Love’s Great Labour

Third Sunday of Lent
Cathedral of the Holy Family, Tulsa, Oklahoma
27 March 2011

Saint John makes a point of saying in today’s Gospel
that, “Jesus, wearied as He was with His journey,
sat down beside the well.
It was about the sixth hour” (Jn 4:6).
Long ago, in the thirteenth century,
a Franciscan friar with a gift for poetry as well as for prayer,
Thomas of Celano, by name,
took this one sentence of the Gospel,
listened to it over and over again,
and repeated it to himself.
He saw Jesus, the Good Shepherd,
resting after His wearisome journey
in the scorching heat of noonday Palestine
while awaiting the return of the Samaritan woman
whom He wished to save.
Saint John’s words passed
from the mouth of the friar to his ears;
from his ears into his mind;
and from his mind into his heart.
And there, by light of the Holy Ghost,
he discovered its deeper meaning.
In his heart, the word became prayer,
a prayer that found expression in his poetry.
Sharpening his quill
and dipping it into his inkwell,
he traced a few lines on parchment,
lines that, having found a home
in the sequence of the Mass for the Dead,
would become familiar to Catholics the world over.
Quarens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus. (Dies Irae)

“Weary sat’st Thou seeking me.
Diedst redeeming on the Tree;
Not in vain such toil can be.” (Trans. Elizabeth Charles)
“Jesus, wearied as He was with His journey. . . .” (Jn 4:6).
The image is profoundly moving:
the weariness of a wayfaring Jesus:
Christ, the Image of the Father, journeying in search of man.
Not for nothing is this particular image given us today
on the Third Sunday of Lent.
We are close to the midpoint of our own Lenten journey
We are, all of us, susceptible to a certain weariness.
The Church gives us this particular Gospel
of the weary, wayfaring Christ
to show us that the journey of Christ through Samaria
reveals the Father’s journey towards us
in in the journey of the Son to Mount Calvary
by the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows,
The Son’s midday halt at Jacob’s well
prefigures His midday halt
of three hours on the Cross
and the cry from His parched lips
revealing the Father’s burning desire:
“I thirst.” (Jn 19:28)
Consider, then, these mysteries, brothers and sisters,
and understand that the Father’s journey towards us
precedes, from all eternity.
even our first hesitant step towards Him.
If you think
that Lent is about your journey towards the Father,
think again:
is it not rather about the Father journeying towards you?
“For God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world,
but that the world might be saved by Him.” (Jn 3:16).
The Father seeks us before we begin to seek Him.
The Father yearns for us before we begin to yearn for Him.
The Father thirsts for us before we begin to thirst for Him.
Jesus comes to us in today’s Gospel
as one weary of journeying.
His journey is driven by love.
His journey is towards me and towards you.
Every step of His signifies the advance of His Father’s love.
The sound of His steps is that described in Genesis:
the sound of “the Lord God walking in the garden” (Gen 3:8).
His voice is that of the Lord God who called to the man
and said to him, ‘Adam, where art thou?'” (Gen 3:9)
His journey is that of the shepherd who,
“hath a hundred sheep: and if shall lose one of them,
leaveth the ninety-nine in the desert,
and go after that which is lost, until he find it.” (Lk 15:3)
To his description of the weary, wayfaring Jesus,
seated by the well,
Saint John adds a significant detail.
He tells us that, “It was about the sixth hour” (Jn 4:6).
The full resonance of this little phrase remains hidden from us
until we turn the pages of Saint John’s Gospel
to the crucifixion of Jesus in chapter 19.
There we read, “Now it was the Friday of the Passover
about the sixth hour.” (Jn 19:14)
The sixth hour sees Jesus “lifted up from the earth
to draw all things to himself” (Jn 12:32).
After a three hour agony,
the crucified Jesus reveals the thirst of man for God,
and His Father’s thirst for man.
“Jesus, knowing that all was now accomplished,
that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, ‘I thirst.'” (Jn 19:28)
Our medieval poet
was right to associate the sixth hour weariness and thirst
of Jesus resting at the well
with the sixth hour suffering and thirst of Jesus
hanging on the Cross.
“Faint and weary, thou hast sought me,
By the Cross hast dearly bought me.”
He had read his gospel well.
The power of God is concealed
in the weakness, weariness and thirst of Jesus.
Christ, seated at Jacob’s well,
Christ, nailed to the Cross,
is at once strong and weary.
Christ is strong because He is God.
We will acclaim Him at the adoration of the Cross on Good Friday
as the Sanctus fortis, the “Holy Strong One.”
He is strong because He is Love,
and Love, we read in the Song of Songs,
“is stronger than death . . . .
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
a most vehement flame” (Ct 8:6).
At the same time, Christ is weak,
“despised and the most abject of men,
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity.” (Is 53:3).
By His power, He created us;
in His weakness, He came in search of us,
becoming weary as He journeyed.
What is the journey that so wearied the Son of God?
Saint Augustine says that the journey is that of the Incarnation:
the long descent of the Word from heaven to earth,
from the bosom of the Father to the virginal womb of Mary;
and all the roads He traveled “in the form of servant” (Phil 2:7)
until, at length, having rested for a moment at Jacob’s well,
He came to the Cross.
“Not for nothing is Jesus wearied;”
says Augustine,
“not for nothing does the power of God suffer fatigue.
Not for nothing does He who refreshes the weary endure weariness.
Not for nothing is He wearied,
whose absence makes us weary,
and whose presence gives us strength.”
(Homilies on the Gospel of John 15, 6-7).
The last line of the strophe from the Dies Irae,
our medieval poet’s sequence,
is a poignant plea: Tantus labor non sit cassus.
“Let not so much labour be in vain.”
It is Christ’s labour for us undertaken in obedience to the Father:
the labour of His journey into the depths of human weakness,
the labour of His Passion and Cross.
Let nothing of so great a labour be lost!
Ultimately, today’s Gospel takes us
from the contemplation of the weary, wayfaring Christ
to the revelation of the Father’s thirst
for “adorers in spirit and in truth. (Jn 4:23).
This is the astonishing revelation made by Jesus
to the Samaritan woman at the well:
not our thirst for God,
but the Father’s thirst for us,
the Father’s yearning that we should adore Him
in spirit and in truth.
For this have we received the spirit of adoption of sons,
“whereby we cry: Abba, Father.” (Rom 8:15)
It was, in some way, the thirst of the Father
for adoration in spirit and in truth
that compelled Our Lord Jesus Christ
to invent the Most Holy Eucharist
on the night before He died.
What is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, after all,
if not the thirst of God
made food and drink to quench our thirst for Him
that we might quench His thirst for us?
At the altar, upon the altar
the weariness of a wayfaring God
and the weariness of every wayfaring human heart come to rest.
The altar is the meeting place of two immense thirsts:
the thirst of God for man
and the thirst of man for God.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is Love’s great labour.
Let nothing of it be lost.