For humans and especially for us in North America, progress, productivity, accomplishments ought to accompany our efforts. “If at first or second we don’t succeed, then try something else which might give us an affirming sense of ourselves.” In the area of religion and spirituality we so easily can apply these expectations.
Now it is Lent and perhaps we have begun on Ash Wednesday with a firm desire to “clean up our act.” Perhaps we need to begin again or better, to give up for Lent and life, trying to catch the illusive butterfly of perfection. We so easily give up, because we do not seem to arrive. Judging spiritual progress is always a self- (and Spirit) defeating proposition.
As we pray these days leading to the celebration of this, the Third Week of Lent, we might pray with a little more sense of human honesty. We pray Lent to more intensely come to the realization that we need a Savior! The Eucharistic celebration presents us with the love of God through the life-giving Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Effort is good; seeking measurements which tell us how well we are doing is idolatry. If we having been worshipping idols, then all the more reason to be comfortable with all the other sinners gathered around the Table of God’s immeasurable love.
Moses, in our First Reading, is guiding the Israelites through the desert. In the previous chapter the people were hungry out in the wilderness and they complained to Moses about why God had brought them out of Egypt; they could have easily died there. So we know the story of the life-saving manna and quails that arrived just in time. They had been saved two months earlier from their being slaves and then saved a second time from their dying through starvation.
In our reading, the Israelites are grumbling and dying of thirst. Moses is probably thirsty, too, and he pleads with God for watery help. What we hear is God’s response, saving Israel a third time.
We could ponder the advantages of complaining to God; it worked here for the Jewish people. We could meditate on how the deeper our hungers and thirsts and other needs, the shorter our memories seem to shrink. We could pray with God’s abundant care in time of our need while not removing totally our experiences of being human. Lots to pray about; take your pick.
The Gospels for the next three Sundays of Lent are long narratives
from John. It is well to note that water is mentioned in chapter
two, (the wedding feast at Cana), chapter 3-5, (very explicitly),
chapter five, (the paralytic man at the pool), chapter 6-15, (the
apostles out on the lake by themselves in a storm), chapter 9-7,
(the man born blind washes the clay from his eyes in the pool),
and here especially in today’s reading.
Something good is about to happen, good things always happen in John’s Gospel in the day, and this exchange takes place precisely at “noon”. John’s Gospel is not too subtle. The little drama has begun. For John, there is usually an apparent impossibility. “They have no wine.” “Five loaves and two fish, but what are they among so many.” Jesus has no bucket and is thirsty and there is a well, but Jews do not use buckets or anything from foreigners. So there you are, or there Jesus is. He confounds her with an invitation, the call to faith. She will ask for this “Living Water”, which is Jesus Himself and access to Him is through Baptism in the Holy Water of the Christian community.
The liturgy ends with many believing, not because of the woman’s testimony, but because each of them, individually came and saw and listened. Way back in the first chapter Jesus invited the first followers to “come and see.” This is really the theme of the whole Gospel and this chapter which we hear today. They all say and we who are baptized say it with them, “This is truly the savior of the world.” He is the “Living Water” Who gives true life now and into eternity. Our basic problem, which we are invited to face up to during Lent, is our need for such a Savior.
Baptism is the Sacrament of Initiation into living the faith-life. We are initiated into our realizing that we need the grace of the other sacraments all of which assist us in recovery from our not needing to drink of this Water. We need a Savior, not only from an eternal damnation-place, but from the present-day hell of not knowing who we are. His being our Savior is not a judicial role or function, but a relational embrace such as Jesus offered the Samaritan woman. He tried to tell her who she was by letting her know that He knew who she was not. We have drunk of the Waters of Jesus in our being baptized. This is who we are then and we are invited to quit drinking of other waters which can make us sick of ourselves.
“If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Ps. 95
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