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3rd Sunday of Lent

We are now deep into our Lenten season of reflection, and from this Sunday through to Palm Sunday, our readings take on much deeper meaning as we continue our journey through Salvation History.  In fact, the Church has found this cycle of readings to be so important, she has chosen them to be used specifically for the RCIA in the Scrutiny Rites.  As we are in Cycle A this year, the entire Church gets to have an encounter with these powerful readings…

Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:5-42

We open a reading from the book of Exodus.  At this point the Israelites have escaped Pharaoh and his army having crossed the Red Sea.  They are now free, but have yet to reach Mount Sinai.  They are traveling through the “wilderness,”  a barren stretch of land between the sea and the Sinai.  Food was running out so the Lord gave them manna.  Now the water is running out and there is none to be found, so the refugees are crying out to the Lord and to Moses for water.  After all they’ve been through, they are now beginning to think that leaving Egypt, where they were slaves, was a bad idea.  Even with their grumbling, however, the Lord, through Moses, provides them with water.  Thinking back to the Sacrament of Baptism, the water references are obvious.  This God-given water is a source of life.  But if we are to reape the benefits of this life-giving water, we must also put our trust in God.  This need for trust is reflected in our Psalm as we sing, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  This letter is one of the most important of all the Epistles in the New Testament, as noted by its placement right after the book of Acts of the Apostles.  Unlike Paul’s other letters, this letter isn’t so much addressing specific problems within the community as it is presenting the overall aspects of the faith – like an early catechism for the Church.  Rome is also a mixed Church… mostly Gentile, but with a small population of Jewish converts.  In addressing both these communities we read about how we have been “justified by faith.”  We now have peace with God through Jesus.  For us we see this same justification through Baptism.  Not only does our Baptism bring us into God’s grace, but that grace also brings us hope through the Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel for this Sunday (and for the next two Sundays) steps away from Matthew so we can focus on three very important stories from John’s Gospel.  This week, the story of the Woman at the Well.  Compared to most of our readings, these Gospel passages are quite long passage, but this length is necessary to give us the gradual revelation of their truth.  In this week’s story, Jesus is traveling though Samaria (the region of the former Northern Kingdom) where he meets a Samaritan woman drawing water from the town well.  Through their conversation we not only learn the woman’s story, but she and her community learn that Jesus is no ordinary man.  Like our own journey of faith, this is a story of discovery, through gradual revelation.  Again we see water as a focal point of the story, reminding us again of the waters of Baptism.  But this is just a starting point for us.  Like the woman, we eventually leave our water jar behind so that we can discover and experience the Gospel that Jesus brings.

Final Thoughts:
It seems to me that another theme we get from these readings is “are we there yet?”  That famous line I’m sure we’ve all uttered as kids sitting in the back seat of the car eager to get to our destination.  There is a certain weariness we’re all starting to feel at this point in our Lenten journey.  We’re not quite yet to the halfway point, but already we want it to be over.  In our first reading the Israelites in the wilderness are beginning to wonder if leaving Egypt was a good idea.  In our second reading the Church in Rome wondering why following this Jesus Christ is so important.  In our Gospel, the woman at the well, weary of her life, sees no way out of her situation.  Even the Apostles in our Gospel seem to be growing weary of Jesus taking this side-trip to Samaria, a place where they know they are not welcomed.  Are we there yet?  How do we push past these point in our lives?

Our readings provide the answer.  Perseverance and trust.  Sticking with it even though it seems like it’s hopeless.  Trusting in God that he will fulfill his promises.  Not everything comes to us all at once… a lesson that seems ever harder to understand in this world of instant gratification.  God embraces what story writers call “the slow reveal.”  Like our Gospel story.  She can’t take Jesus at face value.  That’s too much.  Instead she takes things one step at a time, as should we.  Giving ourselves the chance to digest what we’ve experienced before moving on to the next moment.  Our journey through Lent and our Story of Salvation is slow and deliberate, allowing us the time needed to digest one piece before moving onto the next.  Patience, perseverance, and trust will see us though.


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