Sunday, March 27, is the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A, Cycle 1).
Exodus 17:3-7; Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19-26, 39, 40-42
Moses and Jesus face the same dilemma in the first reading and the Gospel. It’s a dilemma everyone who is a parent has faced, as well as everyone who is a teacher, supervisor, colleague or friend: How do you help someone who does not want to be helped? Or, if we are honest, we can admit that we’re on the other end of the equation, too.
Moses faced this again and again with the Hebrews in Egypt. They are stuck in the condition of slaves, but they are not anxious to be free. They complain all along as he frees them, and even after they have been brought away from slavery, they continue to complain. “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” they ask. “Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?”
God’s plan with the Hebrews is much like a recovery plan for addicts. They are living in slavery and servitude, but since this is all they have ever known, they have no vision or desire for a better life. So God lets them hit rock bottom. He brings them to experience the terrible plagues and the wrath of Pharaoh in order to force them to understand their predicament.
God also sends them someone who is willing to live among them and with them and share their cares and trials — someone who is weak like themselves, but with an advantage. In Moses, they have a Hebrew guide who has tasted plentitude and freedom and knows its value — and who has returned to live with them and teach them a new way.
Next, God leads them to trust him. They think they need the Egyptians to provide for their needs, so God gives them manna in the desert, quail and, in today’s reading, water from a rock.
Jesus’ approach to the woman of Samaria is much the same.
She is living with a man who is not her husband and who has, in fact, been married five times previously. She is a bit of a scandal in her community, it would seem — she is drawing water at the well in the heat of the day instead of in the morning in the company of other women.
Whether she knows it or not, her way of life has led her into a trap. But God sends “one greater than Moses” to her. Like Moses, Jesus is willing to leave his lofty station to be one like her.
Jesus first shows that he is willing to be on her level, by asking her for water, even though she is a woman and he is a man — and she is a Samaritan and he is a Jew.
Next, he begins to describe a “promised land” to her. He can give her living water, or spiritual thriving, that can lift her out of her circumstances. Then he helps her see the trap she is in by peering into her soul and touching her conscience. She begins to long for the healing water that can rescue her.
God wants to do the same thing in our lives and in the lives of those we know.
This reading comes three weeks into Lent. We have been praying, fasting and giving alms, paying more attention to God. As we draw closer to him, the faults we want to avoid start to become visible to us. We start to see that we are slaves to sinful tendencies. Maybe it’s a negative pastime; maybe it’s laziness; maybe it’s anger; maybe it’s overwork.
God can help us see that the distress of living a life of slavery to sin is a much greater threat to our peace and happiness than the hard work of freedom.
We need to ask him to meet us in the desert or at the well and give us a little boost back toward the promised land.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.