Saturday, February 23, 2008

Consumerism, Desire, and Freedom

(3rd Sunday of Lent, A)

Consumerism is one of the great spiritual dangers of our culture. We are surrounded night and day by advertising and salespeople trying to sell us something. Often their promises are empty. We are supposed to be tricked into thinking that the latest drug will make us feel better than we ever felt before, that buying some appliance will make our family happy, or that a new car will solve all our problems.

>But there is a something good we can learn from the consumerism of our culture. It shows us that we, in fact, desire something. There is something we all want. If there weren’t, there wouldn’t be any way for advertisements to play on our desires. So what do we really want? What is it that our hearts are always reaching for? Well, first of all we want a happy and peaceful life—that’s why people in commercials are always having a good time. We want a meaningful connection with another person—intimacy—and that’s why commercials always sell sex or at least employ physically attractive people, because our sexuality is the simplest way to get at our desire to connect with others.

It comes down to life. That’s what we want: to be alive, fully—happy, peaceful, and with life-giving connections to others. And this core of our human desire is what Jesus is talking about when he promises eternal life­—not eternal life in the sense of some future we don’t even know about, but eternal life now, filling our hearts with the love and peace that we really want.

Our basic problem is that we try to reach out and grab the eternal life, love, and satisfaction in all the wrong places. We get fooled into thinking that money or stuff or security can satisfy our hearts, but at the end of day we realize in our depression that they can’t. The way our culture is plagued by sexual exploitation and pornography just shows how desperate people are to reach out and connect with another human being—and how many of us have no idea how to do that in a fulfilling and healthy way.

The Samaritan woman in the Gospel today was looking for the desire of her heart just like we are. Her history of failed relationships and her eagerness for the living water Jesus’ promised—even though she interpreted his words in a physical way—show that she had spent her life looking for love and was at least a little bit weary of daily life.

Jesus’ promises her what she really wants and what we really want, eternal life. And it’s not something you have to go buy, or something you have to reach out and grab, because it’s something that comes from within. As Jesus says, the water that he will give becomes in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” It’s the great tragedy of our lives that we are always trying to buy or to reach out and grasp happiness and fulfillment, when our God has promised that everything our heart desires he himself will make to well up from within.

Once we realize that God has already put within us everything we truly desire, and that all we have to do is consent to his presence in our hearts and minds in order to be happy, then we will be free, because we will no longer be susceptible to being fooled by our culture of advertisements, false promises, and empty prejudices.

When we surrender to the presence of God within us—and what else does it mean to approach and receive Holy Communion—then we will be able to imitate the Lord in his behavior in today’s Gospel. As we heard, Judeans weren’t supposed to have anything to do with Samaritans. Much less was the great teacher supposed to talk casually with a woman. But none of that matters to Jesus. He breaks through all of that man-made boundary and prejudice without bother or even making a big deal about it. And once we accept the living water that wells up in us to eternal life, we will be free from prejudice and fear, and we too will be able to walk effortlessly through all the walls that are set up only by human fear and prejudice.

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