March 12, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

We are beginning the third week of Lent. This weekend’s Gospel presents the detailed dialogue between Jesus and an ostracized Samaritan woman. This story of this nameless Samaritan woman at the well, recorded only in the Gospel of St John, is full of truths and powerful lessons.
It assures us of God’s infinite mercy and closeness to us in our brokenness; teaching us how to reach out to those who are different; and encouraging us to bring the best out of people whose lifestyle seems to be at odds with what we believe to be good and holy.

An outcast in her own community because of her promiscuous lifestyle, the Samaritan woman even despised herself, but Jesus recognized her spiritual thirst and engaged with her. The fact that Jesus, a respected Jew, would even interact with a sinful Samaritan woman, was itself an
extraordinary outreach. This shows us that the grace of God is always there for everyone. Regardless of the entanglements of our lives, He values all of us enough to actively seek us, to draw us to His intimacy. Through his closeness, God brings out the best in us, sometimes in the most surprising way.

Like the Samaritan woman, there are many people today who thirst for healing, but they do not know how to go about encountering Jesus – perhaps they are too afraid, unsure or embarrassed to talk to God; perhaps they feel excluded or intimated by others whose main agenda is to recognize and highlight their faults. In front of this woman who was apparently alienated and a moral wreck, Jesus only saw a person who mattered to God.  She was led to gradually unburden her soul to him, a total stranger, because she finally found someone with kindness in his eyes instead of an air of critical superiority. Her search for water at the well was symbolic of her search for the living water, the gift of faith that would transform her and give her true life.

Many people today, like her, feel isolated, ostracized and rejected in some way — be it in their community, their family, their workplace or in society. Do you know any such persons? In the knowledge that Jesus loves us where we are, but loves us too much to leave us where we are,
how might Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well teach or inspire us recognize and engage with them? Jesus not only talked with the woman, but, in a carefully orchestrate dialogue, he guided her progressively from ignorance to enlightenment, and from misunderstanding to clearer understanding. It can be said that Jesus was making the Samaritan woman the most carefully and intensely catechized person in this entire Gospel. Engaging others personally, therefore, is the way in which we can make conversion and transformation happen. This is essentially what Pope Francis calls “a culture of encounter”, something so needed today in the church and in the world.

We often assume, perhaps from outward appearances, that we know what is going on in the lives of others. We often judge others from what we know of them. This Gospel story shows how Jesus did not treat others based on assumptions and judgments. Even when the woman did not
want Jesus to get personal, he wanted to free her, forgive her, shape her life in a new direction. In their long, heart-to-heart conversation, the woman moved through several stages: first, she called him a Jew, then Sir or Lord, then Prophet, and finally Messiah.  This deeply personal encounter with Jesus enabled and inspired her to undertake a very pivotal role in her community, drawing others to meet him at last.


The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well calls us to allow Jesus to freely enter our personal lives. God desires to enter our personal, “private” lives, especially during this Lenten season.  We all have a “private” personal life which may be contrary to the will of God right
now. Christ wishes to come into that “private” life, not to embarrass us, not to judge or condemn us, not to be unkind or malicious to us, but to free us, to change us, and to transform us.

The Samaritan woman was challenged to get rid of her sinful life. We are also challenged to get rid of our unholy attachments and the evil habits that keep us enslaved and idolatrous.  Lent is the time to learn from our mistakes of over-indulgence in food, drink, drugs, gambling, promiscuity, laziness, procrastination or any other addiction that may keep us from coming to the living water of a right relationship with God.  We all have our short list, don’t we?  And we all know, honest to God, what it is we need to leave behind.  With my sincere prayer,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham