March 23, 2014 – The Third Sunday of Lent
Our readings on this Third Sunday of Lent flow together so very well. “Flow” is indeed the correct word as water is at the center of two of the readings. If you attend Mass regularly, you are aware that we have three readings at each Mass, plus a Psalm. According the Catholic Encyclopedia “Each Mass has three readings: the first from the Old Testament, the second from an Apostle (that is, either from a Letter or from the Book of Revelation, depending on the season), and the third from the Gospels. This arrangement brings out the unity of the Old and New Testaments and of the history of salvation, in which Christ is the central figure, commemorated in His paschal mystery.”
This is germane to our readings for this Sunday as the three readings, as is often the case, are interconnected and complement each of the other readings. Water is at the heart of both the first reading and our Gospel reading. Water was a rich and vivid symbol in most Jewish writings. It is mentioned significantly more than 70 times in the Bible. However we look at the references to water, especially in today’s readings, we need to realize that when Jesus speaks of water, especially “living water,” He is trying to enlighten us that there are two ways to look at water: first, as the response to bodily thirst; and, second, as a need to quench spiritual thirst.
In Exodus God responds to Moses’ plea to help the Israelites who are suffering from great thirst in the desert. The merciful God does so. There is a latent meaning in this story nonetheless. The location, Massah and Meribah, have special meaning in that in Hebrew Massah means “to test” and Meribah means “to provoke.” God is testing the Israelites, and their response provokes the Lord. The people ask, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” This is for us a Lenten challenge. Do we trust God? Do we expect signs from God? Our approach to stewardship involves trusting God to watch over us and to care for us. That is what allows us to take the risks associated with giving of ourselves and what we have as good stewards.
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans addresses that trust. We are advised to place our total trust, our total hope, in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us that if we embrace this hope and if we truly believe, “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is poured into our hearts, like “living water,” like the water of Baptism.
If we listen carefully to the Gospels each and every week, each and every day, we come to know that the Gospel of John, from which today’s Gospel is drawn, is unique. The entire Gospel of John covers only the final twenty days of Jesus’ life. In fact, one-third of the Gospel of John is about the final twenty-four hours of Jesus’ life. While the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke speak to the “what” of Jesus’ ministry, John speaks to the “why.” That is why the experience at the well with the Samaritan woman is so important when Jesus’ reveals, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Lent is a time for us to seek “living water.” It is a time for us to fully feel the significance of our Baptism, and to fully appreciate the gift of salvation which has been given us to assure that we will never be thirsty again.