Third Sunday of Lent

Our first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Exodus.

The Book of Exodus describes the extraordinary ways in which God intervened to rescue the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Through awe-filled displays of his divine power, God defeated the gods of Egypt and freed the Israelites from bondage.  Once freed, God directed the Israelites to leave Egypt and return to their ancestral lands.  The Israelites were led by Moses, the greatest and most important of all the prophets of Israel.  Moses is understood as a foreshadowing or anticipation of Christ, in him we see qualities or characteristics of Christ the Lord.

Remember, it is because the Old Testament foreshadows or anticipates Christ and his Church that is the reason we listen so attentively to the Old Testament.  We are not just studying literature and history or using the Bible as a self-help manual, but we are learning from the Old Testament who the Lord Jesus is.  Knowing Christ we know who we are as his followers, and knowing who we are in relation to Christ we understand better what precisely Christ wants us to do.

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Exodus presents the Israelites languishing in the wilderness as they make their way out of Egypt and back to their ancestral lands.  Water is scarce and the people fear they will die of thirst.  Their sufferings provoke a spirit of rebellion and they turn against Moses.  Moses appeals to the Lord and the Lord acts through Moses to draw water out of solid rock.

What is this story all about?

Saint Paul provides the interpretation in the 10th chapter of his 1st Letter to the Corinthians.  The apostle tells us “the rock is Christ”.  The water is therefore his own divine life which he pours into the Church through the Sacraments.

Saint Paul is referencing here not only the rock from the story of Exodus, but the Body of the Lord Jesus on the cross.  How so?  Remember the pierced side of Christ “from which flowed blood and water.”  This detail is remembered and interpreted as indicating the divine life of Christ poured out into the world which takes the form of the Sacraments of the Church. 

We are dealing here with symbols that direct us to the deepest truth about what the Sacraments are all about.

The Sacraments are not just community celebrations of our values or rites of passage which mark our matriculation through faith based programs.  The Sacraments are Christ’s divine life, and through them we are given his divine life as his gift.

Bereft of the Sacraments, or not appreciating the Sacraments for what they are, we are akin to the Israelites described in the Book of Exodus, caught up in fear and overcome by a spirit of rebellion.  It is only from the living waters of the Christ’s divine life that the Church, the new Israel, can be sustained.

And this is a great challenge.  The fear and rebellion that afflicts the Church right now manifests itself in a preference for a Church pre-occupied with ideologies and emotions, rather than the Sacraments.  We put our faith in opinions and feelings about God, rather than receiving the one, true God through the Sacraments of Christ’s divine life.  We pile up rocks and shape them into faith-based institutions and yet no living water flows from them.  We set aside the Sacraments for faith-based entertainment, preferring faith themed songs and stories, and pretend that we can make God present by these things, rather than surrendering ourselves to sacramental grace.  Why are we doing this? 

The spirit of rebellion distracts us.  We have forgotten who the Rock is and doubt his power.  The Rock is Christ.  And seeking other streams of water in ideologies, opinions, ideas and feelings, songs and stories, we are just dying of thirst.  Only the living water that is the divine life of Christ can save us and that living water only comes to us through the Sacraments of the Church.

Our second scripture is an excerpt from St. Paul’s magnificent letter to the Romans.

Saint Paul reminds us that the cross of Jesus Christ gives us something that is undeserved and utterly surprising- what is it?  God’s mercy.  God’s forgiveness.

His point is this: Humanity proves itself capable of the absolute worst by torturing and killing the Lord Jesus.  Remember, that spirit of rebellion that tortures and kills Christ the Lord is in each and every one of us.  What does a humanity capable of this deserve?  The only answer could be wrath and condemnation.  But what does God impart?  Mercy and forgiveness.  God manifests his mercy in the cross because he doesn’t give us what we deserve, we gives us what we need more than anything else- mercy.

God mercy is undeserved and its revelation is a total surprise.

The living water of God’s mercy did not dry up long ago, but springs forth into the lives of the faithful through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  In that Sacrament we participate in the same underserved forgiveness and surprising mercy that is given by God in Christ on the cross.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation isn’t an invented by the Church.  It isn’t merely a cultural phenomenon.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus Christ given to the Church by Christ.  It is the living water of his divine life. 

Yet how long has it been since you have sought out that living water?  Drinking from that wellspring is no more an “option” than hydrating our bodies with earthly water to sustain our health.  And yet so many have come to believe that the Sacrament of Christ’s mercy is no more than an option. 

Do we think that we can simply declare ourselves to be forgiven?  Do we think that we can make ourselves righteous?  If we do, that is a spirit of rebellion, that wants us to deprive us of divine life and leave us to die in our sins.

A Church that does not have frequent recourse to the living waters of forgiveness that are given to us through Sacrament of Christ’s mercy will become desiccated and lifeless.     

Today’s Gospel is lengthy and rich in detail. 

Christ encounters a Samaritan woman and begs of her a drink and then offers her living water- which is his divine life.

Again, like our first scripture for today, the Gospel immerses us in symbols that direct us to consider the deepest truths of our Faith in Christ.

At its heart, Christ’s invitation to the woman to drink of the living water he gives is an invitation to participate in the Sacraments of the Church.  In fact, the woman is herself an image or symbol of the Church, to whom Christ beckons over and over again to receive his divine life.

The Church, who is comprised of us sinners, is beloved by Christ as a bridegroom loves his bride, but she has been unfaithful, like the Samaritan woman.  How so?  Look into your heart.  Examine your conscience.  How many of us live in a relationship with Christ that is compromised by our infidelity to the Gospel?  How many of us, while at the same time professing to believe in the Lord Jesus, give so much of ourselves to idols, to false gods.  The desire for wealth, pleasure, power and honors pre-occupy us and many of us are unfaithful to Christ because of our desire for these things. 

Like the Samaritan woman who has not one, but several husbands, we have not one Lord and Savior, Christ Jesus, but serve many lords and many saviors, all the while pretending our infidelity to Christ is of no consequence.

Like the Samaritan woman, who seeks to satisfy her thirst in earthly water, we seek to satisfy our spiritual thirst, not in the living waters of Christ, but in wealth, pleasure, power and honors.  We drink deeply from these shallow and fetid pools and our thirst is never satisfied.

And yet the Lord Jesus beckons us, his Church, his Bride, to drink from the living waters of his divine life.

This wellspring of his divine life is offered to you in the Sacraments of the Church, particularly the Blessed Sacrament.

Drink of these waters and you will have not only life, but Christ’s divine life.

And that water he gives will become a fountain of eternal life within you.

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