Wednesday 14 February 2018

A homily for Ash Wednesday

A homily preached by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba on Ash Wednesday at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town:

Readings: Genesis.1:1-10; Psalm 133; Revelation 22:1-5; John 4:1-15

May I speak in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Ash Wednesday reminds us of our need for repentance and coming closer to God. This is a time during which the whole church of God comes together to begin a journey towards Easter. The beginning of Lent calls us all to fasting and repentance in preparation for Easter, giving up sinful habits and embarking on spiritual discipline.

In today’s Gospel reading (John 4:1-15), John takes us through Jesus’ journey through Samaria and his encounter with a woman at the well. It was noon when Jesus reached the beautiful Vale of Shechem and found Jacob’s well. Wearied with his journey, he sat down to rest while his disciples went to buy food.

The Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies, and as far as possible avoided all dealing with each other. A Jew would not borrow from a Samaritan nor receive kindness, not even a morsel of bread or a cup of water. In buying food, Jesus’ disciples were acting in harmony with their custom. To ask any favour from the Samaritans, or in any way seek to benefit from them, did not enter into the thoughts even of Christ’s disciples.

As Jesus was sitting by the well side, he was faint from hunger and thirst. The journey since morning had been long and it was noon. His thirst was increased by the thought of the cool, refreshing water so near, yet inaccessible to him; for he had no rope nor water jar, and the well was deep. The lot of humanity was his, yet he had to wait for someone to come to draw water. His experience was a little like ours in this city at this time, when water lies beneath us in acquifers but as yet is inaccessible to us.

At the well side, a woman of Samaria approached and – seemingly unconscious of Jesus' presence – filled her pitcher with water. As she turned to go away, Jesus asked her for a drink. Such a favour, no person in the East would withhold – remember that in the East, water was called “the gift of God”. To offer a drink to a thirsty traveller was held to be a duty so sacred that the Arabs of the desert would go out of their way to perform it.

Bear in mind that a Jew would become ceremonially unclean if he used a drinking vessel handled by a Samaritan, since the Jews held that all Samaritans were “unclean”. So the Samaritan woman responds to Jesus:  “How can you ask me for a drink?” (Jn4:9b). 

Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would ask him and he would have given you living water”.

The woman did not comprehend the words of Christ, but she felt their solemn import. Her light bantering manner began to change and she said “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is too deep. Where can we get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob?” (Jn4:11-12).

She saw before her only a thirsty traveller, wayworn and dusty. In her mind she compared him with the patriarch Jacob. She cherished the feeling, which is so natural, that there could be no other well equal to that provided by the fathers. She was looking backwards to the fathers, and forward to the Messiah’s coming, while the Hope of the fathers, the Messiah himself, was besides her, and she knew him not.

How many thirsting souls are today close by the living fountain, yet looking far away for the wellsprings of life?

Jesus did not immediately answer the woman's question in regard to himself, but with solemn earnestness said: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn4:13)

He is telling is that those who seek to quench their thirst from the fountains of this world will drink only to thirst again. Everywhere people are unsatisfied. They long for something which fulfils the needs of the soul. There is only One who can meet that want; the need of the world, the desire of all nations – and that is Christ.

Hearing Jesus and his meaning, the Samaritan woman exclaims: “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and keep coming here to draw water” (Jn 4:15).

The divine grace which Jesus alone can impart, is living water, purifying, refreshing and invigorating the soul. Jesus did not suggest that merely one draft of the water of life would suffice for the recipient. Those who taste the love of Christ will continually long for more and seek nothing else.

The images of clean, sparkling water highlighted in our readings  are particularly powerful for us in Cape Town today. The prospect of running out of water in our taps helps us reconnect with the biblical pictures of water, not as something to be taken for granted, but as something holy and precious, a sacred gift from God, not to be wasted, its sources to be nurtured.

So as we observe Lent this year, we need to withdraw and ask ourselves whether we have not taken for granted the resources – especially the water resources – that God has given us. We need to withdraw and reflect on our use of this precious resource for our common good and to commit ourselves to better stewardship of this precious gift in the future.

The Samaritan woman received the living water that purified her soul, piercing her heart and changed her life for the better.

In a country where there seems to be thirst for power, greed, corruption and self centredness, what would you ask from Jesus? With the neglect of the poor, the hungry and needy, what would Jesus say? What are the cries of our nation and world during this Lent?

May we ask Jesus today to give to our land that living water.

May his ever flowing stream cleanse the hearts of the corrupt, the greedy, the self-centred, and raise their consciences to do what is good and pleasing in his sight.

May we use this Lenten period as a time of soaking ourselves in prayer and being penitent before God.

God bless.

1 comment:

  1. Halfway around the world, and in the Northern Hemisphere, reading this sermon during our morning prayers on the second day of Lent is inspirational. Thank you, Archbishop Thabo, and Praise God that Jesus' teachings and love never become irrelevant to our daily lives and work. Of course, if one takes the Gospel of John seriously, there would be no daily lives and work without Christ. Tom and Bev Finlay - St. Stephens Parish - Longview, Washington State - USA


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