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.
As the title implies, the Book of Exodus is greatly 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 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 inter-marrying with pagan foreigners. Inter-marriage 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, and this 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.
For weeks, the news presented stories of the train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio, a small town near Ohio’s border with Pennsylvania. As everyone knows, since news coverage was so constant, the train was carrying toxic chemicals. Tanks ruptured and the toxins spewed forth. A critical result was that the town’s water supply was contaminated. People were desperate. The water was foul. They needed water to survive.
As the Hebrews fled Egypt, they too were without water and in genuine peril.
Water can have a symbolic value. Water is needed for life. Symbolically, we need the refreshing water of God’s guidance and strength for spiritual survival.
Lent occurs to lead us to the true water and to realizing that we need this water to live.
We must choose to drink. God’s living water is wonderfully, abundantly, and freely given, as it was given to the Hebrews in the desert.
The Samaritan woman, in the Gospel, knew her need for the water. Jesus mercifully provided the water.
In Lent, we must discover our need and freely drink the water of life.
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