If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

For a number of years, I have had the great pleasure of celebrating Mass at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Harlem. This worshipping community formed me, as a newly ordained priest, into the priest I am today. I had been at the parish for a month when a homeless man, who seemed intoxicated, walked into the church. He was a regular at the parish, so folks had seen him before. He managed to get past the ushers and joined the line of worshippers walking towards me for communion. 

What is your intention?

Those were the words that came out of my mouth. Why those words instead of Body of Christ, I do not know. He told me he wanted Jesus. I then looked at the two ushers who were ready to escort him out and a front pew filled with older women looking at me. 

Body of Christ

He took, he ate, and the women in the front pew grumbled, like the Israelites in the book of Exodus:

In those days, in their thirst for water,

the people grumbled against Moses,

saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?”

In this third week of Lent, we read from Psalm 95:

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Psalm 95 reminds us to check any temptation to triumphalism. Our praise of God does not give us an inside track to God. It certainly does not give us the right to condemn others or any sense of smug superiority. God can and does reveal Godself in the drunk and the sober, the migrant and the border guard. In this third week of Lent, we are reminded by our psalm that we are not perfect. Furthermore, we should not use our imperfections to bludgeon other people.   

Certainly God’s chosen people, whom He had led out of Egypt into the desert, needed to take this to heart. The reading from Exodus and the grumbling reflected the general attitude of the people. Even after they had been freed and led through the wilderness, they still complained. As my grandmother would say, “they were thirsty for the wrong thing.” In the midst of being drenched with God’s blessings, they complained they had no water!

Lord, you are truly the Savior of the world;

give me living water, that I may never thirst again.

In this context, our gospel reading about the Samaritan woman this third Sunday of Lent is extraordinary. A wise teacher of mine once told me that when Jesus speaks to women in scripture you should really pay attention. She was right. The dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman would have been challenging in Jesus’ time. Jews and Samaritans hated one another, and here Jesus was seeking water from her. Jesus should not have been talking to this woman, because many Jews believed Samaritan women were unclean from birth. Instead of avoiding the Samaritan woman, Jesus engages in a long conversation with her. Jesus expands His universe and challenges us to do the same.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.

Jesus said to her,

“Give me a drink.”

Her response is rather banal given the situation:

“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”

It is Jesus’ response that takes us from the banal to the spiritual:

“If you knew the gift of God

and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’

you would have asked him

and he would have given you living water.”

At the core of the debate lie two questions: What was Jesus’ living water? and Who was Jesus?

The woman said to him,

“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;

where then can you get this living water?

The woman understood only in part. She desired eternal life, but only as a continuation of her present existence. She needed to take a leap and go deeper to the very identity of Jesus. 

“I can see that you are a prophet.

Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;

but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

The Samaritan woman points out that it is the Jews who worship God and not the Samaritans. It was the Jews who had the true religion because God saves His people. 

“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming

when you will worship the Father

neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

You people worship what you do not understand;

we worship what we understand,

because salvation is from the Jews.

But the hour is coming, and is now here,

when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;

and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.

In this passage, Jesus reveals the wideness of God’s mercy, intent, and salvific plan. The Spirit established a relationship between worshipers and the Father through revelation. God can and would reveal Godself in whatever fashion God so chooses. The life-giving water could and would spring within anyone regardless of gender, nationality, and moral standing. What mattered was the presence of the Spirit. 

The woman said to him,

“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;

when he comes, he will tell us everything.”

Jesus said to her,

“I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”

Now the woman knew. Through this conversation, the woman came to believe. Through their encounter with Jesus, the Samaritans came to believe. 

This third Sunday of Lent challenges us on two fronts. First, we are called to be women and men of faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not called to be professional religious. Can we let ourselves be inundated with the love of Jesus Christ? Or do we drown ourselves with the routine of our daily lives? Second, the Samaritan woman challenges our concept of to whom or for whom God revealed Godself. Can we let God surprise us? 

Many more began to believe in him because of his word,

and they said to the woman,

“We no longer believe because of your word;

for we have heard for ourselves,

and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

 

Introducing Boston College's C21 Center Lenten Devotional

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