March 14, 2017 // Columns
The Lord is in our midst
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. The initial theological concepts and regulations about behavior are seen as being rooted in the original teachings of Moses.
Together, these books constitute the Torah, then and still the cornerstone of Judaism. Another name is the Pentateuch, 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 God that had promised them. It was a very difficult trip. Even today, a journey across the Sinai Peninsula by land is bleak. It is not surprising that 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 a precious commodity in this arid environment. Understandably, the people feared thirst. Moses, enlightened by God, told them to look for water in an improbable place. It was the side of a rock. As directed, the people struck the rock, and water flowed.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. As is so typical of Paul’s writing, this passage celebrates Jesus as the only source of life and of bonding with God, and 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 is Samaria. For the Jews of the Lord’s time, Samaria represented many bad things. The woman is 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 defiled the Hebrew heritage.
Faithful Jews scorned Samaritans and looked upon Samaritans 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, a mercy was meant for everyone —all conventions aside.
Furthermore, by outreach to this Samaritan woman, the Lord asserts that every person possesses a dignity, indeed a right to eternal life.
More than Jacob of old, Jesus promises a gift of water greatly more satisfying than any that could be drawn from a well.
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 blessed at the vigil, the church will baptize new members.
For those Catholics already members of the church, 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 water will symbolize new life, in these readings, the church is telling us that God alone, in Jesus, is the source of life eternal. Baptism indicates this.
Lent is our time to decide whether to embrace this life or not.
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