In addition to marking the beginning of Daylight Savings Time, today is the Third Sunday of Lent, which means for parishes and missions that have members of the Elect (i.e., those who will be baptized at the upcoming Paschal Vigil on 4 April), today is the first of three Scrutinies. At Masses during which the Scrutinies are celebrated, instead of using the Year B readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, the Year A readings are supposed to be used.
The first reading for the Third Sunday of Lent in Year A is taken from the book of Exodus and tells about when Moses, under great duress, struck the rock, making water flow from it to give drink to the parched Israelites and their livestock. Taking the near mutiny to the LORD in prayer, Moses said, "What shall I do with this people? a little more and they will stone me!" (Ex 17:4) Thirst in the desert, it seems, was getting the better of everyone. After striking the rock with his stick and making water flow from it, Moses 'named this place "Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD in our midst or not?'" (Ex 17:7).
The responsorial Psalm is Psalm 95, which is the Psalm with which we begin the Liturgy of the Hours each day. "Today listen to the voice of LORD, do not grow stubborn as your fathers did in the wilderness, when at Meribah and Massah they challenged me and provoked me although they had seen all of my works." Massah is Hebrew for "the place of testing" and Meribah is Hebrew for "the place of strife, or of quarreling." So, by opening each day with Psalm 95, the Church, God's people, are invited to remember what the Lord has done for us, which remembrance eases our anxiety about the present and the future.
Yesterday I began Fr Jim Martin's book Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Commenting on Mary's encounter with the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, which solemnity we will celebrate on 25 March, Fr Martin writes beautifully about this very thing- about calling to mind what God has already done. In this case he points to Gabriel reminding Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of St John the Baptist, had conceived a child despite, like Sarah, being well beyond child-bearing years (I agree that Gabriel was not breaking this news to Mary, but citing something she already knew in order to encourage her): "'You have doubts about what God will do? Then just look at what God has already done.' Looking backward helps Mary to look forward. Awareness leads to trust" (39). It's interesting in our first reading that, while the people invoke being led out of Egypt, attributing their being led out to Moses, not to God ("Why then did you bring us up out of Egypt? To have us die of thirst with our children and our livestock?" Ex 17:3), Moses does not remind them that is was God, not him, who delivered them, nor does he bring to mind the many signs and wonders that were part of their deliverance.
Our reading from St Paul's Letter to the Romans is an exhortation to hope. Of the three theological virtues, hope (like the relevance of fasting in prayer, fasting, and alms-giving), is the least understood. While one who hopes aspires to something not yet realized, hope is distinct from mere wishing. Hope is the flower, or fruit, of faith. Faith, far from being a blind leap (the person of faith has her/his eyes wide-open and applies reason), is built through experience. It is by faith, the apostle tells us, that "we have gained access... to this grace in which we stand" (Rom 5:2). The result of this grace is hope. The hope we have, which can be discussed as thirst, "does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).
Finally, we come to the Gospel passage, which tells of Jesus' encounter with Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob. As, I think, most of us know, as what the woman said to the Lord indicates, Jews and Samaritans, while closely related, didn't like each other very much. Usually Jews going from Galilee, from where Jesus hailed, to Jerusalem, rather than walk the direct route through Samaria, they by-passed this region by going east and walking along the west bank of the Jordan River, to Jericho, and from there heading up the mountain to the Holy City. The mere fact that Jesus, along with his (clearly very uneasy) disciples, is passing through Samaria, is no small thing. The unusual nature of this episode is further brought home when Jesus begins to speak, not only to a Samaritan, but to an unaccompanied woman, two things to be avoided.
This woman went out to fetch water, not at the usual time, but at an alternate time, presumably a time she knew she would be alone. Likely due to her having been married five times and currently living with a man who was not her husband, she was likely viewed as a bit of a hussy, someone to be shunned by decent people. Not only did our beautiful Lord not shun her, He engaged her. He did so by appealing to what it was she was really thirsty for- unconditional acceptance, life-giving love. His pastoral skills are unmatched. He offered her the water that will slake her deep, existential thirst, the water that becomes in the one who imbibes "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14). She eagerly accepted it. But Jesus tells her to go fetch her husband, which occasions her oblique confession, "I do not have a husband" (John 4:17). Upon this admission, we see Divine Mercy at work when Jesus said to her, in what I can only imagine Him saying this with the greatest of tenderness: "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" (John 4:17-18).
My friends, here is some very good news: the Lord already knows everything about you and still loves you with an infinite, deep, passionate love that you cannot comprehend. While Jesus takes us you as you are, He is not content to leave you where He found you. If you were fine, why would you feel so unfulfilled? Why would you bother being here today? Jesus is leading you to the fulfillment of what you truly desire - the life that is truly life.
As a result of her encounter, this unnamed Samaritan woman was clearly changed. Jesus told her that He is the Messiah, the one for whom both Jews and Samaritans awaited, the one in and through whom God would no longer be worshiped either on Mount Gerazim or in Jerusalem, but worshiped by true worshipers, being temples of God's Spirit, anywhere and everywhere. Like those who also encountered the Lord up close and in person, she could not keep it to herself, she was compelled by love to tell others what Jesus had done for her.
Jesus invites the Elect to the water, to the water of Baptism, not only to drink, but to be immersed in the very life of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are to worship God in spirit and in truth, witnessing to what God has done for you in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. He gives this living water, which is His very self, freely to all who desire it. Your presence here today is an expression of your desire. But never forget what led you here, remember always not merely what the Lord has done for you, but the particularity of how He did it, this is especially important when life seems impossible, when you find yourself starting to thirst.