The 3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent are a special time for prayer and repentance for catechumens as they prepare to be baptized at the Easter VIgil. While we normally read from the Gospel of Luke during Year C, certain masses read from Year A (John 4--the Woman at the Well), a more fitting gospel for the first of the Scrutinies. The Scrutinies invite the catechumens to leave behind their lives of sin and deepen their commitment to Christ and better understand their identity as children of God. This week we will do the same.
Go call your husband and come back,
One of my favorite encounters in the Gospel of John is between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (you can read it here). I have always been particularly struck by the time Jesus takes talking with her--his patience with her questions, her half-objections, her desire to understand. We could spend a month unpacking this passage, but we’ll just touch on three points today.
The Woman at the Well circa 2019:
Have you been to a bar lately? [No judgment.] I may have been to a bar or two recently… and I’ll tell you what I’ve noticed. Everyone is on their phone. While this may not be surprising because it has become the norm everywhere--it should be surprising because many people that go to a bar are looking to meet someone. If there is ever a way to not meet anyone it is by looking at your phone and not looking around the room. What is even more ridiculous is the number of people in the bar that are actually checking their tinder + bumble, etc. hoping to swipe their way to happily ever after (or at least happily ever later) while in a room full of actual humans. Sometimes I just want to stand on a barstool and decry: “Here ye, here ye--you are surrounded by flesh and blood humans. No need to swipe right--just wave hello.” As a society that deeply longs for human connection, we are missing it!
So what does this have to do with John 4? If you’ve spent any time in the Old Testament you know that most brides tend to meet their prince charmings at a Well. Everyone’s gotta drink (water). Which means, everyone takes a turn going to the Well. And like most scenes from the Gospels, Jesus very deliberately uses the customs and history of the Jewish people as a teachable moment. Jesus, the Bridegroom, is sitting at the Well when this woman comes to draw water. This passage is often interpreted that this woman stands in the place of the Church, his Bride. [Sidenote: if you love bridal imagery in the Gospels you should really check out Jesus, the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by my friend and professor, Dr. Brant Pitre.]
My concern is that if this scene had happened today it would have gone something like this:
12:01PM Check In: Jacob’s Well. Selfie. Caption: So hot need some water #thirsty #jarheadjane
12:12PM Sneaky Selfie with Jesus Photobomb in back. Caption: That awkward moment when a Jew talks to you. #CreepersGottaCreep #WhyAreYouTalkingToMe
12:17PM Boomerang of filling water bucket. #NeverThirstAgain #Dranks
12:31PM Thinking Emoji Face--Is this dude facebook stalking me?? How does he know about all my exes? Poll: Who is this guy? Stalker OR Prophet #Whaaaaaat Monkey-Covering-Eyes Emoji
12:51PM Superzoom of Jesus... covered in Heart Eyes Emojis. #MetTheOne #Bae
Or worse. She may have never seen him at all. Screen blindness is a disease claiming more victims everyday. If the Woman at the Well had been as distracted as we often find ourselves, she may have missed not only an encounter with another human--but THE ENCOUNTER that would change her life (and eventually convert her whole little village.)
What are we missing when we’re screen blind?
What connection are we seeking through our phones?
Do we put them down long enough to connect with others? To connect with God?
A Jarring Reality
Let’s talk about that jar for a minute. This poor woman has to go back to the Well over and over again to fill up--when Jesus offers her water that will quench her thirst, she says, “Sign me up!” How wonderful to have our thirsts quenched. Our longings satisfied. That thirst she has can only be satisfied by God.
We carry our phones like a water jar. It is always in hand. We try to quench our thirst through this tiny computer: our thirst for knowledge, peace, calm, joy, laughter, emotional support, community, affirmation, desire, reassurance, material goods, shiny objects--we keep it in hand, scrolling endlessly looking for we-don’t-know-what. That "don't-know-what" is IDENTITY. And we can’t find it in our phone. And if we try... the search will be endless. We will always be left unsatisfied.
Jesus wants us to lay it down. He is the only one that can satisfy whatever anxiety/uncertainty/insecurity that keeps us scrolling. He has the answer to our IDENTITY. It's Himself. The Living Water. He is the one that can give us peace. He is the one that reveals to us who we really are. And we don’t turn to Him for any number of reasons--fear of change, fear of His disappointment in us, fear that we are unworthy, fear that He will disappoint us… so.much.fear. We have to put down our jars. We have to put down these less-than-satisfying means of seeking security in who we are--in what we are worth. Why should we remain so thirsty? It is not what He wants for us.
What If We Did Lay It Down?
The woman doesn’t just put her jar down--she runs and tells everyone of her Encounter. Her life is no longer defined by the mistakes she's made but by the encounter she had with the Man at the Well. Her identity has been found. How are we going to use our time this week to rediscover our Identity in Christ? How many 10 and 20 minute increments of scrolling could we skip for 10 and 20 minutes of prayer? Who are you going to invite to join you in this effort to rediscover Identity? When we finally take the leap and spend some time in prayer, make our way to the Confessional, actually pay attention in Mass, etc. and we are moved by the mercy and peace God has provided--do we keep that joy to ourselves?
A number of the participants in our #SmartFreedom Challenge have spoken to me about the differences they have seen in their lives when they started putting their phones down. Two and a half weeks ago it seemed like an impossible task--but with small efforts, we have found more time for Jesus. More time for quiet. More time for connection--and in that time… we have gained more peace.
Who have you told about what your Lenten penances are doing in your life?
Who have you told about Jesus? Mercy is not a gift to be hoarded. It is to be shared.
#SmartFreedom Challenge Checklist:
Week Two we added Three Additional Practices (if you failed miserably, try again this week!):
No phone as an alarm for waking up in the morning.
No phone one hour before bedtime.
No phone for one hour after you wake up.
Last week we add one more challenge: No Phones while conversing with other people.
Example: Human Person walks up to you and starts a conversation. Phone goes in your pocket or purse.
Example: Your daughter has a question about something. Phone goes in your pocket or purse.
Example: Your son can't find his shoes, again. Phone goes in your pocket or purse.
Example: Your fill in the blank says fill in the blank to you. Phone goes in your pocket or purse.
This challenge is not limited to friends and family... checkout girls, bag boys, receptionists, mechanics, donut shop workers (bless them), government employees (even those at the DMV), co-workers, zombies, husbands, other people in the #SmartFreedom Challenge, etc.
THIS WEEK: Less posting + More praying.
The only way to find our Identity in Christ is to spend some time in relationship with Him.
MONDAY: Phone goes off for 10 minutes. Take this 10 minutes for uninterrupted Prayer.
TUESDAY: Phone goes off for 20 minutes. Take this 20 minutes for uninterrupted Prayer.
WEDNESDAY: Phone goes off for 30 minutes. Take this 30 minutes for uninterrupted Prayer.
THURSDAY: Phone goes off for 40 minutes. Take this 40 minutes for uninterrupted Prayer.
FRIDAY: Phone goes off for 50 minutes. Take this 50 minutes for uninterrupted Prayer.
SATURDAY: Phone goes off for 60 minutes. Take this 60 minutes for uninterrupted Prayer.
ENDNOTE: That first photo of what could be a hipster modern day Jesus on his phone comes from this article. This phone issue affects us all, man!