THE THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT –A– March 23, 2014

 From the Book of Exodus 17:3-7

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

From the holy Gospel according to John 4:5-42

Dear Reader,

The fact is, in this day and age many people live busy lives.  In some cases, frenzied lives would not be an exaggeration.  There is so much to do and so little time in which to do it is a preoccupation for a lot of folks.  Conscious of the clock perpetually ticking, not a few will say that there is just so much time for such and such and not one second more or else they will be late for the next appointment.  That goes for the amount of time they have for God, too.  Haven’t you noticed at the start of Liturgy it is usual for someone to remind the Assembly to turn off cell phones and pagers, or at the very least to put them on vibrate?  I wish the announcer would include wristwatches – that they should be hidden from view.  A couple of Sundays ago, the one giving the announcements at the end of Mass congratulated the Presider for having gotten Liturgy done in under an hour and with three Baptisms to boot.  Inwardly I groaned and ground my teeth as some in the Assembly applauded.

Those with that state of mind could be frustrated for the next three Sundays of Lent.  Those in a hurry could get antsy.  The readings, especially the Gospels, are long.  To accommodate this time-consciousness, some parishes will use abbreviated Gospel texts, justifying it by concluding that people’s attention spans these days are shorter than they used to be.  Alas.  My prayer is that that will not be the case where you worship.  The readings all are rich and profound.  We need to sit under them, or stand in the case of the Gospels, and let the Living Word wash over us.  We ought to be vulnerable and put aside the barriers and so let that Word enter and transform our hearts.  In every case, if we listen with an open heart we will hear God speak words of love to us.  But we have to listen in order to be convinced of what we are hearing.

The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Sundays of Lent are the Scrutiny Sundays.  In those parishes where there is an active Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program, on these Sundays the Elect, those in the final weeks of preparation for Baptism, come before the Assembly.  They kneel and feel the imposition of hands by the presider, their sponsors, and indeed by the whole Assembly, as the Spirit is invoked to keep the Elect thirsting for the Waters.  We pray that they might 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.  I urge you to enter into these moments with your consciousness of time suspended.  If you do, in the process you just might experience transformation too.

Moments of grace happen when you least expect them.  That’s why some say that our God is a god of surprises.  A radio was playing in the store providing white noise, the kind you often don’t really hear but miss when things go to silence.  In a moment I focused and thought I couldn’t be hearing what I just heard.  The words of the song more than the melody amazed me.  In a moment I was transported from being stunned to being thrilled: 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 had become 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 climbed, 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.  That was an aha moment for me.

If I took that songwriter’s insight seriously, I would enter the Exodus reading this week and be with the Israelites standing before that rock and looking on as Moses strikes the rock.  I would be awe-struck as the water flows out from it.  Add to that that if I were thirsty as desert experiences often make people, imagine what I would feel.  It isn’t just the water that thrills and satisfies my thirst.  If that were the case, the experience could stop there.  The reality is that if I am aware and attentive to the moment, this water gushing 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.

St. 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.  It is all gift.  Imagine that.  The wonder.  We are loved not for what we have done.  The love doesn’t end if we sin.  We are saved by the blood of Christ and loved by 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 and longs for an anchor in her life.  Every day she comes to the well, burdened with her cares, joyless.  Rather than being a multi-married and discarded woman, she more likely is a woman seeking God, a woman who in five different household gods thought she had found God – only to be disappointed.

Then she meets Jesus and he asks her for a drink.  Jesus puts all the conventions of his time aside.  He is at the well, sitting alone and in conversation with an unaccompanied woman.  That just wasn’t done then.  Then there is the long-standing enmity between Jews and Samaritans.  Jesus casts all of that aside and heedless of the danger to his reputation asks the Samaritan Woman for a drink of water.

Not only is our God a god of surprises, but 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 and is in danger of concluding that her search is in vain.  Jesus, in effect, says: Just ask and what you seek will be given to you in ways beyond your wildest imagining.  She seeks faith.  Jesus is the giver of that gift through the Spirit – the Living Water.  The woman has sought God on the mountain where Samaritans worshipped and she has sought through 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 the human condition and 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.  The chasm of separation between God and humankind exists no more.  This God is an imminent God evident in every aspect of creation and present in humanity.  This is God who desires intimate relationship with humans.  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.  Through Jesus she has found that for which she has been searching.  Rather, she has 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 as the woman rushes away, she leaves the water jar behind.  She has drunk in the water Jesus gives and it has become 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.  Her testimony?  He 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 could be in danger of enduring rather than listening and being vulnerable to the touch.  Listen.  Be open to the Spirit washing over you and those gathered with you in worship, especially the Elect.  As one people hear that 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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