Latest News & Events

Font size: +
6 minutes reading time (1253 words)

Homily - The Samaritan Woman at the Well - Bishop McKeown

12 March 2023 - Third Sunday in Lent A

The scriptures are sometime seen as nice – if exaggerated or unreasonable – statements and stories. But today's readings show us people wrestling in very concrete situations with the mystery of God in their lives. We see the Israelites on the way out of Egypt. They had seen what happened to the Egyptians – but they still found grounds to complain. They even criticised Moses for not leaving them as slaves to the Egyptians. The Samaritan woman also told a sad story that was born of her oppression and marginal status in her community. So, what might we learn?

Firstly, in January, I put out a letter sketching some ideas about the future direction of the diocese. The scripture passage at the beginning contains the phrase 'a future full of hope'. Those words from the prophet Jeremiah were written to the whole leadership of the Jewish people who had been led off into exile in Babylon. Their temple had been destroyed. Only an idiot would talk of a future full of hope! But it is precisely in the midst of bad news that the prophetic Gospel message speaks of hope. God is at work, even in what are apparently hopeless times. Today we face many problems in church and public life. News bulletins are full of bad news about war and economic problems. Our streets and sometimes our homes have become dangerous places. The constant message in church can often be of decline and irrelevance. We blame clergy and young people, drink and drugs, teachers and selfishness. And all the entertainment culture can do is try to distract us by offering frivolities. But that is precisely where we need to hear that God is planning for us a future full of hope. But what do we hope for?

Hope is not the same as optimism. Some people are optimistic by nature – but may have little grounds for optimism. Christian hope is not based on the confidence that my plans will come true. The Christian hope that St Paul talks about in the second reading says that God is in charge, that the victory over sin and death has been won and that grace is stronger than sin. Here is not meant to be as good as it gets. As one writer put it, faith is not the belief that all will work out well – but the trust that, no matter how things work out, all will be well. Christian hope says that God led his people through the desert and that Jesus was victorious over death. We tell a story that the church has come through apparent defeat and terrible mistakes with renewed burst of life and creativity. It is trust in the faithfulness of God, despite our mistakes and stupidity, that gives us hope in every generation – whether we feel lost and thirsty in the desert or lonely at the well in the heat of the midday sun. We have the crazy belief that God is preparing a future for us, not primarily because we are intelligent and hardworking but because he is always working hard to save us.

Secondly, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. She appears to have been something of an outcast among her own people, who were already looked down upon by the Jews. When Jesus starts to talk about serious issues, she tries to divert him away from her own mixed-up life. Engagement with God means going out into territory where we would often prefer to stay away. Low expectations mean we are rarely disappointed. But conversion and conversation with Christ mean leaving behind what we think we can cope with. Somebody wrote that we have dreams that are too small, and that God demolishes them so that we may venture out into the wider space of his plan for us. When we think that all is lost and that God has abandoned us, faith says that he is simply preparing us for something better that we do not expect. It is just that our limited vision cannot see over the horizon or around the corner. In the Gospel Jesus wants to lead the Samaritan woman from the humdrum best that she could expect to a deeper, more human life – a life that freed her from being a slave of the past and of the actions of others.But she is reluctant to trust. Jesus invites us all to follow him to a different place where he can slake our thirst - our thirst for love, our thirst for healing and forgiveness, our thirst to belong or to believe that our lives have meaning and value. Our Lenten penance is not meant to impress God. It is meant to strip away some of the useless childhood toys that we cling to and open us to God's future and not just to repeating our scarred past. Only through such Lenten practices can Easter have any real meaning.

Thirdly, the Samaritan woman did not run away and hide. She went to her neighbours – even though they may have looked down on her as a woman with certain reputation. The temptation is sometimes to have special events in a parish and then to go back to what passes for normal parish life. But renewal will come, not merely through occasional excellent events but by a restructuring how we are parish. Our direction of travel in this diocese is not merely towards rationalising masses. It is about building parish communities – often involving a minority of the inhabitants - that are actively bringing new young people to love Jesus, helping them grow in faith and then enabling them to share their faith. The synodal conversations show that there is a thirst for the good news of forgiveness and healing. Parish renewal means people growing in confidence to explore and talk about their faith. Many young people want to do something outstanding with their lives – but have turned away from church for they do not see it as a place where they are called to greatness. But they still thirst for good news. How do we help them meet the hope that Jesus offers?

We gather each week for Mass. Eucharist was born out of a crisis of hope – for the Cross seemed to have destroyed all that Christ's disciples had hoped for. As a people of the Eucharist, we are people of hope. Jesus taught that the smallest mustard seed in good soil will bear enormous fruit. Our Sunday Mass celebrates the victory of meaning and of grace over violence and sin. Here, around the altar, like the Samaritan woman, each of us has a story to tell about how God has encountered us in unexpected places and how our thirst has been slaked, perhaps especially in times of sin and embarrassment. Know your story. The Samaritan woman says to each of us "Do not be ashamed of the deserts in your life. That is where we are most often able to encounter Jesus."

+ Donal McKeown


Diocese of Derry - Pastoral Letter

In a context of prayer and of openness to the Holy Spirit, I invite the parishes of the diocese to set out on this mission of renewal, believing that if we listen for the voice of the Lord, we can enter into His peace.
Stay Informed

When you subscribe to the blog, we will send you an e-mail when there are new updates on the site so you wouldn't miss them.

SUNDAY REFLECTION - Fourth Sunday of Lent, 19th Ma...
SUNDAY REFLECTION - Third Sunday of Lent, 12th Mar...

Related Posts


Diocesan Offices
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP

Tel: 028 7126 2302

Follow us