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Thursday, 20 March 2014

3rd Sunday of Lent Year A 2014

3rd. Sunday of Lent (A)

(Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42)

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we have readings which Mother Church has chosen from various books of the Bible, each of which manifests the wonderful wisdom of our God.  We can also learn something of the wisdom of Mother Church herself, shown in her choice of these readings -- made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit so uniquely bequeathed to her -- whereby she is able to say to us her children: “read there, feed there, and you will find light for your faith and food for your soul.”

The children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped in Rephidim.  However, since there was no water for the people to drink:

The people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?"  So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!"  And the Lord said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go.  Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 

The people of Israel were being set free from the slavery they had long endured in Egypt.  It had been a degrading experience, replete with humiliations: forced labour and frequent beatings, constant supervision, and, above all, the deliberate and systematic slaughter of their new-born male children.  And yet, here in the desert -- suffering from shortage of food and water -- they seem able to recall but one aspect of that horrendous time in Egypt (Exodus 16:3):

When we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! 

Yes, some of them were looking back with longing for the pleasures of Egypt, indulging the thought of becoming slaves again if only they could have a regular meal!   They were beginning to fancy they might endure the sufferings, put up with the countless personal indignities, and overlook their loss of freedom, if only they could once again enjoy the Egyptian slops!  They had indeed become a slave people, and were finding it hard to endure being weaned from their slavery by the Lord their God!

Here, surely, we can recognize our own world of today; for although it is true that in our society we do not, generally speaking, find people enslaved to others who are their owners, nevertheless, we do have so many people who find it most difficult to overcome their own personal addictions.  Everywhere and at all levels of society there are many who devote their lives to an all-consuming search and hunger for sex, drugs, alcohol, and pleasures of all types – even those most outlandish and outrageous.  For such people, despite the fact that their pleasures could well condemn them to an early and degrading death, their addiction so enslaves them that they are hardly able to even imagine or want freedom again, let alone endure the necessary processes of detoxification and rehabilitation.

Although such enslavement is a dreadful and extreme form of addiction for only a minority of people, nevertheless, most of us have our pet indulgences, weak points and selfish tendencies, which, though they do not -- we like to think -- prevent us from doing God’s ‘basic’ will, nevertheless, make it much more difficult for us to do that of which we fully approve, or to decisively reject what we recognize as not good enough or even wrong.  Therefore, the Sacred Scriptures, even at the most ancient level, are still relevant and pertinent for us who, today, are being invited and encouraged by God to make our own desert journey from earthly servitude, our own personal pilgrimage -- under His guidance and power -- to the glorious freedom of the children of God planned for each of us. 
The Lord said to Moses:

Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 

That water would refresh the people, enabling those who were courageous and resolute enough to continue on their way towards freedom in the Promised Land.

St. Paul, speaking later of that episode from the history of Israel, tells us that Christ was for them -- as He still is for us -- that Rock:

They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4)

The Israelites had been told, by the word of God, to turn in faith to the rock on Mount Horeb that would be struck by Moses at God’s command, just as we -- through faith in the Word of God made flesh – are called upon to look to Jesus our Rock, stricken on Mount Calvary by order of one to whom Jesus had said:

You could have no authority at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.  (John 19:11)

Saint Paul also tells us, elsewhere, of the Promised Land which is the goal of our Christian pilgrimage through this world: we are in the process of being led to a heavenly and eternal home, and being formed as integral parts of that holy temple of which Christ is already the corner stone:

On the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself (is) the chief cornerstone in Whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in Whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.             (Ephesians 2:20-3:1)

Of old, “Strike the Rock” had been the command given to Moses, whereupon water had poured forth for the hosts of Israel thirsting in the desert.  Jesus, our Rock, was pierced by a lance as He hung from the Cross on Mount Calvary, and from that open wound flowed blood and water, symbolizing the Spirit and the sacraments; and when Jesus was on the point of death He bowed His head and breathed forth the reality of His Spirit as His last and greatest Gift to the Church gathered round His Cross.  The Holy Spirit has rightly been called the Gift of God from the beginning of the Church, a Gift of Whose beauty we heard in our second reading:

The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.

People of God, we cannot walk through the desert of this world’s sin relying on our own will power: constantly shutting our eyes, ears, and mouths, in the attitude of “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”.  Some might consider that a laudable endeavour but it would be a supremely foolish one, because it is totally negative and doomed to failure.  In order to live as children of God we must open ourselves up to God’s love shown us and offered to us in the Person of Jesus; in other words, we have to turn to the Rock Who has been struck for us, to Jesus our Saviour, and receive from Him the gift of His Holy Spirit; for it was by the Spirit Who had originally led Him into the desert to confront and confound Satan, that Jesus was later able to look on His whole life’s experience and say with such sublime love of God to the Samaritan woman of our Gospel story and to us:

My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.  

People of God, only that same Holy Spirit -- the Gift of God, and Jesus’ own Bequest breathed upon His Church from the Cross -- can enable us to do the will of the Father Who calls us, in Jesus, to Himself.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus, seated by the well of Jacob at Sychar, had asked a Samaritan woman – who regularly came there to draw water -- for a drink.  She expressed surprise at such a request because she saw that Jesus was a Jew, and Jews would not normally use a Samaritan’s bucket to draw water.  As you heard, Jesus said to her:

If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.

The woman was yet more puzzled: how could this man give her living water?  You must realise that “living” usually means water from a flowing source, and there was only one such source in the neighbourhood, this very well, given to her people by Jacob centuries ago, in the very place where Jesus was now seated talking to her.  So she answered:

Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? 

At the back of her mind was the thought, “Surely he doesn’t think he can show us another well here?“  And so she went on to add:

Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?" 

Jesus always lived in the presence of His Father and He always looked with compassion on humanity enslaved by sin and burdened by suffering, it was, indeed, such compassion which motivated His Incarnation.  And occasionally, as when He met the widow of Nain following the coffin of her only son for his burial, or again, when He wept over Jerusalem, we can glimpse something of the intensity of the divine compassion in His most Sacred Heart.  He had come as a Jew, and here, in our Gospel story, He meets a Samaritan, a non-Jew; in fact one can say that here He meets, in the figure of this woman, all of us who are of Gentile origin.  He is filled with compassion, knowing how sinful mankind strives endlessly and unsuccessfully to find happiness and satisfy their needs, just as this woman had already gone through repeated marriages and other unions in her search for happiness, and as she was forced -- in order to satisfy her needs -- to come repeatedly, day after day, week-in week-out, to this well, before returning to the village with the same heavy load and no prospect of ever being free from such burdensome labour.  It so forcefully brought to Jesus’ mind and heart our blind and enduring servitude to sin that, that, being filled with compassion, He declared:

Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst: the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. 

St. John makes perfectly clear what Jesus had in mind here when he tells us that:

On the last day, that great day of the feast (of Booths, in Jerusalem), Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."  This He spoke concerning the Spirit Whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.  (7:37-39)

People of God, our Faith, the practice of our religion, is not meant to be a great burden such as some of the Israelites considered their rescue from slavery to be in the desert; not so barren and empty as the Samaritan woman’s search for happiness through repeated marriages and unions, nor as wearisome as her endless journeying to the well in order to satisfy a need that constantly raised its head again.  Jesus has called us to Himself and He says:

Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Israel was refreshed in the desert by water that flowed from the stricken rock.  We too should turn to Jesus -- stricken for us -- and beseech His and the Father’s Gift of the Holy Spirit of Love, bestowed on us and bequeathed to us above all when we receive the Eucharist, where Jesus is most intensely living and present to breath afresh into us the Comforter, our Advocate.  Then, let us beg the Holy Spirit, thus freely given, to rule in our lives: asking Him to form us -- in Jesus -- for the Father; for, if we will allow Him to do that in our lives, He will make every former burden, light; every former task a joy; and turn every faint spark of vague hope into glowing coals of confidence and ardent flames of conviction and love.