3rd Sunday in Lent
The Book of Exodus provides the first reading. As might be presumed from its name, this book concentrates upon the journey of the Hebrews across the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, where they had been enslaved, to the land God promised them.
The Sinai Peninsula was, and still is, unforgivingly bleak and sterile. Water was a very critical problem, as it would be a problem now. Without water, thirst became a genuine issue for the people. Thirst leads to death.
In this reading, the people are desperate. Moses is at a loss. Amid all this anxiety and serious need, Moses begs God for assistance. Mercifully, God commands Moses to go, with some of the elders, to a rock on the mountain of Horeb. They should strike the rock.
Moses obeyed God. The rock gave forth water. The people did not die, but they lived.
For its second reading, the Church offers us a passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Death was as much a reality for the people in the first century A.D. as it has been real for everyone in every age, anywhere. Paul stressed that earthly death awaited every human being, indeed every living thing. However, for humans who have given themselves to God, in Christ, earthly death merely is a stage in an ongoing chain of events. Much more importantly, eternal life with God, in and through Christ, is in store for the faithful.
Paul stresses the point that only by truly bonding with Jesus, in firm faith and complete obedience to God’s holy law, will anyone possess everlasting life.
St. John’s Gospel furnishes us with the last reading. The setting is Samaria, roughly-speaking the territory mentioned in today’s newscasts as the West Bank. It was home to a people quite despised by pious Jews, the Samaritans.
This Jewish distaste for the Samaritans was the result of the fact that the Samaritans had collaborated with the foreigners who long ago had conquered the land. They had toyed with the foreigners’ paganism, and they even had intermarried with the foreigners thereby defiling the pure ethnic blood of the chosen people.
It is instructive in itself that Jesus passed through Samaritan territory. It is even more startling that he deigned to converse with Samaritans, let alone offer them salvation. Additionally startling is that he spoke to a woman. Such was never acceptable. After all, Jesus was an unmarried man.
The encounter with the woman is at the well. (In those days, small communities were usually by one common water supply.) Jesus tells the woman that the water drawn from the well will only temporarily quench thirst. The water that will come from Jesus will end all thirst and give everlasting life.
When the disciples insist that Jesus take food for nourishment, the Lord refers to food of which they know nothing. It is a reference to Christ’s divinity.
The first and the third readings capitalize on water, clearly presented as essential to life, as indeed it is, but the readings go further than this fact of nature.
In the last reading, Jesus speaks of water that will achieve much more than sustaining earthly life. He promises a water that will give eternal life.
The first reading recalls that God alone is the source of life. If we turn to God, as Moses turned to God, then God will assist us and give us life.
These readings come very much in the context of Lent, when persons wishing to join the Church are completing the process. The message, however, also is for Christians who even long ago united with Christ. They need to be reaffirmed. They need to recommit themselves. The Church reminds them that everlasting life is possible only by being with the Lord.
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