re afraid of looking at yourself. Unveil it just a bit, and let Jesus uncover the rest. This may hurt, but it will also heal. At first there may be sorrow, but then there will be joy. And, like the Samaritan woman, you will want to leave that time of prayerful encounter and tell others what Jesus has done for you. Amen.