Homily Seeing the 6th Commandment as a Call to Freedom into the Love of Christ.
Exodus 17: excerpt: The people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst?!…” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people?”… The LORD answered Moses, “Go over there in front of the people… Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” John 4 Gospel: The Woman at the Well excerpt: The Samaritan woman said to him (Jesus), “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him and he would have given you living water’…the water I shall give will become in (you) a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty… Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “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. What you’ve said is true.”
Homily [*since we had no Mass, due to the virus closure, I’ll give a bit longer text for you here.]
We are in our Ten Commandment Series, and today I cover the 6th one of “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Today’s Gospel is of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. She will arrive at that well in poor shape, as in sorted adultery/marital issues, personal identity dilemmas, a lost faith, and other difficulties. Jesus will arrive at the well as her healing offered forth, as being the One to turn things around for her, just like Jacob once had happen there to him by The Lord. The Good News is that Jesus will want to greatly help this wayward woman (and ourselves) to become free and back into good shape for living, as re-found in God.
1. After Jacob had his experience with God at this same Sychar well, long ago, it says he overcame his fears and dilemmas and was ready to get back home and on track. The Samaritan woman has this surprising encounter there with Jesus which, in the end, does release her from so much that had been bound up in her life. But we ourselves, too, have needs for freedom and for our own getting-home-with-God-experiences. The Ten Commandments and our following a moral life with God is all about attaining that freedom to be fully human and to truly be brought into a spiritual deliverance by God. As in the 6th Commandment, which is about a divided heart experience, in the half-loving, half-not loving split—or the off-turn of infidelity—God gives out #6 to us for He wants to help us live in the manner of fidelity. So, it’s either being in fidelity or infidelity. (Being In fidelity or being in infidelity, I should say!) That is, faithful or unfaithful. Happy wife equals happy life, so my pal Dave says about marriage and his faithfulness to her.
2. This gospel story we have here is more than just about one woman, of whom we’ll call Samantha or “Sam” from Samaria. Sam is symbolic of the bigger problem in the land—of people who became unfaithful to God, their First Love. She is a five-time wife, we hear, an “adulterer,” somehow, as without explanation of it, but remember that it was the men who divorced wives back then, not the women to them—the ladies had not the rights nor the power. In whatever was the explanation for her sorted life, she was not proud of it, but was just dealing with it, and surviving in life, as she knew how. She comes out to the well at noon time, the hottest time of the day, so to basically avoid everybody, particularly those other women in town. She will meet a new kind of man this day at Jacob’s Well. He’ll be the first one ever to love her, accept her, and treat her with some dignity—but she never thought she’d have the experience of that happening.
“Sam” really represents all people who have been unfaithful to The Lord, but who have once been invited to know Him and live in His love. Let me illustrate clearly this point, when Jesus healed a man who was deaf, it was representative of the deaf ears of the Hebrew people to God’s Word. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, it was comparable to Israel who had lost faith, for the national prayer had been, “if ever I forget You, Lord God of Israel, then let my right hand wither.” But God healed the withered hand of the man, for He wanted Israel to remember and come back to faith. Now in the case of the multi-adulterous Samaritan woman, she is likened to a people who went in five different ways, or more, lost from their true love. In Samaria, in particular, Jews saw these mixed-faith fallen relatives across the border as a lost and hopeless people. So, in looking at Jesus in this story, as a man who goes across Samaria’s borders, who is wooing back His love in this manner, it is striking! But the explanation is about love. Jesus is God seeking his lost love. In the same true manner in 2020, Jesus is seeking out His people of infidelity and those confused in love and lust as someone He seeks to get into His saving care. He wants to maintain all of us in His saving care, and see no one fall astray of it.
I won’t get more into the rich symbolism of the story, or the five strands of men mentioned brought into Samaria in 2 Kings 17:24—but can I just cut-to-the-chase about an interesting wedding tale of those times, of that, when a man and a woman meet at a well, a wedding usually follows. Apply this to Jacob’s Well, for this is the same place Jacob first met his wife Rachel (Gen. 29). In this gospel of John 4, remember, the Samaritan woman asks whether Jesus is greater than Jacob, an obvious wink to the real fairy tale meeting way back in time at the well. Jesus meets “Sam” at noon, too –and that’s exactly when Jacob first encounters Rachel.
The woman in this story, according to St. John the Evangelist, I think, is all of us. One thing for sure, we are part of an unfaithful world of those who have chosen sin and gone our own five or more ways to part from our Love, our Lord. Have we been greatly faithful to God? Not really. Will God still have us? Here is Jesus at the well, our own well, to say “yes” and to offer us true freedom by His offer for us to come live in His love, His kingdom, His reign, and to His everlasting Good Company. God wants us happy in His love. God wants to quench the thirst we have within our hearts and souls, as thirsty pilgrims seeking the way home to our hearts’ love (like Exodus 17—our first reading today). The Rock that was struck, by the way, in that first reading, refers to Christ later, who will give us living water to drink, even in the pilgrim desert. So, the underlying message of this dramatic John 4 gospel is that of the Lover and Redeemer God, Who is coming to surprisingly and personally offer a First Love covenant out to His people again. Jesus says a key phrase to the woman at the well, one that He says to us today, too: ‘If (only) you knew the Gift of God (meant for you) and Who is speaking to you of it, saying to you, He is thirsty.’
3. It communicates that our Catholic Faith has Gifts and Graces of God—if but we know of it! It communicates that our Catholic Faith has the Lord Himself speaking to us lovingly of our vocation and calling to Him. God has spoken such love language before, but not as in Person as in Jesus. But remember Hosea’s words (come back to Me, with all your heart, long have I waited for your coming home to Me) or Jeremiah’s ones (I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have called you, for you are Mine), or those dear words from the Song of Songs (Lover: I would lead you…where I would give you to drink spiced wine, my pomegranate juice. Beloved: His left hand is under my head, and His right arm embraces me…Who is this coming up from the desert, leaning upon her lover? Lover: Beneath the apple tree I awakened you…Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm) Each are prophetic images that match up with the very many New Testament bridegroom images of Jesus speaking of Himself as the One come down from Heaven for His lost partner, the bride (e.g. John 2:9, John 3:29, Matt. 9:14-15, Mk. 2:18-20, Luke 5:33-35, Eph. 5:25-27, 2 Cor. 11:2, Rev. 19:7, Rev. 21:2, Rev. 22:17). I propose this John 4 is a bridegroom-bride story, begun at the well. For you and I, know that this is God’s approach to you, that, while people have been unfaithful to God and sinner, He had remained faithful, and He wants your heart. Perhaps Baptism is our own well of love, and the Reconciliation Room (where we restore that fidelity to God is our place to meet Our Love to rekindle our hearts to Him). I like that our Baptismal area and Reconciliation area are side by side in our Resurrection church. Our Holy Matrimony vows are real important ones, too, as hear Jesus in them in His saying: ‘if only you would know of God’s gift… and Who is speaking to you. I am thirsty for your love and faith and trust, my beloved.’
Before we get to the 6th Commandment connection here, let me reiterate: John the Evangelist’s story of the woman at the well wants his readers/hearers to note how we are that woman, collectively, as the one caught up in adultery, with the divided heart away from God. The sin of the world is that we have left our husband Lord, or at least, left our loving heart for Him. This adulterous woman is all of us, as John’s gospel wants to show. Adultery is living in a divided heart fashion, whereupon, we cannot fully love one Person and also fully love others or other things. Just like Jesus said “one cannot love God and mammon” so does He mean how we cannot fully love God and also the world of sin—it’s a matter of adultery of the mind and heart. It’s like the Deuteronomic dichotomy of Moses and of all things: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life…You can choose life and success or death and disaster. Be loyal to live the way He has told you, and to obey His laws and teachings. You are about to cross the Jordan River and take the land that He is giving you. If you obey Him, you will live and become successful… On the other hand, you might choose to disobey the Lord and reject Him…if you bow down and worship other gods, you won’t have long to live.” That’s of Deuteronomy 30.
4. Catholics might have an infidelity involving their own marriages and promises, so the 6th commandment applies here, as God’s Law indicates by that there is an issue to deal with. And some who have kept to their vows of faith may still have an issue of faith with their spouse Jesus. Are you loving Him? St. John wrote of this issue in Revelation chapter two, as it reads: “I know your works, your labor, and your endurance…yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent…Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (*as meant for the Ephesus community under Apostle John)
This is a 6th Commandment matter as well. How is our marriage: To our spouse? To Jesus?
How the Samaritans fell off in faith is a long story, but once they were part of Abraham’s seed of faithful pilgrims to the land. They needed re-introduction to their First Love. That is represented, likely, with this woman of John 4 at the well of hope, where they might have forgotten God’s encounter with Jacob (so to become the new “Israel”), or the love story of him and Rachel, but now God will try to rekindle it to become anew, or so as to get the love going again among these lost people. This is what the Scriptures mean to say to us today; but it’s not just a story about past people, it is meant for us to apply to our own 2020 lives.
A love we lost or that we never really had—it can be painful—with its infidelity, adultery, divorce, separation, division, and etcetera, with all its regret and remorse or a revengeful spirit of it. We were meant for unity, and especially with our God. Marriage was meant to mirror it so.
God says He knows all about these matters, as He authored everything. Humankind was to be happy in her fidelity. We aren’t meant for divided hearts, nor adulterated ways.
5. We are looking at the 6th Commandment today and the adultery issue. If you happen to be in adultery, or if you once were in adultery or still scarred by it—or hurt in it and by this sin or some other like it—the Good News here is how Jesus is come to your well, or meeting place, and, believe it or not, He wants to meet you where you are at, in the state or condition you are in by it. Jesus totally surprises in His approach to the subject by the encounter of the woman at Sychar, by starting out as saying that He is thirsty—that He would like if she’d do Him a favor, too, in slaking or satiating His thirst. It’s a non-confrontational manner Jesus uses here.
The big question: What is it here that Jesus is really thirsty for? John’s Good News is that, actually, for the woman in the story and for us: He thirsts for our heart and for our love and attention to be shared with Him. (Plus, He did not mind a cool drink from the well, either!) He will offer the woman precisely what she is lacking: the living waters of love. It’s what we need, too. The Church, the Bride for the Lord, needs the living waters He may provide us.
This same Jesus would speak of His own thirst on Calvary’s Cross. When among His last seven phrases, saying “I thirst,” He meant that He thirsted there to save sinners. They offered Him a drink in His dying moments, but we now know Jesus meant something else, not of some liquid or a drug for the pain. It is you and I and our primary love that He thirsted there for and that He still thirsts over, as well He did first for this Samaritan woman in John’s gospel account.
Sizing up what He perceives at the situation, Jesus first says to this woman of Sychar-Samaria: “Go call your husband and come back (to this well).” She replies: “I have not a husband.” Jesus answers her: “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. What you have said is true.” So, look into this Gospel: We have a woman openly admitting she has been in adultery and other sins, and she doesn’t hide it, for Jesus said—“What you have said is true,” or, more clearly, “you are willing to be truthful with Me.” This means that He and she are off to a fruitful start. If she had kept in denial of it, then they would have gone nowhere in conversation, and both left the well soon. Yet she openly tells it forth, even by commenting to Jesus: ‘Sir ‘ (that’s a reply of respect, as she has felt respected so far by Him there), ‘I can see that you’re a prophet, and by that, you may know how the ancestors from this place have held reverence for this spot of Jacob’s Well. God once encountered here the embattled, wrestling-with-faith man called Jacob. Of course, you, Sir, appear as to be a rabbi from Jerusalem, so therefore, you belong to those who do look down terribly on this place of Samaritans and especially upon someone like me—a seriously sinning Samaritan, a woman of scandal, linked with the people now of the foreign gods who mingled that with Israel’s one.’
Yet here is the thing: this Rabbi is not looking down at her, nor acting in scorn for her and Samaria’s people—for He is there talking face-to-face with her! He has approached her even in some vulnerability, just asking her for a drink from the well, as His being there without a bucket or ladle. While His disciples have seemingly run off, the traveling rabbi of Israel is curiously stopped here and has remained to talk with her. This conversation will end up going on all afternoon—which for “Sam” was a real surprise for her that he’d stay with her. > His disciples left him and went across the border to “clean” territory
6. How amazing that a man as Him would stay alone with her, or even that a Jew would be with a Samaritan. What a surprise. He is trustingly vulnerable to Sam, which impresses her at first sight. Who IS this rabbi? Sam wonders. We readers of 2020 know: it’s the Divine Lover Jesus.
When God in Christ Jesus visits us, in our secret sins, we might be curious, too, that He would stop and care at all for us (and as we may be breaking His commands personally or communally in the world). We may be surprised to know a Lord Who is come close-by not to condemn us, nor to terribly chide us, but to help us. Yet, to be for real, in Catholic priesthood ministry and in working with other pastoral helpers, I have seen the pain of adultery up close far too much. It’s not pretty. It is devastating sometimes. Left un-attended and un-addressed or un-recognized—it is troubling. The situations shout forth of how God has got to be invited in to get to the fixing or healing or even first acknowledgement of things. But He doesn’t start in condemnation on it, even though a person’s soul may be on the line about it. I have seen happy resolutions come in dire situations or surprising healings or reconciliations or admissions of hurt caused by a perpetrator’s serious errors and pride.
Now, wait a minute! Does not the Bible state it emphatically of how “no adulterers, nor fornicators, nor thieves-robbers- nor the evil greedy, nor revilers, nor the unrighteous will inherit the kingdom of God?!” I quote that verse from 1st Corinthians 6. It’s true—such people will not inherit the kingdom. Yet we also do know who does inherit the kingdom. It is former adulterers, former robbers, and former immoral and unrighteousness people who enter the kingdom, as having bathed themselves into the love and mercy of Christ, by their repentant encounter with Him, and consequently, they experience a turn-around of life. Forgiven, honest-and-sorry to God people do go to Heaven. People who face up to their sins and let in Jesus’ reign –these do inherit the kingdom. Jesus’ words of Lent ring out: “repent, believe–the kingdom is at hand.”
To the non-repentant, as to some arrogant chief priests and elders who had resisted the call of John the Baptist, and then to Himself, Jesus said in a parable to them: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.. for you did not repent to the teaching, but they did. Even as you saw God work, you did not bend to His will, nor change your minds to believe.” That account is in Matthew 21.
This related gospel at The Well is about freedom, as is the 6th Commandment. Re-said in the old language: If thou should committeth adultery, then thou haseth a Savior to deliver thou, thus, to freedom from that sin, unto His Mercy. So speaketh the Scripture! ☺ This is what the full story of John 4 at the Well is all about. 1st John 1:9 says it simply: “If we acknowledge our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” Even the big ones of love and relationship. Yet one must plunge into that freedom Who is Christ.
7. So, the Scriptures ask us: Are we thirsty for this? Is it a big priority of our heart? The 6th Commandment is not just a “do not “for us, but the Commandment asks “Do I want to be a faithful love to God, and part of a faithful bride to Him?” Or else, do I choose to be in a divided way, an adulterated way? Do I want to be in the free kingdom of God, or to dabble or wallow still in the muck of the world and its sin and separation from God, in its stand off-ish attitude from Christ?
Many who even think that are believers of The Lord may still not be fully won over to the kingdom of God life. So the Lord is asking you and I for some long quality time with Him. If you read the long John 4 gospel here, then you notice that things happen in stages, as the woman gets closer and closer to her deliverance into freedom, which occurs at the story’s end—when the whole town comes out there and marvels at her transformation, and of the source of wonder is in Rabbi Jesus there. The whole matter was an evolving one of delving into trust in Jesus’ care.
Sadly, the apostles had missed the whole afternoon of drama, as they did not want to stay with Jesus there, but left Him on His own for hours. In that time, Jesus helped the woman’s hard shackles to be loosened, as she was healed into His merciful love. The people of Sychar came out to the well to see The Healer for themselves now. It all surely amazed the Lord’s disciples, upon their return. It is like Jacob’s Well had re-opened again. Jacob the Patriarch of old, but also the struggler with God, was the one who had once stopped at this well, being away from home, and he was fearful but was trying to get back home and with God. He made it back with God. Now, again, to the Sychar people, and so also to us, it shows how modern strugglers and wrestlers with can find a Way of Return to God, like Jacob or like “Sam” in the gospel account.
In the 6th Commandment application, the Lord has His timing and ways about it. In John chapter 8, with the woman accused of adultery, encircled to be stoned, Jesus stood in that woman’s defense, too, though they had not dialogued. He had stepped in to stop a mob, who wanted to end her life, in all the worst of their worldly judgment, hatred and accusation versus her. Jesus had posed to the accusing men with rocks, would you want this deadly treatment given over your sins? (Remember how He had written out their sins in the dirt.)” He who is without sin, throw the first stone,” Jesus said it to them there, and they all turned away. To the woman caught in adultery. He would say to her: I don’t condemn you, but go and sin no more. With the woman “Sam” of Samaria, in John 4, we curiously don’t hear this same direction from Jesus, because her conversion has happened and they had dialogued, and it reveals something here. If we will be open and reverent to Our Lord in the place of some embarrassment (sin) where He meets us, then The Lord can start the healing and turn-about for our lives. The woman came to the well at the highest noon day heat to avoid people and especially to not get spurned by the other ladies (after all, she had gone through five men of the town and was on a sixth)—and we might ourselves be living our lives to hide away our shame or embarrassment or weakness—and coming at noon to the well ourselves, in some way. But who is there at the noonday well? It is Jesus, waiting for us. He is not to condemn us in the sin, but to help us to become free of the sin’s dominion over us.
Let Him give His Gift to us and speak to us. We need it. We need Him.
8. Some people do have marital union difficulties in their life story, and with estrangement or pain or trials in that bond they took up. The key lesson of this Gospel story is to bring it all to Jesus, and that the same Jesus founded a Church in His authority passed on, for some work in that area for Matrimony, of helping godly bonds form in married love or in loosening bonds that do not reflect the marriage call of mirroring Christ and His Church as Sacrament.
If you are cheating a spouse, as in adultery, then here is your sign from God to stop, and to come to Confession to start again, to the well of baptismal promise, to re-orient you to become an image of God in your life and in your heart fully. No divided living anymore.
But truly, we are all the woman at the well when it comes to being a faithful one to the Lord. We own it that we, the Church (and believers in Christ today) have not been the most faithful ones to God, but have been often divided into varied directions of lostness or distraction. We need to pray to be faithful to God. Holy Spirit, help our hearts and minds and bodies and souls and our will to glorify Christ, with all our being, and together with our brothers and sisters in The Fold.
The 6th Commandment is a commandment that gets broken way too much by people of The Church, who ought to do better. Adultery happens in the world rather routinely now, to our dismay. I remember grieving it so in a period where I saw way too much of it, and the words of a song on the radio expressed my prayer: “Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?”
It is from Michael Martin Murphy’s song “What’s Forever For?” It’s lyrics are:
“I’ve been looking at people And how they change with the times;
And lately all I’ve been, seeing are people, throwing love away and losing their minds… Maybe it’s me that’s gone crazy, Cause I can’t figure out why;
All these lovers keep hurting each other, when good love is so hard to come by! So what’s the glory in living? Doesn’t anybody ever stay together anymore?
And if love never lasts forever, tell me–What’s forever for? What’s forever for?
Fr. Virginus Osuagwu’s reflections
“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14)
The sixth commandment is the commandment that is meant to promote and protect “the most intimate sharing of human love and life experienced on earth,” marriage. Marriage was instituted by God to model on earth the love and the dynamics of Trinitarian love and therefore is the “closest and deepest of natural human friendships” according to Fr. Brian Mullady. In the book of Genesis, at the beginning, God founded the institution of marriage. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24, NIV). In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus revisited God’s intentionality for instituting marriage as the very foundation of our most intimate sharing as human beings. In addressing the question of the lawfulness of divorce and remarriage, Jesus makes reference to the Genesis text quoted above: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt 19:4-6, NIV).
Based on the Creator’s intentionality for marriage, even purely civil marriages, which do not belong to the sacramental order, are still in the natural order a participation in the marriage that God founded in the beginning. The sixth commandment therefore honors human sexuality as a participation in the life of the Trinity, involving a communion of persons (man and woman) in the manner in which the Blessed Trinity are a communion of persons. In what therefore does the sin of adultery consist? It is primarily an attack on “the most intimate sharing of human love” instituted by God; one that makes a man and a woman, not two but one body. It therefore forbids any actual acts of immoral sexual activity: adultery, fornication, prostitution, pornography, homosexual activity, masturbation, group sex, rape, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia, lust, polygamy, incest, concubinage and the so-called “free union” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2390). It is whatever impedes the procreative (generative, life-giving) process in a lasting and indissoluble union (communion, unitive) of a man and a woman joined together in the Sacrament of marriage.
Just as the love of the Trinity generates life, so the marital union of a man and a woman is supposed to generate life in a union that is complete and pure, in a relationship of total giving and total receiving in love, not of domination or manipulation. Adultery undermines the dignity of the spouses, which they affirmed to protect at all times when they were married. In this dignity, the spouses affirm their commitment to treat each other, not as pleasure seeking automatons, but as persons with a God-given dignity. Let me conclude this reflection with the insightful and profound words of Fr. Brian Mullady:
“The Sixth Commandment recalls man to his original innocence. It affirms the necessity of marriage as a genuine communion of persons who share in the creative life of God. Each must be treated as a human person, respecting each other’s rights and performing his own duties.”