Third Sunday in Lent: The Fountain of Life

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

The Agony in the Garden, Sandro Botticelli

EX 17:3-7; PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; ROM 5:1-2, 5-8; JN 4:5-42

Our first reading this Sunday is fitting for Lent. Moses is leading the people through the desert, and they complain that they are thirsty. “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die of thirst?” Does God love us? Why does he let us suffer?

But God is with them. He tells Moses, “I will be standing there in front of you,” so that when he strikes the rock, there will be water for the people.

“The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there, and tested the Lord.” Massah and Meribah becomes one of the great proverbs of the life of Israel. “Is the LORD in our midst, or not!” Somehow, God offers us these challenges precisely to help us know the answer to that question.

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In Romans, Paul shows us that this is an allegory for something deeper. We are “justified by faith,” “in hope,” “through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have access.” We are called to wander in the world of faith and hope – of things unseen – precisely so that we can learn that he is our provider, so that we can trust more deeply in him.

If this is true of our physical thirst, it is even more true of our spiritual thirst, our hunger and thirst for justice, and “justification.” We must constantly learn that it is Christ himself who makes us good. He calls us to come back to him, over and over, so that he can offer us true conversion.

The Cross is at the heart of this reminder. He “died for the ungodly.” It was not because we are good that Jesus came, but so that he might make us good. He wants us to ask, to trust. He is here to help, but he wants us to let him be our sufficiency. “The love of God has been poured into our hearts,” a spiritual drink infinitely greater than any we would find by our own efforts.

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The Gospel reading from John fabulously ties these threads together. The setting, fabulously, is Jacob’s well – another story of God’s provision.

Jesus asks the Samaritan woman to give him a drink, but she cannot – because of the moral and social ills of their time (and ours). There are just too many obstacles. Ah, but, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him.” Jesus, the giver of divine gifts, is stronger than our weakness, greater than our obstacles. He is “standing there in front of her,” as he was with Moses, to show that he is the provider.

Jesus offers her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.” We aren’t talking about physical water anymore. We are talking about the Creator of water, who is also the Creator of our hearts, who can supply every good in abundance, if we will but turn to him.

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The conversation quickly turns, first to the woman’s many marriages, then to a discussion about Samaritan vs. Jewish opinions about the proper location of the temple.

In fact, we are talking about the true water. The woman’s deeper thirst is not just for the water from the well. Her deeper thirst is for a good life, for “righteousness” and “justice,” not in the sense of something hifalutin’, but of happiness, rightness. She keeps marrying because she wants to get it right. Jesus puts his finger on the deepest challenge of her life. And on her inability to solve it on her own.

She herself sees that this is connected to worship. And here, again, we find unsolveable disputes, because who can reach to God himself? Jesus’s answer is “true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth,” because “God is Spirit.” Out of reach!

In our relationship with our neighbor and our relationship with God, we can’t do it. We can’t get there. But Jesus can.

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In the next scene, he tells his disciples, “I have food to eat of which you do not know. . . . My food is to do the will of the one who sent me.” Jesus offers us this water, this food: true union with God, so that we can know God as God is, as we long to know him; and so that we can love our family as we long to love them.

This is the grace of Jesus. And he provides. He is “standing there in front of you.”

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What does it mean for you to let God provide your deepest needs?

eric.m.johnston

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