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Third Sunday of Lent

March 27, 2011

Blessed Little Easter!

Father, You have taught us to overcome our sins
by prayer, fasting and works of mercy.
When we are discouraged by our weakness,
give us confidence in Your love.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer from today’s Mass)

Exodus 17:3-7 (water from the rock)
Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9 “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts”
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8 (Jesus died for us when we were His enemies)
+John 4:5-42 (the Samaritan woman at the well)

God thirsts that we may thirst for Him
-Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2560,
St. Augustine, St. Gregory Nazianzen

More specifically, God longs for us to realize that only He can satisfy the thirsting of our souls.
As St. Augustine put it,

Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in You.

It’s not that we don’t thirst for God
–we thirst all right!–
the trouble is that we try to satisfy that thirst with all sorts of other things
that just can’t hit the spot.

In this season of Lent, God calls us out, away from the things that we pursue
in an effort to satisfy the restlessness of our hearts.
He calls us out to a barren desert for forty days, where our thirst will come into sharper focus,
where we won’t be able to fool ourselves into thinking we’ve satisfied it with lesser things.

He did the same thing with His chosen people, calling them out from the attractions of Egypt,
out to a howling wilderness for forty years.
He could’ve saved them in Egypt, after all.
He could’ve simply overturned the tables of power and put the Israelites in charge,
letting them take over the palaces and luxuries of their Egyptian overlords.
But God wanted more for them.
He knew them.
He knew that if He left them there, they would settle for earthly pleasures,
for things that would temporarily anesthetize their thirst without ever quenching it.
As it was, they kept dreaming of going back to Egypt,
pining for the fish and cucumbers and melons, the onions and leeks and garlic
(Numbers 11:5). They whined,

Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in Egypt,
as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread!
-Exodus 16:3

Shades of Philippians 3:19!

Their god is their belly and their glory is in their shame

Their hearts were firmly fixed on things of earth, not on things of Heaven
(see Colossians 3:1-2).

God knew they would never meet Him in Egypt.

So He called them away, out into a howling wilderness
where their thirst become so intense that they couldn’t ignore it,
couldn’t pretend that they could handle things on their own anymore.
He let them feel their need for Him.

But they still didn’t get it.

And it’s not as though they needed evidence of God’s ability to provide.
First there were all the miracles He’d worked in Egypt,
protecting them while the Egyptians suffered horribly from plague after plague (Exodus 7-11).
Then the Red Sea parted before them and their enemies were drowned once and for all
(Exodus 14).
The first time they grumbled about the lack of water,
God showed Moses a piece of wood that made bitter water fresh so they could drink
(Exodus 15:22-25).
Then He provided miraculous manna and quail (Exodus 16).
The evidence was all there: God could give them water.

Yet they didn’t ask Him for help. They demanded,

Give us water to drink…Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
-Exodus 17: 2, 3

They tried to force the issue–so much so that Moses cried to God,

What shall I do with this people?
A little more and they will stone me!
-Exodus 17:4

(As if that would solve anything!).

This is what God’s up against.
This is the intensity of the attachment that we develop to things
that can never quench our thirst!
We would rather kill to get them back
–even though we know from bitter experience that they cannot satisfy us–
than let them go so that God can give us what we really need.
We’re like an animal caught in a trap, viciously attacking the person who’s come free us.

This is serious.
This why Jesus was crucified.
This is why God pleads,

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts!
-Psalm 95:7-8

Our Gospel tells the same story from a different perspective, and with a much happier ending.

God has come in person, has become one of us in order to demonstrate His love for us,
the love that can quench our thirst.
He has come as a Bridegroom, pursuing His beloved,
and He goes out of His way to meet her at a well in Samaria
(Jews normally avoided Samaria like the plague).

This wasn’t the first time matchmaking had occurred at a well.
Abraham’s servant met Rebekah by a well, when he came seeking a bride for Isaac,
and she generously offered to draw water for his camels (Genesis 24:11-20).
Jacob met his beloved Rachel at a well as she came to water her father’s flocks (Genesis 29:10).
Moses himself met his bride, Zipporah, at a well after he had fled from Egypt (Exodus 2:15-21).

Furthermore, Jesus comes in the heat of the day,
when most women stay at home in the shade,
because He knows that this particular woman will be there–and she will be thirsty.
When she arrives, Jesus initiates, asking His beloved for a drink.
He thirsts, even as He will cry out with His dying breath on the cross,

I thirst
-John 19:28

Mere water will not quench His thirst any more than it will quench hers.
He thirsts for her, for her love.

The Samaritan woman doesn’t realize all this at first.
The very strangeness of His request catches her off guard.
First of all, Jews don’t associate with Samaritans–
those heretical, half-breed traitors!
They won’t drink out of a cup if a Samaritan’s used it.
And no self-respecting Jewish man would be caught dead talking with a Samaritan woman!
Something strange indeed was going on here.

Jesus doesn’t answer her questions.
He just deepens the mystery, telling her that He has water for her, if only she would ask. When she expresses her disbelief, He persists,
explaining that the water He gives is no ordinary water.
It satisfies, welling up to provide eternal life.

Now she’s intrigued.
It’s hard to be sure if she believed Him or if she was just playing along, but she asked.

Sir, give me this water, so that I shall not grow thirsty
and have to keep coming here to draw water.
-John 5:15

I can just hear Jesus thinking “YES!!!
–but there’s a catch.
There are things she needs to let go of,
things she’s been using to try to satisfy the thirst of her soul.
Jesus, knowing her situation full well, broaches the subject delicately.

Go, call your husband, and then come back here.
-John 5:16

When she replies,

I have no husband
-John 5:17

Jesus reveals to her the secrets of her heart–how she’s had five husbands
and is currently living with a man who is not her husband.
He doesn’t condemn her.
He simply states a fact.

Now He’s really got her attention!
No ordinary man would know such things–
and certainly no ordinary man who did know such things
would want anything to do with her!
Samaritans were outcasts to begin with,
and as a woman with a past, she was an outcast of outcasts–
yet here is this man, taking her seriously, treating her with respect and human dignity,
as if she is somebody.
She, having been intimate with six men,
has never known a Love like this before.
She’s beginning to understand that the water Jesus is offering her
is more than buckets and wells…
…she’s beginning to guess that it has something to do with God.

First she acknowledges that He’s a prophet, that He’s right about her,
but that sort of puts things in a stalemate.
She can’t call her husband because she doesn’t have one, and they both know that.
But she still wants the living water He offered her.
So she asks about God.
As a Samaritan, she’s been taught to worship locally,
but she knows that the Jews say you have to worship in Jerusalem.

What had happened was that both the Jews and the Samaritans
had missed the point of worship.
The places and words and gestures were designed to act as a pipeline
to supply the living water that satisfies.
But they’re no substitute for it.
They were trying to fill their thirst with an empty pipeline.
It’s no wonder it wasn’t working.

Jesus affirmed that salvation is from the Jews
and led the woman a step closer,
revealing to her that the living water is about spirit and truth and knowing God–
about a change of heart.
At that, she expressed her hope in the coming Messiah, and Jesus revealed His identity.
He was the Messiah!

That was all she needed to hear!
Leaving her water jar, off she went to spread the news,
and at her word, the whole village came out to meet Jesus
and begged Him to stay with them.

God’s thirst was satisfied.
And so was theirs.

God thirsts for us.
It doesn’t matter how low we’ve fallen.
He thirsts for the outcast of outcasts as well as for the righteous soul.
He comes to us as Bridegroom, as Lover of our souls,
going well out of His way to meet us in our thirst and ask us for a drink,
hoping in the process to coax us into asking the same of Him.
The catch is that, like the woman at the well,
we have to let go of the things that can’t satisfy our thirst.
Notice that she left her water jar behind.

Jesus already knows the secrets of our hearts.
He could make our confession for us, as He did for the woman at the well.
But that doesn’t lessen His love for us.
If anything it stokes the fire of His desire to free us from our bondage to emptiness.
We have to worship in spirit and in truth
the truth about what can and what cannot fill our hearts.
That’s what Baptism is all about.
That’s what Confession, the restoration of our Baptismal innocence, is all about.
It’s about the Lover of our souls thirsting to set us free from counterfeits
so that He can quench our thirst with the living water that becomes a fountain within us,
leaping up to provide eternal life.

This living water is the Holy Spirit,
the Love of the Blessed Trinity Personified (see John 7:38-39),
Who first comes to us in Baptism and Who frees us from sin in Confession.
In the prayer of absolution, the priest says that God, the Father of mercies

sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins

And Jesus instituted this sacrament of mercy by breathing on His Apostles, saying,

Receive the Holy Spirit.
If you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven them;
if you hold them bound, they are held bound.
-John 20:22-23

We are forgiven by divine love Personified!

Baptism and Confession are the bath referred to in Ephesians 5:25-27:

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.
He gave Himself up for her to make her holy,
purifying her in the bath of water by the power of the word,
to present to Himself a glorious Church, holy and immaculate,
without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.

God doesn’t just overlook our sins.
He transforms us.
He makes us glorious, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.
Jesus meets us in our shame–and He takes it away.
He makes us a new creation (see II Corinthians 5:17).

That’s what happened to the woman of Samaria.
She came to the well in shame, at the heat of the day,
to avoid the women who would be there in the evening when it was cooler
(see Genesis 24:11).
But when she left the well, having bathed in Jesus’ living water,
notice her new-found confidence.
She went straight to people, bursting with the news of what she’d just found!
She described Jesus as “a man who told me everything I ever did.”
Now, most of us don’t really want to talk about “everything I’ve ever done”,
especially when you consider what Jesus had told her about herself!
But her past didn’t haunt her anymore.
Jesus had made her–this shame-ridden outcast–
glorious, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.

She was living a whole new life.

And the power of the change in her drew many to believe in Jesus
simply on the basis of her word, before they’d even met Him.

That can–and should–happen to us.

When we surrender our past to Jesus in Baptism and then in Confession,
He gives us a future–a brand-new, glorious life of holiness
that draws people to want to know more about the God who has done great things for us.

This is evangelization at its best.

As Pope Paul VI said,

Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,
and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.
-Address to the Members of the Consilium de Laicis (2 October 1974): AAS 66 (1974), p. 568. (he quoted himself in “Evangelii Nuntiandi”)

The woman at the well became a witness.
She didn’t go into town with a theological treatise or with logical arguments,
as useful as those can be.
She went with a new life, and with a contagious love for God.

We can too.

This is worship in spirit and truth.
This is what our sacred rituals, places, words and gestures
–our pipeline to the living water–
are designed to sustain and support.
If we ever find ourselves reducing our worship to mere lip service:

this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me
-Isaiah 29:13

…then we lose our witness.
When we fail to live as a new creation, we lose the living water,
and need to bring our hearts back to God so that He can redirect the course of our lives.

Of course, we can do the opposite too, abandoning the pipelines God has provided for us–
neglecting the sacraments and/or prayer.
That’ll dry us up too.
The woman at the well didn’t just tell people “be nice, I think the Messiah’s here”.
She brought them to a personal encounter with Jesus out by the well, where He was.

Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did
-John 5:29

We come to a personal encounter with Him in prayer and in the sacraments,
especially the Eucharist, where He is Present today.

God thirsts that we may thirst for Him.

He says,

I will allure her
[and remember, before God, every human soul is feminine
because God is the Initiator par excellence];
I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.
-Hosea 2:16

God has led us into this desert of Lent to speak to our hearts,
to free us from the things in our lives that cannot satisfy,
to bathe us and fill us with His living water,
to make us glorious, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.

It’s up to us to follow Him,
to leave our water jars behind, and to live a new life:
glorious, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort.

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