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Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

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

  • We continue through Lent, this time of testing, but we are already benefiting from the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
  • First there are three verses about our present status before God, where Paul mentions peace, grace, love of God. 
  • Then 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

  • Jesus 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 mind.
  • He 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 church?

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