Sunday, March 4, 2018

First Scrutiny- Year A Third Sunday of Lent

Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2.6-9; Rom 5:1-2.5-8; John 4:5-42

Because at this Mass we are celebrating the first of three scrutinies for our Elect, we are using the readings from Year A of the Lectionary. These readings are geared towards Christian initiation. Since we are all preparing to renew our baptismal promises at the great Paschal Vigil, these readings speak to each one of us and all of us together.

Our reading from the book of Exodus 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).

Our responsorial Psalm, Psalm 95, is the Psalm with which the Church traditionally begins 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, the people of God, are invited to remember what the Lord has done for us, which remembrance eases our anxiety about the present and the future.

Commenting on Mary's encounter with the Archangel Gabriel in his book Jesus: A Pilgrimage, Fr Jim Martin noted that during the Annunciation, which solemnity we will celebrate on 25 March, Gabriel, in convincing the Blessed Virgin, called to mind what God had already done. Martin pointed to Gabriel reminding Mary that her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, had conceived a child despite, like Sarah, being beyond child-bearing years, saying, in effect: "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 (faith, hope, and love), hope is the least understood. While one who hopes aspires to something not yet realized, hope is distinct from mere wishing. Hope is the flower of faith and love is faith’s fruit. Hope, far from being a mere wish, is attained through experience. The hope we have, which can be described 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).

In our Gospel this morning, which tells of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, what the woman said to the Lord indicates that Jews and Samaritans, while closely related, did not like each other very much. Usually, Jews going from Galilee, from where Jesus hailed, to Jerusalem, rather than walk the direct route through Samaria, 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 in and of itself. 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 an observant male Jew would assiduously avoid!

This woman went out to fetch water, not at the usual time, toward evening, but at midday, 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 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.

Jesus then bids her 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 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 this is very good news: the Lord knows everything about you and still loves you with an infinite, deep, passionate love that you cannot comprehend. While Jesus takes 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" (St Augustine, Letter to Proba).

As a result of her encounter, the Samaritan woman was clearly changed. Jesus revealed to 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 be 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 our Elect - Tiffany, Brennan, Dahliana, and Magnin - to the water. Specifically, to the water of Baptism. He invites you not only to drink but to be immersed in the very life of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As a result, you are to worship God in spirit and in truth, witnessing to what God has done for you in Christ by the power of their 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. You must 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 and when you find yourself starting to thirst.

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