Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily: Scrutiny Brings Out the Best in Us

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Exodus 17:3-7, Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9, Romans 5:1-2, 5-8, John 4:5-42 (Link to today’s readings.)

Six hundred years before the time of Jesus, the ancient Greek philosopher Thales (t-hay-leez) taught, “Water is the principle, or the element, of things. All things are water.” [1]

In our country most people take water for granted. But that is not true for everybody. There are people in these United States who cannot afford to pay for water and so it is turned off. In some places companies continue to skirt the laws and pollute water. Heated debates focus on water rights, supplies and distribution. One would think that access to fresh water is a basic right.

There are great water stories in the bible. The flood and the passage through the Red Sea are blockbuster examples. Today the scriptures focus on water and its importance in our spiritual journeys. Water can refresh and give life as quickly as it drowns and destroys life.  Many religions like ours use water in initiation rituals to symbolize both of these aspects. In the first reading the Israelites who were liberated from slavery in Egypt found themselves wandering in the desert. They were thirsty, irritable and started to quarrel with Moses. They delighted when he found water for them and it became a sign of salvation. Were the Israelites testing God? Was God scrutinizing them?

In the gospel we heard a story about Jesus who was also thirsty. He wasn’t supposed to be in Samaria much less talking to a woman. The woman, Photina by name, wasn’t supposed to be at the well at that time of day. Was this a lucky coincidence? Although some scripture scholars doubt this incident ever took place, we love to hear the story. It’s puzzling. It gets our attention. What is this fable really all about?

Jesus and Photina were scrutinizing one another. They were listening with open hearts. Both of them came away from their encounter with new insights. Jesus recognized the woman in all of her beauty, her strength, her bold conviction. Photina saw in Jesus somebody special and someone who cared about her. When he described himself as “living water” she recognized Jesus as the chosen one and in those moments she found herself becoming a disciple. A change took place as Jesus and Photina related to one another. In the 2nd reading today we learn, as did the Romans, transformation requires openness on our part, openness to the Spirit. Scrutiny can lead to transformation, to bring out the best in someone.

Today in our parish we publicly scrutinize someone elected to become a Christian and Catholic — Cain Marion. When Cain is drenched with living water at the Easter Vigil he will claim a new level of discipleship like the woman at the well did. Our prayer for Cain (and Erina and Christopher Dacey as well) is that they will continue to grow in their loyalty to the Christian mission. Scrutiny can lead to transformation, to bring out the best in someone.

What about the rest of us? How do we scrutinize what’s good and bad in society, in ourselves? What are the barriers that prevent the movement of living water in our lives? Do we join these people (Cain, Erina & Christopher) to stand firm against anything that denies basic human rights whether it be access to health care, decent housing, good food, or safe and sufficient water?

Some scholars believe that John’s story about Jesus and Photina challenged the cultural limits placed on women at that time. Obviously Photina went through a transformation, took charge of her life and found her way to the public stage. Legend has it that she went on to Carthage and then to Rome to preach the good news. Whether she really existed or not the story is about finding salvation in Christ and offers us encouragement for our lives.

Today is Girl Scouts Sunday and tomorrow is International Women’s Day. IWD was started in 1911 to celebrate the social, economic and political achievements of women around the world. It is also a reminder of the 1908 protest march in New York City against child labor and for women’s suffrage. Scrutiny can lead to transformation; it can bring the best out of someone. In this diocese, for example, we are blessed in that more women are in pastoral leadership roles than ever before. We pray that our Girl Scouts will grow in awareness of their importance in society.
None of us is finished. All of us continually stand at the crossroads of change pondering whether to stand still with the status quo, go backwards to take delight in nostalgic moments or move forward in search of new horizons. To survive the journey we need to share our resources.

If we can sustain a spirit of scrutiny it will bring out the best in us and everyone we touch. This is all we can do for now as we continue to advance the promised land, the same land the Israelites searched for so long ago, the kingdom of God, a place where peace and justice prevail for all.

1 Aristotle, Metaphysics, Chapter Six, lines 17-21 2


Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

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