17 Mar Third Sunday in Lent
Both our first reading and our Gospel are about water. Both point to the sacrament of baptism. Both also speak to fear. Here we are, in the middle of our journey through the desert of lent with the added vulnerability of Covid19 pressing upon us. We thirst for hope, for the living water that only Jesus can give us. The Elect are entering into the death and resurrection of Christ in the waters of Baptism at Easter. The rest of us, the renewal of our Baptismal vows.
We are all thirsty for God. “Like the deer that longs for running streams, like a dry, weary land without water, so my soul is thirsting for you my God’. How does Augustine put it? ‘You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”.
Picture the people of Israel in our first reading. They have just been liberated by God from slavery in Egypt, and what are they doing? Grumbling, accusing Moses, complaining. They have experienced the mighty hand of God acting on their behalf. God has delivered them from mighty Egypt. Their oppressors drowned in the waters of the Red Sea, which the Early Church understood as representing the waters of Baptism. And what do they have to say to this destiny changing event? ‘‘Did you bring us out of Egypt, only to have us die of thirst in the desert?’ They were afraid for themselves and for their loved ones, afraid that they were going to die of thirst. Perhaps our present fear of Covid19 can help us to understand their fear. What were they expecting, a five star all inclusive resort in the wilderness of Sinai? What are we expecting, a life without vulnerability? Freedom is a gift and a task ahead of them and us. The decisive defeat of their enemy in the waters of the Sea, was their founding event as a people, but it was still a long journey to the promised land.
Likewise, Baptism is for us a radical new beginning, our founding event as a people, birth into a restored and elevated humanity. The old human nature buried with Christ in Baptism, the new human nature rising with Jesus out of the waters of the font. Does this mean that life will no longer be a struggle, that we will no longer be afraid, hunger and thirst for meaning, for God, for the Promised land? Indeed, these are given to us in Baptism. We are plunged into the very life of God in Christ. But this is also our journey to Jerusalem, entering into the life and mission of Jesus. A life where Jesus says to us over and over again. ‘Do not be afraid…Let your hearts not be troubled…I am with you always…am I not the Word made flesh, your broken and vulnerable flesh.
The story of the Israelites in the desert is the story of us, of those about to be baptized, and of those renewing their Baptismal promises. Moses strikes the Rock and living waters flow out, sustaining the Israelites in their desert journey. St. Paul, recounting this same story says, ‘I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors…all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses…in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.’ Living waters flow from the wounded side of this rock, sustaining us in the wilderness of our journey into God’s promises. Even in our present crisis the gift of Faith sustains us.
So now we come to the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacobs well. Jesus went out of his way to visit this dangerous place. Jewish travellers avoided Samaria. Samaritans were considered ethnically unclean. This woman was also a serial monogamist, 5 husbands, and now on her 6th relationship. She is 3 times an outsider, a Samaritan, a Woman, and someone living in a sexual relationship outside the Law. And what does Jesus do? He gets into a theological discussion with her about human thirst, living water, and about Jesus himself being the Messiah. ‘The one who drinks of the water that I will give will never be thirsty. The water that I will give you will become in you a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’. She says, ‘give me this water’. Then she goes and tells everyone about her encounter with the person of Jesus. ‘Come and see’, she says. Our gospel tells us, ‘That many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony’. This unnamed woman is an evangelist, sent to proclaim the good news of Jesus to her neighbours. So that they say, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the saviour of the world.’ Because of her testimony, and our testimony, people encounter Jesus. The woman at the well was vulnerable, so are we, so are our neighbours. She did not let her vulnerability hold her back from giving the living water to others. May we be as bold as she was in being a missionary disciple. During this time of crisis may we drink deeply from the Rock of Christ, from the living waters of Baptism.