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  • Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

3rd Sunday of Lent (A)

"Give us water, so that we may drink."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 25(24):15-16 —“My eyes are always on the Lord, for He rescues my feet from the snare. Turn to me and have mercy on me, for I am alone and poor.”

First Reading: Ex 17:3-7 — “Give us water, so that we may drink.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 — “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

Second Reading: Rom 5:1-2, 5-8 — “The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Verse before the Gospel: Jn 4:42, 15 — “Lord, You are truly the Savior of the world; give me living water, that I may never thirst again.”

Gospel: Jn 4:5-42 — “The water that I shall give will become a spring of eternal life.”

Communion Antiphon: Jn 4:13-14 — “For anyone who drinks it, says the Lord, the water I shall give will become in him a spring welling up to eternal life.”

Some of you may have noticed that the Gospel reading was longer than usual. No apologies: it is Lent, after all, and we have to get in shape for the reading of the Passion stories during Holy Week. Seriously, though, the story of the meeting of Jesus with this self-confident sinner is one of the great moments recorded in Jesus’ preaching and teaching career. And if it was never read at Sunday Mass, I wonder how many Catholics would ever encounter Jesus so directly as a loving Savior … open to our flawed humanity and always on the lookout for someone ready to hear the Good News. And if we had never met this sassy sinner who has no fear of discussing theological questions with a strangely compelling prophet ... someone who is questioning the quality of her religion and lifestyle ... we might never realize how silly we come across to Jesus, yet how much He enjoys our silliness and how ready He is to use it for our salvation.


How many of you remember the second installation of the Sister Act series … Sister Act: Back in the Habit? How many of you remember Lauryn Hill, who played Rita, the girl who wasn’t allowed to pursue her dream of singing until Sister Whoopie came along? Well, in real life as the lead singer of the group the Fugees ... Lauryn Hill re-released a song that was very popular some 40 plus years earlier entitled “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” and there is a story surrounding it. The original artist Roberta Flack had supposedly heard a male singer at a concert she had attended who was able to “sing her life with his words.” At one point in the song, she says “He sang as if he knew me, in all my dark despair. And then he looked right through me as if I wasn’t there.” If we think about those words for a moment and the experience they relate, such is the experience of the woman at the well, the featured character in today’s Gospel (John 4:29).


I don’t think that Jesus was trying to purposefully embarrass this Samaritan woman. He was “killing her softly” in order to have her experience real conversion, to actually turn her life inside out. The story of the woman at the well ... today is the First Scrutiny for those preparing to enter the Church in a few weeks ... is appropriate for the Lenten season because it speaks of mortification, which means putting to death.” The woman is mortified by what Jesus says about her life, but through letting go of her self-deception, she will see the possibilities of the new life He promises.


When Abraham looked for a wife for his son, Isaac, he sent a servant to his original place of birth. The servant determines that he will wait at the well, and whichever woman gives him a drink will be the one intended for Isaac. Rebecca is the one who offers the water.


Moses found fellow shepherds intimidating the daughters of Reuel at a well and came to their rescue. One of the daughters, Zipporah, became the wife of Moses. And in the First Reading, Moses takes the bad behavior of the people he is leading through the desert very seriously. He asks the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” God, however, prefers to play a trick with Moses’ worrying: “So you’re worried they’ll stone you? I’ll stone them. Gather them together. Take that rod I gave you back in Egypt and hit the biggest, driest-looking boulder you can find, and I’ll take care of the rest.”So God deals with Moses’ doubts and gives his people water to drink with the same loving gesture. God doesn’t demand that the Israelites in the desert stop their complaining and He doesn’t ask Moses to apologize for his doubting ... He just gives them water. In today’s Gospel, Jesus approaches an enemy, a Samaritan woman, to ask for water (John 4: 7-9).


The writer, John, doesn’t give her a name ... because I think she represents all of humankind who are in search for living water. Back then ... back in Jesus’ day ... getting water was work for women, a daily drudgery, so she is instantly captivated by this talk of living water and not being thirsty again. And again, I believe that Jesus uses water so often during His moments of teaching because it is a commodity which is easily understood. He urges John the Baptist to baptize Him with water as an example for all to follow. At the wedding feast at Cana, servants are instructed to pour water into stone water jars. The penitent woman washes His feet with tears. On Calvary, the proof that Jesus has given everything is seen in the flow of blood and water from His side. And the Samaritan woman picks up immediately on the promise of living water as a real solution to her complicated life. There is joy and astonishment in this much-married and much-disappointed woman! She has met someone who seems to hold the promise of the Messiah that people of her day are longing to see. She forgets her errand of coming to get the daily water supply and leaves her shame with her bucket as she hurries to tell others of her experience.


In both readings, God uses human thirst to get at people’s need for a relationship with God Himself. The sign of that loving gift of Himself is water. Even today, water determines everything ... locations for cities, if battles can or cannot be undertaken, if factories will thrive. Now maybe you laugh at my examples because we live in a country where water is available with a turn of a faucet ... but remember, for most of the peoples of the world, water is not easy to obtain. We use it to symbolize quiet, ease, cleanliness, etc., but in actuality it’s a life-force that must be protected. In our faith life, our first experience of salvation comes in the use of water at our Baptism. The words of the rite assure us that sin has been forgiven and we have been cleansed of all that would keep us from union with God. From the moment of baptism, we are encouraged to walk through life drinking deeply of the message of Jesus. As the Samaritan woman listened to Jesus, that is exactly what she experienced. She knew she would never be thirsty again and we have received that very same promise.


So what Lenten message should we be getting from all this? I think the Second Reading gives us a clue: “For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly.” Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person ... though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


Lent is a time when we are challenged to look at what needs to be changed in our lives. Even when our answer involves doing things for other people, the focus is still on what we are doing for God to save our souls. Saint Paul drives home to us that it is God who tried to show us how much He loved us by giving His only Son to die on the cross for us. Was there anything else God could have done to better prove His love for us? Was there a greater sacrifice that He could make for us? Know, then, that this is the God we are dealing with, the one who went an infinity of light years toward us before He asked us to move a fraction of an inch toward Him. And the thing is ... He is totally delighted if we move even a fraction of that fraction toward Him. All the good we do during this Lent should begin in the recognition of the God who has invited us to join him in doing good.


So as we conclude the Liturgy of the Word and begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist at this table, we need to move forward together ... toward God ... in offering this sacrifice ... remembering and learning from the example of the Samaritan woman who ran to invite others to come and see what she had learned.

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