Third Sunday of Lent
The source of the first biblical reading for this Lenten weekend’s liturgies is the Book of Exodus, one of those five books of the Bible regarded as the basis of God’s revelation to the Chosen People. They saw in these books the initial theological concepts and practical regulations about human behavior, as given by God to Moses.
Together, these books constitute the Torah, still the cornerstone of Judaism. Another name for them is the Pentateuch, with this term coming from the Greek word for five.
As the title implies, the Book of Exodus greatly is concerned with the experiences of the Hebrews as they fled Egypt and moved toward the land that God had promised them. It was a very difficult trip. Even today, a journey across the Sinai Peninsula can evoke attention and even worry. Not surprisingly, the Hebrews wondered if they had swapped the witch for the devil as they wandered across Sinai. In frustration, bewilderment and misery they grumbled about Moses, who led the way.
Water was, and is, a precious commodity in this arid environment. The people feared that thirst would result in death. Moses, enlightened by God, told them to look for water in an improbable place, the side of a rock. The people struck the rock and water flowed.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. As is typical of Paul’s writing, this passage celebrates Jesus as the only source of life, and of bonding with God. It proclaims salvation in Christ as the gift coming from the willing sacrifice of the Lord on Calvary.
For its last reading this weekend, the Church presents a section of St. John’s Gospel. It is the story of the Lord’s meeting with the Samaritan woman beside a well in Samaria. The reading is heavy with lessons for us.
First, the site was Samaria. For the Jews of the Lord’s time, Samaria represented many bad things. The woman was a Samaritan.
Samaritans were of Hebrew heritage, but they had acquiesced when foreigners invaded the land, compromising with paganism, and even intermarrying with pagan foreigners. Intermarriage added insult to injury, because by such unions Samaritans diluted the Hebrew heritage.
Faithful Jews scorned Samaritans and looked upon them with contempt. Also, at the time of Jesus, no adult, unmarried man ever engaged a strange woman in conversation, let alone a Samaritan.
The message is that, obviously, Jesus set all these considerations aside. He bore the mercy of God, and this mercy was meant for everyone. No exceptions.
Furthermore, by outreach to this Samaritan woman, the Lord asserts that every person possesses a dignity, indeed a right to eternal life. More than Moses of old, Jesus promises a gift of water, life-giving and satisfying, available from no well or spring beside a rock.
Finally, the Lord predicts that a new order is coming. It will be neither centralized in Jerusalem, nor on the mountaintops where the Samaritans customarily worshipped.
Very much a part of Lent are the Church’s preparations to receive new members during the Easter Vigil. Central to the Vigil is the triumphant celebration of the Eucharist. The Lord lives!
Water also is a prominent symbol. With water ritually blessed at the Vigil, the Church will baptize new members.
For those Catholics already members of the Church and not being baptized at the Easter Vigil, but participants nevertheless, water also will symbolize life. The previously baptized will renew their baptismal promises aloud. The priest will sprinkle them with blessed water to recall their baptisms.
While this water will symbolize new life, in these readings, the Church tells us that God alone, in Jesus, is the source of life eternal, as baptism indicates.
Lent is our time to decide whether to receive this life or not.
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