The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Third Sunday of Lent
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
March 19, 2017
Several years ago, one of the former rectors of my seminary gave a spiritual conference to the seminarians that made such a lasting impact that it’s still talked about to this day. It was before my time in the seminary, but his words and advice were recounted so frequently among my confreres who had been there that I feel as if I had been there myself. He spoke to the seminarians about the power and lure of sin…how it lies to us and tries to convince us that it can make us happy, only to shame us and make us feel miserable in the long run. Sin is attractive, seductive, and oh-so-satisfying, he told them, but then it guts you out and leaves you for dead. And in his quirky, but on-target manner, he offered them a stern warning. “Gentlemen,” he said, “remember this: sins are like grapes…they come in bunches.” I have reflected many times on those words over the past ten years and as time goes by they seem to become more and more true. As we journey through life, we collect bunches of sins just as surely and just as effortlessly as we collect pounds on our bodies and junk in our basements. What starts off as a little bit of anger can quickly turn into a cluster of bitterness, hatred, vengeance, and violence. What starts off as a little bit of lust can quickly turn into a collection of impurity, pornography, hookups, and affairs. What starts off as a little bit of pride can quickly turn into a bundle of selfishness, greed, vanity, and smugness. And before we know it, we’re overwhelmed and can hardly recognize what we’ve become. We don’t always go out searching for these sins…we don’t necessarily go looking for them – they present themselves to us slowly, over time, and we choose them because we think, at least in the moment, that they’ll make us happy. But they never do, at least not for long. Just ask the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. For years she went from one adulterous affair to another, collecting husbands like they were going out of style, and yet she herself would probably be the first to admit that she was just as miserable and lonely as ever. And what was true for her is just as true for us in our struggle with sin…the only way to get out of this mess is to encounter Jesus Christ.
Let’s look a little more closely at this woman we hear about today. Before we hear anything specific about her, we know that she’s troubled. She has come out, on her own, at noontime to draw water from the well. First of all, no one goes to the well at noon…it’s way too hot at that time of day to be engaged in the strenuous work of pulling up and hauling buckets of water around. This work was done at dawn or dusk when it was cooler. Second, no one goes to the well alone. The daily task of going to the well for water was a communal affair – it was as much social as it was practical. The women would chat, the children would play, and everyone would have a chance to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. So just by knowing that this woman is by herself at the well at high noon we can see that she’s probably ostracized from the rest of the community. And, of course, later in the Gospel, we find out why: she’s the Hester Prynne of Samaria with her own scarlet letter, an adulteress dripping in sins of the flesh, a loose woman living with number six in her series of men.
By going to the well at noon, this woman no doubt thought that she’d get her water and get back home unnoticed and undisturbed, just like every other day. But much to her surprise, and at first to her chagrin, today she’s not alone – sitting right next to the well is Jesus of Nazareth. When He begins to speak to her, she’s immediately on the defensive – she’s edgy, smug, and rude. As He asks for a drink of water from her, she gives Him the third degree, coming up with a thousand reasons why that would be impossible. Little did she know that the superficial conversation she was having with a stranger about water was not about water at all…it was about her heavy heart that the God-Man wanted her to give over to Him. But as she found herself unable to do so, partly from her stubbornness and partly from her fear, God did what God always does…He offered His heart to her instead. He showed her that He knew her even more than she knew herself. He knew what she had done, what she had failed to do, and all of the sin and junk she had collected for herself. He knew about all her grapes and He showed her by His loving gaze that all of this was due to the fact that she herself was dying of thirst. She wanted to be loved, to be valued, to be accepted…but she bought into the lie that sin would do this for her. With every new man that she shacked up with, she was hoping to find something that would satisfy and soothe her broken, thirsting heart. But by encountering the God Who made her for Himself, she began to see that she had been looking for love – as Johnny Lee might say – in all the wrong places. She encountered the beauty of her loving God, the firmness of His truth, and His infinite goodness…and this encounter would change the rest of her life.
You and I are the woman at that well. We don’t want to hear about our sinfulness…we want to be left alone to run back and forth from our wells so that we can just get by and return back to the comfort of our sins. Yet deep down, we know that it tears us apart. We know that the grapes we have accrued for ourselves lead only to us searching for more grapes and never to our satisfaction. Our sins make us miserable…but like dogs that return to their vomit, we keep going back to them. And try as we might, we can’t break this cycle by ourselves…like the Samaritan woman, we need Christ to look us square in the eyes, to show us the truth, and to help us get out. It’s only in the penetrating fire of God’s loving gaze that we find out what we’ve been missing, that we find out the great Mystery that G.K. Chesterton so poignantly articulated when he said: “the man knocking on the brothel door is knocking for God.”
So we ask ourselves today: what are our grapes? We’ve all got them, even the holiest among us. What are the things we turn to fill ourselves up, to fill the void that only God can fill? What are the things that lie to us, that cause us to lie to ourselves, that convince us that they can and will make us happy? If you need help with this, open your Catechism to paragraph 2083 and start reading, or pick up a good examination of conscience, and pray that the God Who brought clarity and truthfulness to the Samaritan woman will do the same for you. The beautiful thing is, when we can see ourselves as God sees us, warts and all, we won’t feel accused or condemned or judged, we’ll see a way out of our muck and will begin to feel whole again. We’ll see that we don’t have to be slaves to our sour grapes, but can live in the freedom of God’s love.
Every Saturday, beginning at 2:30 PM, confessions are heard here at St. Peter’s. Every Wednesday, beginning at 7 PM, confessions are heard during the Holy Hour at the Cathedral. And Father Greg and I are only just an e-mail or a phone call away. Come to the well, admit what you’ve done, bask in the light of the noon day sun with Christ, let go of your grapes, and be free.