19 March, 2017. 3rd Sunday of Lent
1st Reading: Exodus 17:3-7
(God provides water for his people on their way through the wilderness. Help is never far from us).
The people thirsted for water; and they complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Responsorial Psalm (Ps 94)
Response ‘O that today you would listen to his voice, Harden not your hearts.’
1. Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord. Response
2. Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us
for he is our God and we
the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand. Response
3. O that today you would listen to his voice!
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.’ Response
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
(God has reconciled us through the life of Christ. Through the gift of the Spirit we are joined to him in love.)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
Gospel: John 4:5-42
Jesus offers living water, to the Samaritan woman at the well
Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, an the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He canno be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.”
(José Antonio Pagola)
Today’s Gospel encounter is captivating. Tired on his journey, Jesus sits down next to Jacob’s Well. Soon a woman arrives to draw water. She belongs to a semi-pagan people, despised by the Jews. Right out of the blue, Jesus begins the dialogue. He doesn’t know how to look down on anyone, only how to look at them with deep tenderness. «Woman, give me something to drink». The woman stops in her tracks. How dare he be in contact with a Samaritan? Why does he lower himself to speak with an unknown woman? Jesus’ words surprise her all the more: «If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me something to drink’, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water».
Many people, especially lately, find themselves far away from God, without even knowing what is really going on inside of them. By now God ends up ‘something strange’ to them. Everything connected to God seems to them to be empty and meaningless: a childish world, fading into the past. I understand them. I know what they might be feeling. I too find myself further and further away from such a «God of my childhood» that used to awaken in me so many fears, grief, unease. Probably without Jesus I never would have met a God who for me today is a Mystery of goodness: a presence that is friendly and welcoming, one whom I can always trust.
The task of proving my faith with scientific evidence has never attracted me: I believe it’s mistaken to regard the mystery of God as if it were a laboratory project. But neither have religious dogmas helped me to really meet God. I simply have let myself be led by a confidence in Jesus that has continued growing over the years. I can’t explain exactly how my faith sustains me today in a religious crisis that affects me as much as everyone else. I would only say that Jesus has brought me to live a faith in God in a simple way from the depth of my being. If I listen, God isn’t silent. If I open myself, God isn’t closed. If I entrust myself, God welcomes me. If I give myself, God sustains me. If I fall down, God raises me up.
I believe the first and most important experience is to find a way to enjoy God as a saving presence. When a person knows what it is to enjoy God because, in spite of our mediocrity and selfishness, God welcomes us as we are, then it would be difficult to abandon the faith. Many people today are abandoning God without ever having known God. If they knew the experience of God that Jesus spreads, they would be seeking God. If they recognized the gift that God is, they wouldn’t abandon God. They would find themselves enjoying God.
Slaking our thirst
The thirsting soul: Our need to drink regularly is obvious; without water we would quickly die. Not so easily recognized is the soul’s thirst for meaning, for vision and purpose in life. We can be fully preoccupied with the surface of things, and quite neglect our spirit’s obscure longing for eternal life. Like the Israelites, we worry constantly about physical needs, but are often unmindful of God who supplies them. Today, Jesus offers us the refreshing water of eternal life, a power of faith and union-with-God which is our deepest need, and can satisfy the thirst of our soul. How the desert blossoms, when water is brought to it. (We may cite dramatic examples of successful irrigation in Israel, Egypt, California.) The same miracle of growth can take place in the parched soul, if God lets his Spirit flow over me. All the ravages of doubt, fear and sin will yield to the new life of grace.
A sacramental washing: Already in baptism, the sacramental washing with water by the Christian Church was a first contact with the grace of Christ. I was given a good start, planted well in the garden of God, with room to put down roots, and draw vital nourishment from the living spring of the Saviour. Yet, I need continuing help, to keep my spirit alive and pleasing to God as life goes on. Like the desert-wandering Jews, I often suffer from thirst and grow weary in confronting problems (sketch examples – ). But at a deep level, Jesus guarantees me the “living water” I need. His own Spirit is always at hand, as a force of encouragement and fidelity.
“To dwell in the house of the Lord”: Our deep desire remains, something not confined to Christians but shared by the mystic tradition in other religions: namely, the yearning to come into the presence of God, and be welcomed by God. All of us are called by him to drink of that “fountain of water, springing up to everlasting life.” In times of widespread religious skepticism, the hope of heaven as eternal life after death is often cast in doubt as wishful thinking. But we cling to this hope, relying on the word of Jesus. For Paul and the early Christians, the hope of eternal life breathed joy into all their efforts and sacrifices. Fidelity until death seemed well worthwhile, “for the weight of glory that will be revealed in us.” Our part to play is turning aside from sin, and trying to live by the gospel. God can be absolutely relied on to fulfil his promise, and will in time satisfy the deep thirst of our spirit.
Access to God
Response to today’s Psalm: Oh that you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts….
“Is the Lord in our midst or not?” That question was addressed to Moses at the end of the skirmish when the people were camped at Rephidim, later renamed as Massah or Meribah (test or quarreling). The people wanted water and complained about having left Egypt to die now in the desert. In an action reminiscent of the Exodus, striking a rock with the staff with which he struck the river, Moses produces water. The quarrel echoes throughout history. Psalm 95 recalls the event and uses it as an incentive to seek repentance. “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” (Ps 95:8-9).
The Psalmist has richly prepared us for this call to conversion, with the argument about “seeing my work.” Thus, the psalm opens on the praises of God as creator-king, (vs.1-5) and then follows with a second wave of praise of the Shepherd God (v.6-7). The psalm constitutes a good introductory rite ending in God calling the community to repentance (vs.8-9). It is always better that our sins be revealed to us than that we ourselves examine our own conscience. “They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they do not regard my ways.”(v.10)
A similar appeal to conscience is heard in Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman: Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (v.10) Then Jesus reveals to the woman the state of her conscience which is precisely the point she shares with the villagers. “She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!'” (John 4:28,39) Note John’s characteristic irony which comes full circle in the question asked by the woman: “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (4:29). He is indeed the Messiah, and she will be a pre-evangelizer. Eventually, the people of Samaria said to the woman: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.” (4:42) Like a good pre-evangelizer, she knows when to withdraw into the background.
The atmosphere of this dialogue is hopeful. Their differences are distinctions but not blocks as Jesus invites the woman to view matters in their origins. Where is it that God gives access to Godself? Samaria or Jerusalem? Is God in our midst or not? Yes, in spirit and in truth! Neither Jerusalem nor Samaria, but where God is revealing Godself and giving us to drink. Jesus moves out ahead of the whole story, and we will be forever putting it together. The Father is with us in Word and Spirit. In that relationship, true worship lies. This makes John’s gospel a wonderfully rich liturgical text. Jesus both claims truth before Pilate (18:37) and releases the Spirit on the Cross with his final breath (19:30). The question: “is God in our midst or not” is astoundingly answered, and the Samaritan woman will come to experience the water and blood flowing from the pierced side of Jesus the Messiah (19:31-36, see 7:37). Our Christian conscience is afloat with words that speak to the presence of God in our midst: word, spirit, access/approach, grace, perfection and rest which brings us back to Psalm 95.
In Romans, Paul gives us the very useful word access. (“..our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” 5:1-2) The term resembles the approach of Hebrews 12:18,22 and other richly crafted language that links up with “perfection” and “rest.” Suffice it to cite but one example of the use of the word perfect (-er): “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” 12:2. Perfection for the writer means being within the veil, on the inner side of the Temple, ushered into the presence of God through union with Jesus, Risen Lord, Priest. See Hebrews (6:19-20) where another title for Jesus is forerunner. All of Israel’s history lead to rest. The author of Hebrews uses Psalm 95 to capture the image knowing that access to that rest in the presence of the risen Lord came through Jesus’ perfect embrace of the Father’s will and therein was made a sacrifice. As the editor of 2 Kings 17:24-41 shows, the history of Samaria was not pretty and no Jew would suspect that Samaria would ever know this rest because its spiritual life was a confusion of all that was foisted on them by the five occupying husbands (John 4:18). According to Ezra, the construction of a temple on Samaria seals this negative judgment (4:1-5,7-16). However, it is following Jesus’ harvest discussion with the disciples about their entering into the work of others that John mentions the evangelical outreach of the woman. Is the woman of Samaria one of those from whose work the Jewish-Christians benefit? Has God reversed the final verse of Ps. 95: “Therefore in my anger I swore, ‘They shall not enter my rest.'”? Is this the new water springing up to eternal life?