THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT – March 27, 2011

Exodus 17:3-7

Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

John 4:5-42

The fact is that people live busy lives.  Frenzied lives in many cases would not be an exaggeration.  So much to do and so little time to do it could well be a mantra that runs through people’s minds unawares.  Conscious of the clock perpetually ticking, not a few will say that that they can only a lot a specific amount time for such and such and not one second more or they will be late for their next appointment.  That goes for the amount of time they have for God, too.  It is the exception when someone doesn’t make an announcement prior to the start of Liturgy, reminding everyone to turn of cell phones and pagers, or at the very least to put them on vibrate.  It’s too bad the announcer couldn’t include asking people to cover their wristwatches.

That last announcement might well be made this Sunday and on the remaining Sundays of Lent.  If you’re in a hurry you’re going to be frustrated.  The readings, especially the gospels, are long.  To accommodate this time consciousness, some parishes will use abbreviated gospels.  My prayer is that that will not be the case where you worship.  The readings, especially the gospels are rich.  We need to sit under them, or stand in the case of the gospel, and let the living word wash over us.  (Of course I am hoping that they will be proclaimed well and the preaching that follows will be inspired helping the Assembly find themselves and their lived experiences in the readings.)  We need to be vulnerable, put aside the barriers, and let that word enter and transform our hearts.  In every case God speaks words of love to us.  We have to listen in order to be convinced.

The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent are the Scrutiny Sundays.  In every parish where there is an active Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, on these Sundays those in the final weeks of preparation for Baptism, those now called The Elect, come before the Assembly.  They will be invited to kneel and receive the imposition of hands by the presider, their sponsors, and indeed the whole Assembly, as the Spirit is invoked to keep The Elect thirsting for the Waters. May they experience the new Light of Faith to help them see everything in that new light.  May they not be afraid of the death Baptism is so that they will be filled with the new life that will be theirs in the Risen Christ.  To celebrate these rites well takes time.  When you are present for these rites, I urge you to enter into these moments with your consciousness of time suspended.  In the process you just might experience renewal in faith and transformation in spirit.

The other day the radio was playing providing white noise as I drove along rather than being something to which I was attentively listening.  In a moment I felt a jolt and thought that I couldn’t be hearing what I just heard.  The words of the song more than the melody amazed me.  These were the words that stunned and then thrilled me: Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying! In the lyrics of the song, that is what someone had lovingly said to the singer.  The person singing has faith and is convinced that death is the transition from this world to heaven.  But more than that the one who loved the singer challenged him to savor every moment and every encounter, every walk along the shore and every mountain climb, each kiss, and appreciate the wonder of now as if it might be the last time for the encounter, the walk, the climb, the kiss.  Maybe you had to be there.  But for me it was an aha moment.

If I took that singer’s insight seriously, I would enter the Exodus reading and be with the Israelites before that rock, feeling their disenchantment with the God who led them out of Egypt, feeling God’s absence because of the want they were experiencing, and look on as Moses strikes the rock and the water gushes forth from it.  Of course, if I were thirsty as desert experiences often make people, imagine what I would feel in the presence of that sudden abundance.  It isn’t just the water that thrills me and satisfies my thirst.  The experience could stop there.  But the reality is that if I am aware and attentive to the moment, this water rushing is the reminder that the Lord is in our midst and we are loved.  How many signs do we miss because we are preoccupied?  We can be so busy that we might not even see the sun set.

Paul uses a water image to remind us that hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. Even before we believed.  Even before our baptisms.  It is all gift.  Imagine it.  Thrill to the wonder.  We are loved not for what we have done but because we are.  The love doesn’t end if we sin.  We are saved by the blood of Christ and loved by a God who loves unconditionally and forever.  Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.

The Samaritan woman in the Gospel seeks meaning, longs for an anchor in her life.  Every day she comes to the well, burdened with her cares, joyless.  In the course of her dialogue with Jesus, after he has awakened her thirst and helped her to get in touch with how weary she is in her present existence, we learn that she has been married several times and now is living with someone who is not her husband.  What that means is, most likely she has been several times dismissed through bills of divorcement, since it was the man who did the divorcing according to Jewish law.  How could faith survive in one who so consistently experienced being discarded and abandoned?  Since God’s presence is supposed to be in the marriage bond uniting husband and wife, she must have struggled with the sense that God had abandoned her, too.

Then, when she meets Jesus in this very public place, she is stunned when he, a Jew, asks for a drink of water from her, a woman and a Samaritan.  Jews considered Samaritans unclean.  Men did not engage in conversations in public places with women who were not their wives.  Jesus puts all convention aside, heedless of the danger to his reputation as he makes his request of her.

Our God is a god of surprises and so is the Word made Flesh and the Spirit he brings.  In the banter that follows Jesus brings the woman to a new understanding of her poverty.  She seeks but may well have concluded that her quest will be endless and nothing will assuage the pain of emptiness that she feels inside.  Jesus, in effect, says: Just ask and what you seek will be given to you in ways beyond your wildest imagining.  She may not even have realized that she was seeking faith, but Jesus helps her recognize that is what she really desired.  Jesus is the giver of that gift of faith through the Spirit – the source of the living water.  When you hear living water, hear Baptism and think of the difference the sacrament has made or will make in your life.  The woman has sought God on the mountain where Samaritans worshipped and in household gods.  Jesus and the Jews have worshiped in the temple.  Here is the wonder of wonders.  The implication of God having taken on flesh is that God has taken on all human flesh.  The woman who seeks, through the out-pouring of the Spirit will have God living within and she will worship in Spirit and truth. That will be the living water she will recognize.  The chasm no longer exists.  This   God is an imminent God evident in every aspect of creation and present in humankind.  This is God who desires intimate relationship with humankind.  Amazing.  Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.

Through the course of their dialog the woman comes to feel that at last she is known and valued.  She has found that for which she has been searching, or rather, been found and claimed as beloved.  She listened and understood the significance of what Jesus said in one of the great I AM statements in John’s Gospel: I am he (the Messiah), the one speaking with you.

Notice that the water jar is left behind.  She drank in the water Jesus gives and it has become within her a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The woman with full dignity restored, heads back into her village to invite her neighbors to come, to see, to drink and to believe.  She does apostolic work in announcing Jesus as Messiah the way Mary Magdalene will announce that he is risen!  The Samaritan woman invites her neighbors to come and see the one who told me everything I have ever done. Isn’t God the only all-knowing one?

Let the words wash over you.  Pay attention to that for which you search.  Preoccupied with so many things, you might endure rather than listen and be touched.  Listen.  Be open to the Spirit washing over you and those gathered with you in worship.  It is all about love and the possibilities when you live in that love.

Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.

Sincerely,

Didymus

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