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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

3rd Sunday of Lent - A

Lent is a funny season. We typically begin with gung ho intentions of growing in virtue and holiness. But now after several weeks we find ourselves in the desert, longing for relief. The Church recognizes this probable disposition in the hearts of many. The reading we have today are designed to speak to us as we find ourselves in the middle of the desert of Lent. Perhaps we grumble like the Israelites at Meribah and Massah. Perhaps we long to satisfy the ache of our Lenten resolutions by comepletely abandoning our resolutions and returning to the wells of our bad habits and tendencies. I would highlight several themes from our readings today.

First, notice that both Jesus and the woman come to well at noon. This is a strange time of day to draw water. Why would the woman come to the well at noon, the hottest part of the day? Most would go to the well in the morning when it was cooler. No one else would be at the well at noon. We can presume that she is driven to go at that time out of embarrassment and shame. She avoids the crowds since she is most likely the object of judgment and gossip from others who look down on her because of her failed relationship. Jesus goes to the well at noon because He is driven out of a love for this woman. He knows she will be there. Shame drives the woman. Love drives our Lord.

Second, notice the theme of water in both the Gospel and first reading. The Israelites complain that Moses has lead them out to the desert only to die of thirst. God provides water for them in the middle of the desert. In the Gospel Jesus and the Samaritan woman meet at a well. Life cannot exist without water. Human beings are not able to live more than a few days without water. I have learned time and again that house plants need water or they will die. Water quenches our thirst. Water gives life. Just as our bodies thirst for water, our souls thirst for God (cf. Psalm 42). Jesus offers the woman this living water which is grace, the life of God. Water satisfies our bodily thirst but grace satisfies the thirst of our souls.

Third, notice the theme of slavery. The Israelites leave behind Egypt and their life of slavery. Now that they are thirsting in the desert they grumble about how good they had it in their slavery. At least they weren’t without water. They long for a kind of counterfeit comfort and security in their slavery. When we strive to be free from what enslaves us, we encounter a struggle that involves suffering. We experience this on an interior and spiritual level. We are spiritual slaves. Leaving behind our sins and attachments is painful. Think of anybody going on a diet or trying to restrict consumption of media. Think of anyone trying to break an addiction. There is pain in leaving our slavery behind. This is the pinch we feel when we fast. We want to go back to the way it was. The story of the Israelites at Meribah and Massah is an allegory of this struggle. God wants us to partake of his grace, His life giving water. But first we must be willing to leave our slavery behind and journey through the desert.

St. Augustine famously said in his Confessions that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. It is the reception of His grace that will calm that restlessness and satiate that thirst of our hearts. Like we see in the story of the woman at the well, the Lord earnestly seeks us out. He wants to meet us where we are at in order to give us this grace. The Lord is not repulsed by our shortcomings and our sinfulness. He is drawn and attracted to us in order that He might heal us. He wants to give us grace, that water of life.

But here is the difficulty: grace is a gift. It must be received and not taken. We go through our life grasping at what we think will make us happy, what will satisfy us. We want to seize our happiness. We grasp at various human comforts and pleasures. We run from well to well trying to satisfy our thirst. Only grace can satisfy. But grace from God cannot be seized or taken because gifts are not seized or taken. They are received. Therefore, the grace of God, this water of life, must be received and not taken. The Israelites were grumbling and demanding in the desert. This attitude is repugnant before God. We cannot take or demand grace. We can only receive.

But how do we receive? Jesus shows us in His first words to the woman at the well. He says to her “give me a drink.” In other words, do not grasp but give to me. We receive grace not by demanding it from the Lord and grumbling as the Israelites at Meribah and Massah. This is the paradox of the Gospel: we receive grace by giving to the Lord everything we have and everything that we are.

As we move through Lent perhaps we feel like the Israelites at Meribah. We have tried to leave behind slavery to vices, bad habits, and sins. But we find ourselves tired in the middle of the desert of Lent. We wonder why God allows us to struggle in our weakness. Perhaps we’ve even considered giving up and just living with slavery to these various attachments. But take heart and don’t grow discouraged. When we receive the water of life, grace from our Lord, the chains of slavery to sin gradually fall away. The woman at the well left her jar behind. She had a taste of grace and left her heavy burden and old means of satisfaction behind. When we taste the living water of God we are able to leave behind the weighty burden of our addictions, our bad habits, our vices.

So we have to ask ourselves: am I grasping at God’s grace or seeking to give Him a drink in order that I might receive? Lent is an exercise in giving to the Lord in order that we might be filled with this living water. We give Jesus our time and attention in prayer. We give Him the sufferings of fasting and penance. We give Him our material resources in almsgiving. All of these exercises are the means by which we strike the rock and tear down the dam that prohibits grace from flowing into our lives. As we approach the second half of Lent, let’s press on and turn to the well of grace, giving the Lord a drink by our participation in spiritual practices. If we don’t strive to receive the water of life He offers us, we’ll only be left thirsty and wanting to turn to others means of satisfaction.

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