We pray in preparation for celebrating this liturgy of Lent by reflecting on how all living nature longs to escape emptiness. “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Everything that lives is a celebration of self-insufficiency. A drowning person struggles for air while a thirsty person aches for water. Everything that lives depends on something outside them to continuing life. Vegetation needs rain, but also sun.
We have great longings beyond the physical, many though those needs are. We are urged to reflect on these deeper longings in today’s readings. Lenten fasting and apetital denials are meant to help us face our deeper longings. We do not like to admit it, but we long for God in every other hunger, thirst, or want.
We can pray with the soft disappointments of how everything, everyone,
cannot complete us and how we grumble at this important spiritual
experience. We want God, but we do not want mystery. We want completion,
but something that will last for more than a little while.
The Jews were freed from the bondage in Egypt to worship and serve the Lord. Their experience of this freedom was not also a freedom from experiencing their humanity. They had sung great hymns of joy at their victory over their masters in the crossing of the dry sea. It was easy to boast of their faith as they enjoyed their freedom. They were in a long process of learning about a deeper trust called faith. God was with them, but not according to their expectations. It wasn’t the Promised-Fullness just yet. They grumbled of course as we do still.
Moses knows that God’s people are thirsty in the desert and he becomes again their intercessor with God. God asks an act of faith on the part of Moses who does respond by striking the “rock” with his staff. Presumably it is the same staff with which he struck the waters of the Sea of Exodus. As the waters flowed back to give them their freedom, now the waters flow forth to give them life. They will grumble again for food, but for now they are satisfied, well, not totally or for ever.
The Gospel is a long story containing all kinds of symbols. It takes place at “noon” which is full daylight and for John, very good things happen in the light. Water is the central symbol of this story. Jesus is thirsty and so the story has a setting. He meets a woman, a Samarian with whom Jews keep their distance. He has no bucket and so the process of revelation begins.
John uses such elements to get Jesus into a position of presenting Himself as the “Living Water”. The story is not about the woman’s having five husbands, but about Jesus’ being the Messiah. Actually the “five husbands” represent the foreign gods which the Samarians have taken into their cultic lives. Jesus presents Himself as the place of true worship and relationship between God and humanity. As we will see also in next-Sunday’s Gospel, John is presenting Jesus as the replacement for the Temple which the Romans have destroyed in Jerusalem. Jesus replaces the Temple, but continues the relationship of God through the Covenants with Israel.
Jesus is the “living Water” which humanity needs and God desires to offer. Though natural water satisfies for a while, this Water, Jesus, will bring peace and soul-satisfaction to those who drink. Our natural thirsts, hungers, drives and longings will remain of course, but a deeper grumbling will be calmed. This relationship will be and lead to “eternal life”.
Jesus offers Himself as the “truth”, but the “truth” is not “truths”. He is offering a life grounded in faith and not certainty. The woman tells her kinsfolk that she met a man who could tell her everything about her. He has the facts. This is attractive, but Jesus is offering more than facts, but rather, faith. The most important lines in the story comes at the end as it usually does in John. The town’s folk say to the woman, “We no longer believe in him because of your words; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Important for us who also believe, is the little instruction Jesus offers to the disciples. Jesus is to finish the work for which He was sent to do. The harvest of souls will be readied by His life, His death and His resurrection. The followers will be the “reapers” who collect and care for the soul-crop. We will do this within the context of our human longings for success, completion, and full understanding. We will grumble when we are thirsty for evidence of God’s faithfulness and our being sufficient, nay, perfect for the task. Faith is not an answer to life’s questions; it is the encouragement to keep living the questions.For us His followers, every moment is “noon”. As the Jews were freed from bondage to worship and serve God, so we who have been freed from meaninglessly wandering around until we die, are to live as true soul-food for God’s people. We now carry life in the buckets of our humanity, even though they sometimes leak and we grumble at the weight and the wait. We have much in common with our Jewish ancestors. Salvation has come through the Jews and continues flowing through all those who live in faith. Thirst, hunger, longing, grumbling, hoping, these are elements of believing, but always there is the God, “who seeks such people to worship him.” We each are a part of just how God does the seeking and finding. Like the town’s folk, others will come to believe, not through what we say in words, but how the Word takes flesh in our human buckets.
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