The elderly mother of a friend of mine, who had recently experienced a stroke, let it be known that she wanted to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation and asked, in her way, for me to attend her. What a grace for me today. This wonderful woman of faith could not speak, but reached out and leaned her cheek against my hand. She then touched my face with her strong hands and just prayed, it seemed. Her tears were her words and her touch was her wordless confession. It was one of those days on which it was so good to be a priest of God’s touch.
We prepare for God’s embrace of our faces, our hands, our very lives. We bring what has touched us to the celebration of Christ’s Body blessing ours. On such days, it is so graceful to be a receiver and believer.
We hear a great grumbling-story in today’s First Reading from Exodus. The great creational event of Israel’s being freed from Egypt’s slavery is in their recent past. The freed people are wandering and as you can imagine, they are thirsty. They begin wondering whether things may have been better “back there”. They remember the waters they could drink before they crossed through the waters of their freedom.
Moses had gotten them out of it and now into it and they didn’t like the “it” of it at all. They complain as we would in their thirsty shoes or sandals. Moses did the Moses-thing. He prayed his truth. He knows they will stone him if God doesn’t do something pretty darn soon. We hear God’s calling Moses to be the faithful listener and doer. Moses, who had separated and stopped the waters with a rod now is asked to split the rock with the same rod so that the waters would flow back upon the dried up people.
God promised to be standing on the rock and the faith of Moses substituted for the people who had tested God and argued as well. The names of that place, “Massah” and “Meribah”, mean trial and contention. We probably have visited those places often in our deserty wanderings ourselves. “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” God and Moses gave them a rock-solid answer.
The Gospel is a long story with several highlights. The first is that the meeting between Jesus and the water-wanting woman is at “noon”. In John’s literary way, very good things happen in the day and bad things happen at night. This light-and-dark theme begins in the Prologue and continues through the last chapter. The scenery is set. Jesus is in the spotlight, sitting at the well in a district where Jews are not welcomed. A woman comes for water at noon. Respectable women of the town do this family and honorable duty early in the morning. This woman has a well-known past which she assumes that Jesus does not know. She enters the scene and Jesus greets her with a simple, but leading question. John is doing his Gospel thing which he will repeat several times. There is a shameful person according to the religious tradition and Jesus is going to reverse things. Shame is transformed into honor. Jesus reveals Himself as the Living Water, the One Who is to come. He not only speaks directly to her, but honors her with a personal invitation to believe. She responds with the awareness that He knows her past and does not hold it against her. He experiences something interiorly and drops her bucket and returns to town telling everybody that she feels differently about herself, because of this “man” who might be the Christ.
The scenery gets a bit crowded then. The disciples return from their food-finding which creates a little and important exchange of learning for the disciples. The town’s folks go out to see for themselves after believing in her word. Jesus stays with them, now no longer a stranger and a foreigner. They come to make the great statement which is central to John’s Gospel. We will hear similar statements of belief in the Gospels for the next two weeks’ liturgies. “This truly is the savior of the world.”
Many of our parishes are being blessed by those who are preparing to enter the Church during the Easter Vigil. The Rite of Christian Initiation Program is designed to assist the personal journeys to make similar affirmations which so many in John’s Gospel make about Jesus’ being the Christ, the Savior, the One Who is to Come, the Son of God. These candidates have met Jesus’ meeting them in their heads and hearts. We too have made such affirmations even in the dark times of personal shame. We have our buckets and we long for a something to bring light and self-acceptance with gratitude, into our lives. We come to this true well, as did this woman, and we have found and continue finding a Well of something differently new. She had been drinking “shame-water” and was thirsting for “Honor-Water” which would take away her need for anything else. Jesus told His followers that His life’s work was to complete creation, the work of revelation. Our basic thirst is for completion, union.
Our shame is that we have tried to find that central thirst’s satisfaction in various wells which offered invitations which lead only to other dissatisfying wells. This woman had tried five wells and was digging a sixth. We are always candidates for reentering the Christ-centered Church. We drop our buckets of shame to be blessed and honored to drink of the Living Water.
“Whoever drinks the water that I will give him, says the Lord, will have a spring inside him, welling up for eternal life.” Jn. 4, 13-14
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