Third Sunday Lent has Jews thirsty in the desert, complaining to Moses. Fearing violence to himself, M. asks God what to do. God says, hit this rock with your staff, and make sure the elders of Israel are watching. Do it and from the rock will come water. He did it, and out came the water. They had quarrelled with Moses and tested God; so the place was called Massah (testing place) and Meribah (quarreling place), apparently as a memorial to the experience.
The second reading, Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Brothers and sisters:
Since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
is not a commercial from Barack Obama, nor did he approve this message, about hope — though there are times when some of us think he thinks he did.
Tomfoolery aside, this hope business is very important. Believers can be cast down by their belief, holding for God and afterlife but either giving up on Him and it or nervously putting them out of our minds. This from Paul is to buck us up. Jesus died for the ungodly, he says. That’s us.
The third reading, from John 4, offers high drama in its account of Jesus talking with a low woman. It has one of the top Gospel punch lines, when after Jesus tells her to call her husband and she says she has none, he replies,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The air fairly crackles with tension. What can she say? Nothing in direct response, but instead a shot at religious history:
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
How this much-wed woman getting water at the village well knew enough to say this — just the right thing to advance the discussion — is better left unwondered at.
Jesus goes on to predict a new way to worship, on no special mountain but “in Spirit and truth.” He tells her he’s the Messiah. Convinced, she runs to tell others, just as his followers arrive, amazed that he has engaged her. You can see the movement, the stage business.
The followers can’t even get him to eat something. “I have food to eat of which you do not know,” he says, on a roll now with his coy semitic folk talk in which questions call forth riddles. The harvest has arrived, etc.
Meanwhile, the people of the town are convinced he’s the real thing. He is “truly the savior of the world.”
Flash back to the desert, Moses trying to corral his reluctant fellow travelers on their way to the promised land. We are supposed to get a connection here. This is Jacob’s well, in Samaria. The woman calls him “our father Jacob.” It’s all one history, John’s Gospel tells us, as the other gospels and epistles also say. It’s bigger than all of us. Let’s get off our high horses and act that way.
Update: One preacher couldn’t abide the five-times-married part, a reader relates:
At MY parish, the Gospel was sanitized. The priest at the 7;30 read nothing about a woman married 5 times. She was just a woman. So the story had little point at all, except the back and forth about wells and living water.Fortunately, I had prepared before Mass by listening to the Lutheran minister on WGN. He gets it. “Why is this woman going to the well at high noon? Everyone else would have been there in the early morning or the cool of the evening. This woman is trying to avoid people!
Then after he mentions Jesus chiding her about her 5 husbands he ends by saying, her witness was so profound when she ran to tell the villagers, that everyone believed her.
I think the feminists have gotten to my pastor (or to the liturgists). Maybe they don’t want negative things said about females. Maybe Adam and Eve bit into the apple at the same time, etc.