Sunday, March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent: Thirsty For God

Today’s reading for the Third Sunday of Lent have one main thing in common: Water.
The first reading comes from Exodus. In it, we read about Moses’ struggle with the stubborn Hebrews who whined about being taken out of captivity. Go figure right?  They complain to Moses about being brought out into the desert to die of thirst.
The Hebrews actually preferred being in Egypt as slaves than in the desert.  Here we see a lack of faith. Despite all the wonders God performed, they still doubted and whined. Think about this for a minute.  They saw God send down plagues upon Egypt, one of them, which transformed the waters to blood (Exodus 7:14-10:29). However, they still believed that they were taken to the desert to die of thirst.  How can they even think this after seeing how God had complete control over the molecules and atoms that make up water?

Again, the issue here is lack of faith. Humanity has not changed much since this time.  We still
whine and complain. When God does not answer our prayers or answers them differently, we get upset. Some of us even lose faith altogether, despite witnessing God work in our lives in the past. We must remember that God answers prayers in he way we need them answered, not how we wanted them answered.

Moses himself becomes a bit stressed out and asks God for help, fearing that the people will stone him.
God calmly tells him to go with his staff and strike a rock and water will flow from it. Gods asks Moses to do this to show that He can do anything. Usually water comes from rain, but God wanted Moses to tap on a rock for it. I see this as an innuendo of sorts. The Hebrews then and us today are “hard-headed.” God must sometimes tap on our rocky heads to get water to flow, so to speak.

This first reading should remind us of faith and how delicate it is. We can be the most zealous Christians on Earth jumping around shouting alleluia like the charismatics, but it takes just one disappointment in life to bring all that down. In an instant we can lose faith in God. This is dangerous, but happens a lot. Moreover, the first reading can be connected to our own spiritual journey during Lent and the rest of the year. We are “in the desert” trusting God. The desert is not a comfortable place.  In fact, it is so uncomfortable that even being a slave in Egypt sounds better.The desert is a common theme in the Sacred Scriptures.  It is not only a real place on Earth, but a symbol of hardship and loneliness.  It is usually there where we encounter God the most.  

The Psalm response is linked to the first reading. It comes from Psalm 95 and mentions the incident of the lack of trust the Hebrews had at Meribah and Massah. The psalm calls God the “rock of our salvation.”  This is a connection to the rock Moses tapped for water. Water is the “salvation” of a thirty individual.

It is no surprise that to each refrain we respond, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” This “hardening” is another connection to the rock in the desert and why I wrote a few paragraphs above that it is an innuendo. We often become “hard-headed” and harden our hearts as well.  The psalm reminds us that God is the one who made us and we should trust in Him. We must not repeat what our ancestors did where they did not trust Him and tested Him. The psalm ends in this manner.

The second reading speaks to us about faith. Again, it is all connected with the previous readings.  St. Paul reminds us that faith is what connects us with God. God gives grace to all freely, but we must respond with faith to it otherwise we will miss the grace.

This faith must then be put into practice for it to be truly valid because we must love God and have faith in Him, not just because of commands, but because we choose it (James 2:14-26).  When we freely choose something instead of being forced to do something, it becomes more valuable and authentic. The reading continues speaking about hope that doesn’t disappoint. No matter what hardships we face, God is still there.  Again, we must not repeat the mistakes of our ancestors in the desert who knew God was there but still doubted.

Lastly, the Gospel tells us about the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus. The Samaritans are a group of people who the Jews did not like. In about 700 BC, the Assyrians came to Israel and took over the north. They brought strangers to that area who would be called “Samaritans” later on. These people were Pagans, but as they lived among the Jews in the land, they adopted some of their ideas and incorporated them into their own religion. Nevertheless, the Jews saw them as a pariah.

Jesus comes to a town called “Sychar.” He is tired and sits down. Imagine that?  God is tired. This shows the humanity of Christ.

I digress..

As Jesus rests, a woman comes by and He asks her for a drink.  The woman is shocked because He asks her for a drink.  She does this because of the tension between the Jews and her people. Moreover, women at the time were not seen as full persons in those times due to culture. Jesus is showing He is a “feminist” per se. Moreover, Jesus then responds to her that if she knew who was asking her for water she would have been given the “living water” which is God’s grace that comes from the Holy Spirit.

He continues telling her that the water He asks of her does not quench thirst but that the water He
gives will. Here He is saying that only God can satisfy us fully. Things of this world, including water, satiate. They do not satisfy us forever. The woman becomes interested and asks Jesus for this water.  Jesus then shows her that He knows her life by revealing that she had five husbands. The rest of the Gospel (if the longer version is read) continues with Jesus speaking about true religion in spirit and truth that comes from what He gives. The disciples also make an appearance and show their disapproval of the woman and Jesus communicating.

The Gospel is very long, but has deep and simple themes to reflect on.  First let us focus on faith. Here we see that it is God who comes to us, not the other way around. Jesus comes to the woman and asks for water. This is His way of saying that we have to respond back to God’s grace with our faith and why He says, “I thirst” on the cross (John 19:28). He approaches us and asks for us to give Him water (our faith response).

Second, the woman belonged to a group of people that the Jews did not like.  Christ shows us that we must go to everyone with the Good News, not only our own. We must not be greedy and keep the truth for ourselves, but must share it with the “Samaritans” of the world today: non-believers, lukewarm believers, those who believe in other faith traditions, etc. We must not judge those who are not in our Catholic Church – the Mystical Body of Christ. Instead, we must approach them, be friends with them and reach out to them. We must also listen to them and learn from them just like Jesus listened to the woman.

The Gospel reminds us of “water.” Water is the ultimate source of physical life.  Without water, there would be no life on this planet. Water is the engine of life. Jesus reminds us that He has the living water that gives us meaning and true life unlike the common H2o on Earth that we need to live on, physically speaking.  This is why astronomers and astrophysicists look for water on exoplanets.  Recently, seven planets were discovered in the TRAPPIST 1 system.  Water may exist on them which may indicate that life possibly exists there. 

Ironically, in a desert that thing that is lacking the most and is the most desirable is water. When our
lives become dry, painful under the heat; the discomforts of the desert of life hit us hard, it is Christ who gives us the living water who keeps us going. In this time of Lent, we are walking in the desert with Christ. We are tempted to break our fast just like Jesus was tempted by Satan.

We naturally suffer spiritual dryness when we feel God is not there like the Hebrews who felt they were tricked into going to the desert to die. Our response is to trust in God even in bad times. We must not become hard headed and doubt God like those in Meribah and Massah. We know God is there. We have encountered Him in our lives. Our daily struggles should not push us to think God is not there in our lives. Faith is key. We must ask ourselves during Lent as we walk in the deserts of life: “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

The answer is YES!  He is there with a nice clean cup of fresh living water to quench our thirst.  We all thirst for God, even atheists.  Let us seek Christ and be quenched.  

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Here are some reflections from holy writers:

It is pertinent to the image of the reality that this woman, who bore the type of the church, comes from strangers, for the church was to come from the Gentiles, an alien from the race of the Jews. In that woman, then, let us hear ourselves, and in her acknowledge ourselves and in her give thanks to God for ourselves.
— St. Augustine
(354 - 430)

Source: “Tractates on the Gospel of John, 15.10,” quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 146–147.

And in that day it says, “Living water shall come forth out of Jerusalem.” This is that spiritual, sweet, life-giving and saving drink of the teaching of Christ. He speaks of it in the Gospel according to John, when instructing the Samaritan woman.
What was this drink, then, that came forth from Jerusalem? For it was there that its gospel went forth and its heralds filled the world. This is what is meant by the words “The living water shall go forth to the first sea and the last sea,” by which is meant the bounds of the whole world. That which is toward the eastern ocean is called “the first sea,” that toward the west is meant by “the last sea,” which, indeed, the living water of the saving gospel teaching has filled. He also taught about this when he said, “Whosoever shall drink of the water, which I shall give him, shall never thirst.”
— St. Eusebius of Caesarea
(260 - 340)

Source: “Proof of the Gospel, 6.18.48-49,” quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 146–147.

Jesus calls the quickening gift of the Spirit “living water” because mere human nature is parched to its very roots, now rendered dry and barren of all virtue by the crimes of the devil. But now human nature runs back to its pristine beauty, and drinking in that which is life-giving, it is made beautiful with a variety of good things and, budding into a virtuous life, it sends out healthy shoots of love toward God.
— St. Cyril of Alexandria
(375 - 444)

Source: “Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2.4,” quoted in Joel C. Elowsky, ed., John 1–10, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 146–147.

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