The children of Israel had 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 actually being delivered from the slavery they had long endured in Egypt; it had been a long and degrading experience, replete with humiliations and constant supervision, forced labour and frequent beatings, and, above all, with the deliberate and systematic slaughter of their new-born male children. And yet, here in the desert – suffering at the moment from shortage of food and water -- their experience of slavery had brought them so low, had degraded them to such an extent, that they could only call to mind one aspect of that horrendous time in Egypt,:
Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. (Exodus 16:3)
Yes, some of them were looking back with longing for the pitiably few and wretched pleasures of Egypt once again. They were thinking of becoming slaves again, if only they could enjoy the pleasure of a regular meal; they were beginning to imagine themselves enduring the sufferings, putting up with the countless personal indignities, and overlooking their loss of freedom ... all for the miserable compensation of Egyptian ‘pots of meat and bread to the full’! They had indeed become true slaves and they 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, but nevertheless, we do have so many people who find it too difficult to overcome their addiction to drugs and smoking, abusive sex and drink … to mention but a few of the problems of modern society. Everywhere, at all levels of society, there are many who spend their lives entirely consumed with the avid search for pleasures of all types; and for such people, despite the fact that their pleasure threatens them with an early and degrading death, it is an addiction that so enslaves them that they are hardly able to imagine or want freedom again, let alone undertake the Christian moral exercise of God-given will-power and self-restraint. The order of the day is to pronounce psychologically overwhelming circumstances in such cases and invoke socially-approved human counsellors to lead the sufferers through the humiliating process of detoxification and hoped-for (perhaps only temporary?) rehabilitation.
Although such enslavement is a dreadful and extreme form of addiction for a minority of people, nevertheless, many do have pet pleasures, weak points, and selfish tendencies, which, though they cannot prevent them from doing God’s will, still, can and do make it more difficult for them to do that which they approve and admire, or reject what they recognize as wrong. Therefore, the Sacred Scriptures, even at the most ancient level, are still actual today for their teaching is as relevant for us who are being led by God from our own servitude to the freedom of the children of God, as it was for the people of Israel so long ago; and we can and should both learn from their failings and profit from their experiences, so as to allow God to make our journey across the desert of trials in this world as peaceful, as hopeful, and as fruitful, as possible.
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 and enable those who were courageous and resolute enough to continue on their way towards freedom.
St. Paul, speaking later of that episode from the history of Israel, tells us in his first letter to the new-born Christians and Catholics in Corinth (10:4), that Christ was for them -- as He still is for us -- the Rock:
They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
For the Israelites had been called, by the word of God given to Moses, to turn in faith to the rock on Mount Horeb that would be struck by Moses at God’s command, just as we too -- through faith in the Word of God made flesh – are called 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 elsewhere tells us why we Christians are to regard our lives as on earth as a constant pilgrimage: for, although we are not being led through a barren desert like the Israelites of old, nevertheless, we are in the process of being formed to become an integral part of that holy temple of which Christ already is 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)
Christ is our rock of salvation: “Strike the Rock” and water, the symbol of the Holy Spirit, will pour forth. Our Rock was pierced by a lance as He hung from the Cross on Mount Calvary, and from that open wound flowed water and blood, the Spirit and the Sacraments; and when Jesus was on the point of death He bowed His head, and finally breathed forth His Spirit as His last and greatest Gift to His Church. The Holy Spirit has indeed been most rightly called the Gift of God from the beginning of the Church.
People of God, we cannot walk through the desert of this world’s sin relying on our own, personal, will power: constantly watching 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, in order to do the Father’s will, we must learn to live our lives with Jesus, to act under the prompting of His Spirit from love, not fear; we must learn to open ourselves up, not shut ourselves off; we need to seek and love all the good not merely try to avoid all that might be bad. In other words we have to turn to the Rock, Jesus our Saviour, Who has been struck for us, and receive from Him the Gift of His Holy Spirit; for it was by the Spirit Who had led Him into the desert to confront and confound Satan, that Jesus Himself had been able to say:
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 dying Bequest breathed upon the Church from the Cross, can enable us, in the name of Jesus, 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, asked a Samaritan woman – who regularly came to that well 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 puzzled: how could this man give her living water? You must recall that “living” usually means water from a flowing source, much more appreciated then well-water, even that of the deep well -- the only one source of water in that neighbourhood -- given to her people by Jacob centuries ago, the well where Jesus was now seated and where she had come to draw the water she and her husband (and family ?) needed. So, she answered:
Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well (the only source of water in the neighbourhood as she was well aware) is deep. Where then do You get that ‘living’ water?
A the thought came into her mind, “Surely he doesn’t think he can show us another well here does he?”
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 compassion which motivated His Incarnation; and on occasions -- such 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 depth of that divine compassion. He had come as a Jew, but here, in our Gospel story, He meets a Samaritan, a non-Jew, in fact one can say, He meets all of us who are of Gentile origin in this woman. He is filled with compassion, knowing how sinful mankind strives endlessly and unsuccessfully to satisfy their needs, just as this woman has to come -- day after day, week in, week out -- to this well, always returning to the village with the same heavy load and no prospect of ever being free from the task. It brought so much into His heart and mind, above all our blind and enduring servitude to sin, that He was, as I said, filled with compassion for her and for us; and so:
Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
Later on, St. John makes perfectly clear what Jesus had in mind here when he tells us (7:37-39) 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." But 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.
People of God, our Faith, and 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, nor as fruitless and wearisome as the Samaritan woman’s endless journeying to the well to satisfy a need that constantly raised its head again. Jesus has called us to Himself and He said:
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, must turn to One stricken for us, to Jesus, and ask for His Gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus fulfils our request whenever we fittingly receive Him in the Eucharist, for there, Jesus is really present to embrace us Himself and breath anew into us His most Holy Spirit. Let us therefore beseech that most Holy Spirit of Jesus to rule in our lives, let us ask Him to form us, in Jesus, for the Father. Oh, dear People of God, fellow Catholics and Christians, if we allow Him to do that in our lives He will indeed make every former burden light, every former task a joy; and above all, He will turn every faint-and-flickering hope of everlasting life and eternal fulfilment into an ardent fire of conviction and love!