Sermon for the Third Sunday of Lent – St. Vincent Ferrer

   “We…know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world,” (Jn 4:42)  This holy gospel contains a beautiful story which contains three great disputations between Christ and others:

  1.             The first was between Christ and the Samaritan woman,
  2.             The second was the Samaritan woman with Christ,
  3.             The third was with Christ and the disciples.

   And each disputation has an excellent question. The conclusion of the first disputation was, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet,” (v.19). The conclusion of the second disputation is that Christ is the Messiah. The conclusion of the third disputation is the theme, that [he is] the Savior of the world (v. 42)..

THE FIRST ARGUMENT – WITH THE WOMAN AT THE WELL

   As for the first disputation which was with the Samaritan woman it must be known that it was friendly, because Christ began it. So as Christ was traveling from village to village personally preaching, he came to Samaria, a great city, larger even than Paris. Near that city there was a high fountain — it was called a fountain, because it gushed fresh water — and a deep well. Christ was weary and totally exhausted from the journey. He sat himself on the edge of the well so he might wash his blessed face over the fountain, and so its coolness might refresh him. In the mean time he Apostles and disciples went into the city to buy food and bread.

And when Christ was alone at the fountain –the hour was noon — a woman from the city of Samaria came to draw water. She found Christ there, and she did not greet him, recognizing that he was a Jew by his clothing, for Jews were not talking to Samaritans, just as we Christians do not talk with unbelieving Saracens. Christ began the disputation, saying, “[Woman,] give me a drink,”(v. 7).  She, looked at him with a fierce eye, began to argue with Christ, saying, “How do you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a  drink,? For the Jews do not communicate with the Samaritans,(v. 9) I shall certainly not give you a drink.”

Christ replied saying, “O woman, if you knew the gift of God, and who he is that says to you, ‘Give me to drink;’  perhaps you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water,” (v. 10).  Note the gift of God given to the human race. This gift is the Son of God given in the incarnation, about which Isaiah, 9, “…A son is given to us,” (Isa. 9:6).  Behold the gift given in our redemption.

The woman continued arguing, saying to Christ, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where then do you have living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and himself drank there, and his children, and his cattle?” (vv. 11-12).

Christ responds: “Woman, you do not understand of which water I speak, because this is not it. Whosoever drinks of this water, shall thirst again; but he who shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever: But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting,” (vv. 13-14), and he shall have eternal life.

Such was the power of Christ’s words that the woman bowed to him, and already contrite in heart with humility and reverence said, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor have to come here to draw,” (v. 15). Then Christ responded, “You want some of this water?”  The woman replied, “Yes, lord.”  “Go to the city, and call your husband, and come back here,” (v. 16). She said,” I have no husband,” and Christ said, “Well have you said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands: and he whom you now have, is not your husband. He is a bully and a lecher [ruffianus et ribaldus], and you are his mistress.” And he told her the names of all her husbands, and their characters, and what work they did. This one was called such, and had such a job, and died in this way, and so on with the others. “But this one which you now have is not your husband but a lecher and you too are a lecher.” Then she began to cry out, “O Lord, Lord clearly I see that you are a prophet (v.19) and you know everything that I have done (cf. v.39). Spare me, because I called you a Jew.”  The conclusion of the first disputation. Note she first called him a Jew, and later she calls the Lord a prophet. So much for the literal sense of the first disputation.

    Morally. Now we uncover the moral lessons hidden for us.  In this disputation their are six hidden moral [lessons], which we begin to explore through questions.

First, who is this Samaritan woman and what does she signify?  Response: this Samaritan woman signifies the every Christian sinner in two ways, and the gospel tells us. First, because she comes often, every day, to the water, but she is not satisfied.  Such is the condition of sinners, because they come daily to the water of temporal prosperity, and are not satisfied. Such is  the way of cupidity. For example, if a priest has a simple benefice, he tries to get a larger one, and is never satisfied.  Behold the condition of the water of temporal goods which do not satisfy, because they do not hit the spot where the thirst is. For the thirst is for having worldly goods, such as, lands, possessions, gold, silver etc. These temporal goods do not enter within the heart.  Even if you had a wagon filled with liquid gold, it would not satisfy you.  But just as a starving man is not satisfied by the sight of food on the table, because hunger is in the stomach, and so unless the food goes in, it will not take away the hunger or thirst. So it is with the consumption of temporal goods. Thus however much a man has, he thirsts and desires for more, because such things do not enter into his heart. Authority: “A covetous man shall not be satisfied with money: and he that loves riches shall reap no fruit from them, etc.,” (Eccl  5:9).

  And so  direct pleasures and worldly delights, are like a fever which burns a person with thirst.  He is then given a drop of water on the tongue, with a feather.  The same with the delights of lust, of  avarice, etc.  And so wherever flesh seeks refreshment in temporal things, it discovers only failure.  For the heart of a man is greater than the heavens and can be satisfied only by God, whom the heaven cannot embrace, but nevertheless the heart of man always holds fast to grace, and then man is satisfied, so Christ says, ” Whosoever drinks of this water, shall thirst again; but he who shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever,  But the water that I will give him, shall become in him a fountain of water, springing up into life everlasting,” (vv. 13-14), by the water of grace and his presence.  Thus the conclusion is from theology,  that sanctifying grace [gratia  gratum faciens] brings and has with it the presence of God.  And by this sign it can be known if a person is in grace, when someone does not desire things leading to sin. Note: “springing up into life everlasting.”  What a leap is that which the soul makes, when by mouth it leaps immediately into heaven.  Think if a man would jump from the earth into heaven.  O what kind of a leap would it be, even if it is beyond higher, how much higher yet is it to heaven.

   The second secret: Jesus, fatigued by the journey, was sitting there at the fountain.  It was almost noon. Why was Jesus more exhausted at that hour from the journey than any of the Apostles?  Because he was sustaining the whole world and all creatures.  Reason: you know, good people, that there never was there a man of such a delicate constitution like Christ as man. Why? Because we are conceived and begotten from most vile and corrupt stuff, and so we have a coarser constitution for enduring labors. The body of Christ formed by the Holy Spirit, was not of most vile matter but from the purest drops of the blood of the Virgin Mary, and so it was more delicate; or because he was fasting every day, and “passed the whole night in prayer,” (Luke 6:12), and he labored preaching every day

And about this sensitivity [delicatura] it is said in Isa 53: ” …To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?  And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he has born our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. All we, like sheep, have gone astray, every one has turned aside into his own way: and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” (Isa 53:1-6).  The arm of the Lord through which God the Father has worked all things, is Christ as God. “All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made.” (John 1:3).  And speaking of his humanity he says, ” And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground,” (v. 2 ).  A tender plant is a little shoot and delicate, which grows up at the base of other large trees, or which sprouts in dry ground where there is not any water.  It is very delicate and fragile.  So it is clear the reason why Christ was more exhausted than the Apostles.

  If it is said “Could he not care for himself?” I reply: Always, but he would not have given us an example of laboring for good works, so that we might have patience when we are tired and exhausted, as Christ was, and when from preaching of fasting or other reasons we are worn out, we take comfort from the example of Christ and we acquire patience.  Thus the Apostle, “But in all things let us exhibit ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulation, in necessities, in distresses,  in stripes, in prisons, in seditions, in labors, in watchings, in fastings, in chastity, in knowledge, in longsuffering, in sweetness, in the Holy Ghost, in charity unfeigned, in the word of truth, in the power of God,” (2 Cor 6:4-7).

   The third secret is: Why did the Apostles leave him alone?  because no one remained with him. The text says: ” For his disciples had gone into the city to buy meats,” (v. 8), and they left him alone in the desert, because that well was a considerable way from the city of Samaria. Response: why they left him alone, because it was at the command of Christ that all should go, so that he might save that woman. For if some disciple had been there, the woman would have been deterred, nor would she have spoken with him, and so he ordered that they all should go to the city to buy what was needed.

In this we are morally instructed. And we have an example, that just as Christ in the incarnation has dismissed the company of  thousands of thousands of angels, Job 25: ” Is there any numbering of his soldiers?” (Job 25:3). For our salvation he dismissed them.  The same way, as he dismissed the company of apostles for the salvation of that Samaritan woman.  So likewise we [should dismiss] the company of friends, children, wife, etc.  Also he says,” And every one that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting,” (Mt 19:29). Note “for my name’s sake” which is Jesus, translated as Savior. “For my name’s sake,” i.e. for the salvation of a soul, that the religious leaves his homeland for the purpose of preaching.  The same for the priest or  layman, who leaving the world “shall receive a hundredfold, etc.”  Or wife, or children.

  The question is: Is a man able to dismiss his wife for Christ, and the salvation of a soul, either his or of others?  Response: that a man cannot dismiss a wife which he already has, unless they both agree upon entering religious life, and if the other is to remain in the world, they are bound to live continently. Likewise a father should not leave his children unless thy are well provided with necessities, and are well instructed, educated and adult enough. The same holds for children, who should not leave their parents, poor and old, unless they are taken care of.  Second, one “leaves a wife,” not a wife which he has, but one which he might have, and children which he might have. For the love of Christ he leaves everything. So this text [auctoritas] is to be understood.

  The fourth secret, or the fourth question is shown in this, when the woman says, “How do you, being a Jew, etc.” (Jn 4:9). How does the woman know that Christ is a Jew? Response: that she recognized him by his speech in the same way as Peter was recognized on the night of the passion. “Surely you are also one of them; for even your  speech betrays you,” (Mt  26:73).

  Morally. Everyone is recognized for where his homeland is.  There are two opposing  homelands: paradise, and hell, and in each they speak differently.  The language of paradise is like that in the Psalm, “Blessed are they who dwell in your house, O Lord: they shall praise you for ever and ever,” (Ps 83:5). Therefore when a religious or priest or layman freely praises God, it is a sign that he is one of those from paradise. “.. for even your  speech betrays you,” (Mt  26:73).  It is otherwise when, with weariness in a confused and irreverent and non devout way one recites the Office or prayers. It is a great sign of predestination to praise God with delight.  The language of hell is that of which John says in Apocalypse 16: “And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God, who has power over these plagues, neither did they do  penance to give him glory,” (Rev 16:9).   Therefore when one swears, contradicts [renegat], blasphemes, etc., it is a sign that he is a townsman and citizen of hell, whence,  “you also are one of them, etc.”  Thus to swear and contradict is a manifest sign of predicted damnation.

  The fifth secret is that water of which Christ spoke, “Whosoever drinks…,” (v. 13)  This is the spiritual grace which extinguishes  ardor of pride in the proud,  avarice in the greedy, lust in the lusting, etc., just as natural water puts out the heat of the body.  Such a one does not wish for things inordinately, nor ardently seeks dignities, positions etc, like those do who still burn with the fever of pride, avarice etc. For the pure water of the grace of God extinguishes that burning in them. They who have grace say, with the Apostle [Paul], in 1 Tim. 6: “But having food, and wherewith to be covered, with these we are content,” (1 Tim 6:8).  He does not say “delicacies” [delectamenta] and by which we are “decorated” [ornemur] etc. This the grace of God accomplishes, or the water of grace “springing up into life everlasting,” (v. 14).  O, what a spring. Behold why he says, “he who shall drink of the water that I will give him, shall not thirst for ever,” (v.13), namely, with that temporal [thirst] from the heat of sin. Of this grace, Romans 6: “But the grace of God, life everlasting,” (Rom 6:23), that is through “the grace of God” one has “eternal life.”

  The sixth secret or sixth question: Since Christ said, “Go call your husband,” Why did he say that, since Christ knew that she did not have a husband?  Response: that Christ chose this way of speaking so that the woman herself would speak the truth with her own mouth, that she did not have a husband.

  Morally. ” For you have had five husbands; and he whom you now have, is not your husband,” (v.18). So when one sins out of weakness, or from ignorance, each person has five husbands, and finally takes on the bully [ruffianum], the devil. The five husbands are the five natural bodily senses. For just as a man rules his household, so these five senses rule the body in [those] sins which come from weakness, like Peter when he denied Christ out of fear. But when one sins out of habit and malice, one is ruled by the devil, like a bully or a pimp.  The Apostle says about this, “And they may recover themselves from the snares of the devil, by whom they are held captive at his will,” (2 Tim 2:26). The same St. Paul says: “Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents,” (2 Tim 3:1-2).

 

SECOND ARGUMENT – THE SAMARITAN WOMAN WITH CHRIST

   The second argument, of the Samaritan woman with Christ begins with her boldness. And to understand this disputation you should know that between the Jews and the Samaritans there was an ancient question as to where they should pray, in Jerusalem or there, on Mount Gerazim.  The Jews said “in Jerusalem,” because thus God commanded.  The Samaritans however said “on this mountain,” because the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob worshipped there. The Samaritan woman seeing Christ to be a prophet, who revealed her secrets to her, thought, “O this one tells you the truth.” To seek the solution to this subtle question, she begins the by saying: “Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say, that at Jerusalem is the place where men must adore,” (v. 20).  “Since you are a prophet , what do you say about this question?”

In his reply Christ acknowledged two opinions.  First, that the truer opinion was that of the Jews, because although the patriarchs had adored there, nevertheless the place of prayer had been moved.  The second opinion, that one can worship in every place, because God is everywhere.  Then Christ replied: “Woman, believe me, that the hour is coming, when you shall adore the Father neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem. You adore that which you do not know; we adore that which we know, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour comes, and is now, when the true adorers shall adore the Father in spirit and in truth. For the Father also seeks such to adore him. God is a spirit; and they who adore him, must adore him in spirit and in truth,” (vv..21-24).  And so Jesus resolved the question against the Samaritan woman.

  “The woman said to him: I know that the Messias (who is called Christ) is coming. Therefore, when he comes, he will tell us all things,”(v. 25).  Jesus replied, ” I, who am speaking with you, am he,” (v.26). Nowhere in the gospels is it found  that Christ so clearly said that he was the Christ, the Savior of the world, as he does here. And instantly the woman, enlightened, left her water jug and ran  into the city, crying out and declaring and calling the people, “O my good people, come, and see a man who has told me everything that I have done. Is not he the Christ?  They went therefore out of the city, and came to him,” (v.29-30).

  In this question there are three secrets.

  1. The first is, God is spirit. What does it mean to adore “in spirit and in truth?”

   1)  To understand this, realize that it is an principle of philosophy, that truth is the correspondence of  thing to intellect. For example when the spirit thinks about the infinite sanctity and purity of Christ, and on the other hand it thinks about the gravest sins which man himself commits, then when the external gesture of the body corresponds to the spirit saying: “Lord I am not worthy to behold you. Alas, how many sins have I committed against your will and holiness etc.,” and physically one bows down, by revealing humility externally, then [the body] corresponds with the spirit in the heart.  But when the heart is in the tavern, and the body bows, it is not truth.  In this way the publican prayed to God in the sprit and truth saying:” O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” (Lk 18:13). For this reason we now say. “Bow your heads to the Lord,” [Invitation to the prayer at the end of Lenten Masses] as if the church is saying, you are not worthy to look upon him.  For this reason the statues are veiled in Lent as if to say we are not worthy to look upon these images.

   2)  Second, God is adored in spirit and truth. First in spirit by thinking of his dominion, how he created body and soul and all things are his.  Otherwise of other lords.  Second, he is to be adored in truth, by the genuflecting of both knees to him, temporal lords only the left, and prelates the right.  In this way we say,  “Let us bend the knees,” [Flectamus genua. Levate. A liturgical command during Good Friday intercessions.] and it does not say by a knee . “Raise up,” namely, the spirit on high.  So when you wish to say a prayer, first you should pray in the spirit, thinking with whom you should be speaking, then in truth, by reverence of the body on the outside.  Behold why Christ says,” The Father also seeks such to adore him…in spirit and in truth,” (Jn 4:23).  And scriptures agree saying,” As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,” (Rom 14:11).

   3)  Third, God is adored in spirit and in truth. First in spirit thinking of his eternity, and in contrast of our own vile beginnings, because [we are] made of earth, and thinking of our end, because we shall die.  And in truth by prostrating oneself on the earth, which is to say “to earth we shall return,” and shall die, and God is in his eternity.  This is signified in his passion when it is said, “He gave up his spirit,” (Mt 27:50).  There every Christian prostrates. Thus David says, ” Come let us adore and fall down: and weep before the Lord that made us,” (Ps 94:6).

   4)  Fourth, God is worshipped in spirit, by thinking of the generosity of God who gives all temporal and spiritual goods, and on the other hand our uncleanness and needs.  And in truth.  So we raise our hands: the right for spiritual goods, the left for temporal goods.

   5)  The fifth manner of adoring God in spirit, by thinking of God’s mercy, because since we are condemned to the pitchfork of hell, the Son of God was so merciful that he said to his Father: Blessed Father, I alone wish to be suspended for the whole people.  And on the other hand by thinking about  sins for which the sentence has been given. And in truth, when the cross is signed in the heart saying: “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord,”  (Ps 32:5) from your passion.  Thus Paul, ” “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Gal 6:14).

   6)  The sixth way of adoring in the spirit by striking our breast, thinking of God’s infinite immensity and thinking of the offense committed toward him by our sins.  Thus the heart is struck with five fingers, just as we have five ways of sinning, namely, thought, word, work, omission and by persistence, because in these ways God is offended.

  1. The second secret is when it says, “She left her jug, etc.”  Literally, why does she leave it?  So she can run more quickly to the city.  But spiritually, the jug symbolized the evil companions of the woman, who blocked her path, and so she left it.  Many are such, who by the association and familiarity and love of certain people are impeded from the path to paradise.  So the woman left her jug, i.e. her bad companions.  Thus the Poet,” Things you have which are harmful, [though dear, let go,]” (Cato, Distich, Lib. I, v. 6).

  1. The third secret is when it is said that she went to the city, crying out, “Come, I shall show you a man…etc.,” (v.29). Thus she was not satisfied with her own conversion, but wished to convert her neighbors, because she converted the whole city.  Here we are  instructed that no one ought to be content with his own conversion, but ought to go out to convert his neighbor, like the good and devout wife, sweetly to convert her crude husband.  Likewise, brother, the brother; neighbor, their neighbor; servant, their lord;  master, their disciple; a lady, her handmaiden. Ecclesiasticus 17, “And he gave to every one of them a commandment concerning his neighbor,” (Sir 17:12).  Also the Apocalypse, last chapter, ” And the spirit and the bride say: Come. And he that hears, let him say: Come. And he who thirsts, let him come,” and drink, “and he who wishes, let him take the water of life, freely,” (Rev 22:17).  Note how the Holy Sprit says to man, “Come to Paradise etc.”

THE THIRD ARGUMENT – BETWEEN CHRIST AND HIS APOSTLES

     The third disputation was between Christ and the Apostles, humbly, because they said, “Rabbi, eat,” (v. 31). and they set a meal before him. However, Christ refused to eat, but replied saying, ” I have meat to eat, which you know not,” (v. 32). The evangelist says that, “The disciples therefore said one to another,” namely between themselves, “Has any man brought him [something] to eat?”  Christ however declaring which food he was talking about said,” My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, that I may perfect his work,” (v. 34).

This he was saying for the sake of the people who were coming from the city, and when he saw the people, he thought, “It is necessary for me to preach,” because he did not say I do not prefer to eat food, but he said, I have other food to eat, namely the word of God. For not by bread alone does a man live, “But in every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Mat 4:4). Note that, in the example of Christ, a sermon should come from a fasting stomach.

And he preached to those from the city, O how sweetly, “and he remained there two days,” (v. 40). And they believed in him, to such an extent that they said to the woman, “We now believe, not for your saying so: for we ourselves have heard him, and know that this is indeed the Savior of the world. (v. 42) In such a way he illuminated us.” Behold therefore the conclusion of this dispute.

   Morally.  The food of Christ is to do the will of God the Father.  Thus we do the will and we give him to eat, because this food is greatly pleasing to him.

 – He wants food from bishops, that they enter through the door, not through simony. Second after they are inside, that they be more concerned about souls that stipends.  Finally, that they live from stipends and share with the poor and give good example and good teaching.  From this food God is satisfied.

 – As for secular lords he wants food, namely that they minister justice both to the little ones and to the great, both to the poor as well as to the rich, and they do not qualify justice because of bribes and favors. Shunning robbery, content with their own income,  they serve the people in peace.

 – In religious he wants four foods, and from these Christ wishes to be fed, namely apostolic poverty, evangelical chastity, complete obedience, and ceremonial observance.   – And of priests he wants three foods, namely devoutly to pray their breviaries, celebrate worthily, and behave properly.  1 Tim 3:7, “Moreover he must have a good testimony of them who are without: lest he fall into reproach.”

 – Of the laity he wants two foods, and they are enough, namely the articles of the faith and the observance of the precepts of God.  And finally he would say to you in judgment, from Mat 25:34, ” Come, you blessed of my Father, etc.” namely with the aforesaid foods and so you shall be with Christ at the table of glory, about which he said, “And I dispose to you, as my Father has disposed to me, a kingdom; That you may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom,”  here through grace, and in the future, through glory (Lk 22:29).