Vol. 6, No. 26
On the Third Sunday in Lent, the first of three Scrutiny Sundays, the Apostle John tells us the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.
Spiritual Gift of the Week
Lord, we ask for the grace to open our hearts the way you did for the Samaritan woman, the way Mary did when she accepted the words of an angel, and that you give us the courage to drop our own water jugs and proclaim the Gospel in our words and deeds.
Spiritual Instruction of the Week
“In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses…So Moses cried out to the LORD…The LORD answered Moses, “Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel…I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel. 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?'”
(Exodus 17: 3-7)
Daughters of Mary Instruction
14 March 2017
Lynn D. Clapper
On the Third Sunday of Lent, we find Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. It is an abrupt change of scene from the first two Sundays of Lent when we had been with Jesus in the desert where he had been tempted by Satan; and then on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, Moses and Elijah, where Jesus was transfigured into a radiant glory. The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman is not told to us by Matthew, but by John. Writing near the end of the first century, the Gospel of John has a completely different perspective than the Gospel according to Matthew. Whereas Matthew is writing in mid-century to a Jewish audience to explain that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah, John writes much later, after years of reflection, to explain Jesus Christ as the son of the living God. While it may not surprise us that the Church would turn to John’s gospel to focus on Jesus’ unique calling as the Lamb of God, the tradition of the Church assigns another importance to the Gospel of John on the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays of Lent. Let us go back to the early years of the Church and trace the origins of the Lenten season.
In the very early Church, Lent lasted only three weeks. Not yet a celebrated Church season, Lent was the time of intense prayer and preparation in the last weeks before Easter for catechumens who were planning to be baptized into the Church. As a show of support for these new believers, members of the Church communities often joined the new catechumens in their three- week preparation for Baptism. By the fourth century when Christianity was legalized, these special weeks of prayer had stretched to become a forty-day season of fasting and penance. As the Church grew in numbers, new members were more often baptized as infants, and Lent began to focus less on the rites of preparation and initiation of adults seeking baptism, and more on fasting and penance.
Yet, the rite of Christian initiation endured, and if we are to fully appreciate the holiness of the Lenten season, we must turn our attention to just how these three weeks prepare the catechumens for entry into the Catholic Church. The Scrutinies, as these three weeks are known, are intended to prepare the catechumens, the candidates, and the confirmandi, for their initiation into the Catholic Church through the sacraments of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. Taking their original meaning from the ancient scruta, meaning to ‘sort trash,’ the three Scrutinies are intended to help the Elect understand the mystery of sin in their lives, their own need for repentance, and the innate desire all people share for a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ as Savior. Each Sunday has a different goal. On the Third Sunday of Lent, the Elect come to understand Jesus Christ as the living water. On the Fourth, Jesus is revealed as the the light of the world. On the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus shows us he is the resurrection and the life.
To help with the Scrutiny, the Church calls on the Gospel according to John. Used each year as the Gospel readings for the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays in Lent, the stories of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus, continue to lead catechumens and candidates through the weeks of self-searching that must accompany the decision to follow Jesus Christ. Each gospel offers the candidates a different encounter with Jesus. Each gospel offers the candidates a picture of Jesus’ saving and healing grace. Each gospel offers the candidates the challenge to enter into a new life.
But, the Scrutinies were not designed to encourage only the candidates for election into the Church. From the earliest days, the weeks of Scrutiny included the prayerful participation of the congregations that supported the members of the Elect. Celebrated at Sunday Mass, the rites of Scrutiny invite anyone listening to join the candidates in their quest to seek the saving grace Jesus offers through his very life, by searching the ways his grace is at work in our own. In Lent each year, Jesus beckons us to follow him.
On the Third Sunday in Lent, John tells us that Jesus went out of his way to meet a woman desperate to get her life back on track. Today, Heather’s commentary will explain that Jesus scrutinized her life in a way that only he could do…not to condemn, but to save. As we listen to this gospel, perhaps we will understand that the story of the Samaritan woman is the story of every person who has ever dared to seek Jesus Christ. Perhaps we will see that only Jesus can tell us everything we have ever done. Perhaps we will know, once again, that Jesus Christ is a God like no other.
The rites of Scrutiny have not changed much since the early days of the Church. The three Sundays of Scrutiny are still celebrated before Easter, and the Church has read the Gospels of John since at least the early 7th century. But, as Christian Catholics, each year we search for new ways to make our Lenten season more meaningful. The tradition of the Scrutinies tells us we do not have to look far. In the early communities, the prayers of the church members for the success of the catechumens in their quest to seek and find Jesus Christ was a vital part of the rite of initiation into the Church. It can be the same for us today.
As Daughters of Mary, we are women of prayer and compassion. The names of our own St. Ignatius catechumens, candidates, and confirmandi for the rite of initiation into the Catholic Church are each written on a card. Please take a card and offer up this member of the Elect in your Lenten prayers. But, let me mention to you this word of caution. Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, Son of God, meets each of us in different ways. Do not be surprised that while you are praying for another, it is you that he finds. Jesus Christ is our God. We are his people. He still calls us to follow him.
The New American Bible, Revised Edition.