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3rd Sunday in Lent – Year A (March 23rd) E-mail
Written by Nicholas King SJ   
Saturday, 15 February 2014 16:26

•    Exodus 17:3-7
•    Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
•    Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
•    John 4:5-42

One of the things that happen to us in the course of Lent is that we journey deeper into the mystery of God. And we have a long way to go.

Look at the first reading for next Sunday; the people have been rescued from slavery in Egypt, and get thirsty in the desert (it happens, in such a climate). So they did what you and I do, and “grumbled against Moses” (and, of course, against God, though they do not say so):  “why did you bring us up from Egypt” (and the answer is, of course, because they wanted to be free!). So Moses turns to God, who effortlessly produces water from a rock; but the freed slaves have to travel further into the mystery, and so the place gets called “Temptation” and “Disputation” – a hint of trouble that lies ahead. Have you been complaining about God this last week?

The psalm reflects on that episode in the desert, even calling God the “Rock”, and invites us to go deeper into the mystery, “Come – let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the God who made us”. Then he remembers the story about “Temptation” and “Disputation”, and urgently begs those who are gathering to praise God, “If only you would listen to his voice today. Don’t harden your hearts”. This week let us remember what God has done for us.

In the second reading, Paul is telling the Christians in Rome, after some mind-bogglingly difficult argumentation, why they have grounds for confidence, and that is something that lies deep in the mystery of God, because “We have access to this free gift, in which we have our standing, and boast in the hope of the glory of God...the love of God is poured out in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”.

The gospel for next Sunday is one very long pilgrimage into the mystery of God and, especially, of Jesus. It might be good if you would have a good read of it in the few days before you attend mass at the weekend. We start with two references to Jacob, the donor of the well at Shechem; we then discover that Jesus was “weary from the journey”, and “sits on the well”, and that it is midday. At that point, a woman comes to the well to draw water; and all Africans know that midday is just the time when you do not come to draw water, so this good lady is on the margins of her society. And Jesus draws her in, first by rather abruptly asking her for a drink (rather like the children of Israel in the first reading, we may feel); the woman knows that it is odd, because “Judeans and Samaritans do not have dealings with each other” (there are several possible translations of this sentence, it must be said). And slowly, Jesus gets her interested, by speaking of “living water”, which in turn makes her wonder if Jesus could possibly be “greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well” (answer: yes, as a matter of fact). Then, as Jesus speaks a little more about the water, “a spring of water that bubbles upwards into eternal life”, the woman starts to get it, for she calls him “Lord”, and asks for that kind of water, “so that I may not be thirsty, nor come here to draw water”. Then, very gently (and you will have to read this bit for yourself), Jesus shows an accurate knowledge of her somewhat irregular domestic arrangements; this leads her to go a bit deeper. Once more she calls him “Lord”, and adds “I see that you are a prophet”. We give her full marks for this insight, and that means she can receive some further teaching, about the “Spirit” and “Truth”; this in turn enables her to raise the question of “Messiah” (or “Christ”), and takes her deeper still, as Jesus responds, “I AM, the One who is talking to you”. At this moment of revelation, Jesus’ dim-witted disciples turn up, and can hardly conceal their prudish astonishment that he is talking to A Woman; so they too have to be educated. They urge him to eat (they have gone to buy a picnic), but that never happens, any more than he gets the drink that he had asked the woman for. Instead, they are (gently) confronted with their lack of understanding (“Who brought him something to eat?”), with an invitation to go deeper into the mystery of who he is: “I have food to eat that you have no idea about...my food is to do the will of the One who sent me”. That takes him naturally into a parable about harvest-time, and “the fields white for the harvest”; he tells them that “I have sent you to harvest that over which you have not toiled” – and the word for “toil” that appears three times in this verse.

Meanwhile, the woman has, significantly, left her bucket (the very reason that she appeared on the scene at all!), and instead of a lonely water-carrier has become an apostle to her fellow-Samaritans, who in turn go beyond her witness to the astonished discovery that not only is Jesus “the Christ”, but also “the Saviour of the World”. May this week take you deeper into that mystery.