Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle A
1. Exodus 17, 3-7
- It is
one of the miracle stories of the Exodus.
- On the face of it, we know what thirst will drive a person to do.
So at the beginning I can convey a sense of that frenzy building up. Moses can feel it.
He acts the same way himself. Do I ever cry out in my prayer? Sometimes it is
warranted; look at Moses.
- God speaks, and Moses hears, a rational voice telling of a way out. So
I make a transition from the frenzy of the people and the desperate loud prayer to a voice of peace and patience.
Moses, and ourselves also, need reminding that God will help us find a way, because God wants us to succeed!
- It is the
same staff that set loose God’s plagues on Egypt. So it is the same God.
- And here are
the key words that lead us to the Gospel passage: I will be standing there. Water will flow.
I say these words not with faith alone-- I know that water will flow! In a normal tone of voice
I show my confidence about something extraordinary that is about to happen. How do I speak when I know
that something is in God’s hands and is going to come out all right? Perhaps as a father and mother
speak with their children.
- Why mention the elders? What are they doing there? That
is important: they represent the people of Israel. They are witnesses to Moses’ action, and so are
we because we hear it today.
- Note that the writer did not let the people off for their thirst. History
has judged them by naming the place Massah, and commemorating their testing of God! My listeners should
note in my voice the brashness of the challenge: Is God with us? The psalm we will now sing remembers the
same offensive act.
- So I see that no words are wasted in the scripture passage. I will not
waste them either.
2. Romans 5, 1-8
continue through Lent, this time of testing, but we are already benefiting from the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ.
there are three verses about our present status before God, where Paul mentions peace, grace, love of God.
there follow three verses defining why this came about: Christ died for us.
- I have never
failed to become emotional when I read about Christ who died for the ungodly, while we were still sinners.
I think of mothers who die for their babies, soldiers who cover fire for their comrades, rescue workers in emergencies.
So I will pause over these words, to let us all remember someone who might have the courage to die.
- It seems that the
climax of the reading comes at the very end. That’s what we all need to remember: all of this new
life comes to us through Christ. And that is what I want to emphasize.
Gospel. John 4, 5-42
meets the Samaritan woman at the well, at the hottest time of the day. He is evangelizing and he treats
her with respect. She takes him very seriously and enters the dialog with dignity; I must keep that in
asks for liquid water and promises her in return the water of his life, living water. He
patiently leads her from the daily needs of the body into the lasting needs of the entire person, eternal life.
- You know, this conversation should not be taking place at all! An outsider
talking with a provincial woman he has never met! How can you ask me? And
both speak seriously to each other! If I don’t bring out the surprise in the voice of the woman,
and the surprise in the voices of the disciples, our assembly will miss the whole point. Jesus does not
behave like others, and that is what attracts them. He engages them in the simplest ways, like asking for
a cup of water. He is not hung up on anything, and he challenges others to stop the typecasting.
- The Gospel passage
is first and foremost about a missionary journey to Samaria. It is not at all about adultery in the context
of marriage, though Jesus – in the best Sherlock Holmes style of deduction – guesses that the woman is either
nonchalant or cynical about marriage relationships, or maybe about the way she worships God, or how faithful she is to the
true God. I note that Jesus does not judge her or invite her to repent. (How could he?
Men always initiated divorce proceedings in ancient times.) So the discussion of the five husbands
may be a way for Jesus to establish his credentials as a prophet. It will not be the focus of my reading.
Jesus is more concerned with engaging the woman about God and how we worship God.
- The connection across the ages between
Jesus and ourselves is easy: The time is coming and is already here when true worshippers will worship God in Spirit
and truth. At that point I engage the congregation with a slow, sweeping look.
- I also note that
the woman is respected in her community; she may even be older than Jesus. Why not give her a deeper voice,
that of a village elder?
- I do not want to read the passage like a judge, then, but like an evangelizer looking up and seeing the results of
the investment: the fields ripe for the harvest.
- There is much to emphasize in a long reading. This
is what draws my attention:
- Jesus is constantly reaching out to others, and we can see his single minded
pursuit of mission: food of which you do not know.
- We are present in the reading today, because we also
worship the Father in Spirit and truth. I have adopted this as my own high point.
- Jesus is unconventional,
because men just didn’t talk to women in public places. Even the woman was taken by surprise.
Again he is giving example to his disciples: one sows and another reaps.
- The reading is filled with riddles.
Water that takes away our thirst. The woman’s five husbands. The food of
which we know nothing. The fields white for the harvest. I will bring out the mystery
inherent in the riddles, with a slight edge to my voice that shows that I know they are riddles. Neither
I nor anyone else in the assembly should read them in a simplistic way, but use them to capture the wonder of our faith in
Jesus the Messiah.
Word to Eucharist: We approach
the table with our individual promises and commitments, going back a few hours or decades. We are the proof that Jesus
works miracles in our lives. So, then, do we leave filled with the communion of Christ and with zeal to rebuild his