Third Sunday in Lent: Spiritual Closeness

Sunday 15 March 2020

Archbishop Peter A Comensoli

Homily: 3rd Sunday in Lent (Year A) 
You may have seen those videos coming from apartment blocks in Italian towns that are shut down because of the coronavirus. Someone in an apartment block with an internal balcony takes up their trusty accordion or guitar and begins playing a folk tune or pop song, and others from different apartments come out onto their balconies and join. Voices are raised in a pop-up choir, and an impromptu orchestra of bells and whistles and tambourines joins in. Old and young get into it, and people wave to each other across their ‘social distancing’ isolation. People might be forced to be shut away in their own homes because of the virus, but they’ve found a way of being together nonetheless.

In ancient days – and even today in some countries – the local community well is the place of gathering, of socialising, and of sharing. The daily task of water gathering would have taken place at particular times of the day – early morning and perhaps early evening. But the event of today’s story of Jesus at Jacob’s Well takes place in the middle of the day, when only travellers would have been out and about. So, we instantly know that the woman who comes to the well to draw water is herself in some sort of imposed isolation. Her virus was not physical but social; she was shunned not for an infection, yet she was isolated from her community nonetheless.

Into this situation Jesus somehow contrives to be present at that moment when the woman arrives. There is conversation between them and the forming of a small community of company. There is gradual recognition and honesty as each shares their story and their hope; and there is an invitation back into a life with others. Here was a situation that began with separation and isolation, but which ended with a welcoming home.

I have been struck by the phrase that seems to have been widely adopted to describe what we are being called to practice in our emerging pandemic reality. It is the phrase ‘social distancing’. I understand what it is trying to convey but it strikes me as completely wrongheaded. Precisely at a moment of growing worry, and even fear, we are being encouraged to isolate ourselves from each other. Yes, let’s take practical steps in terms of physical protections. The care for one another involves physical care. But social isolation – personal and spiritual separation from one another – just when we need pastoral care and closeness?

Jesus shows us another way: when social or moral or personal isolation is someone’s circumstance, then it is time to come close to them spiritually and pastorally. Our gospel way is not one of rejection, but one of invitation – calmly, honestly, gently. So, I want to encourage you today to renew your Christian way of living in a coronavirus time – find creative ways of reaching out to our neighbours who might be frightened and worried; get digital in building bridges of care and concern towards those who are at risk and vulnerable; become a powerhouse of prayer for the ill and for those family members and medial professionals who are caring for them. Yes to safety; but yes to outreach as well.

In history, during times of pandemics, there inevitably emerged extraordinarily examples of Christian goodness and service. Now it is our time to step up. As so much shuts down and closes up, might we become the people who find creative (but safe!) ways of opening up pathways of welcome to those most in need.


'Woman at the Well' by J. Kirk Richards
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