Saturday, March 10, 2007

3rd Sunday in Lent (A)
Before The Rock that Thirsts

Readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Sisters and brothers, have you ever experienced being in between a rock and a hard place? According to an online dictionary, to be between a rock and a hard place is to be in difficulty, faced with a choice between two unsatisfactory options. Quite obviously, the experience the phrase describes is not a pleasant one. It’s not something that we would wish upon anyone, let alone ourselves.

And yet, especially if we have been attentive and diligent, we may notice that our journey through Lent has brought us to just such an uncomfortable place. We know that Lent is a time of preparation, a time when the elect prepare more intensely to receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Holy Eucharist, and when the baptized also prepare to renew our baptismal promises at Easter. Lent is a sort of training programme. And we also know training is never comfortable. In fact, at some point, good training often makes the trainee feel like quitting.

Consider what we have been through so far. On the first Sunday of Lent we meditated upon the temptation of Jesus in the desert. We were reminded quite bluntly then that this Lenten journey is not a picnic. As it was for Christ, so it is for us. Like Christ, we too have to do battle with the powers of darkness. We too have to identify and turn away from all the sinful areas of our lives and to cling to God alone. We have to look seriously, for example, at our relationships to things and to people. Do we use things and love people? Or do we instead love things and use people, people like our colleagues, our friends and family, our domestic help?

Then, just last week, we were given two important pieces of information about this One whom we are committed to follow. We were given a glimpse of the glory of Christ at the Transfiguration. But we were also told that this same Christ had first to travel to Jerusalem and to Calvary. He had first to suffer and to die. And we have to follow him, carrying our own personal crosses daily. For example, we have to continue to forgive and even to love the colleague who is stabbing us in the back, or the family member who, knowingly or unknowingly, is causing us such heartbreak at home. We have to continue to look beyond satisfying our own selfish desires in order to help those most in need.

In the face of this kind of training, it won’t be too surprising if, after the last two Sundays, we find ourselves beginning to have mixed feelings about this whole Lenten project. Its seriousness is finally beginning to sink in. This is not just fun and games. It’s difficult to do what we were told to do when we were signed with ashes on our foreheads about three weeks ago. It’s difficult to keep trying to turn away from sin and to believe in the Good News. It is indeed true, what Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction… (but) the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life (Mt 7:13-14). We should not be surprised then if, on this 3rd Sunday of our Lenten training, whether we are baptized or elect, we find ourselves feeling unsure whether we wish to continue going forward or whether we wish to turn back. It’s quite understandable if we feel as though we are squeezed between a rock and a hard place.

Isn’t this the experience of the Israelites in the first reading today? With mighty hand and outstretched arm, the Lord has rescued them from slavery in Egypt and brought them on a journey to a land where milk and honey flow. But they have not reached there yet. Instead, today they find themselves quite literally between a rock and hard place. They arrive at a spot in the desert called Rephidim where they are tormented by thirst. What should they do? To go back is to return to slavery and possibly even death at the hands of the Egyptians. But how to keep going forward when they are so thirsty and when all that they see before them is the hard rock-face of Mount Horeb. Can we blame them for complaining? Can we not see ourselves in their predicament? If so, what should we do?

As we might expect, the way out of our difficulty lies not in turning back, but in continuing to look ahead. Strange as it may sound, like the Israelites, we are invited to come before this rock in the desert, bringing with us all our doubts, our pain, our weakness, and most of all our thirst. And when we do this something remarkable begins to happen. We begin to see that this is no ordinary rock. This rock is special because this Rock is Jesus Christ himself.

And, like the Samaritan woman at the well, when we bring our thirst to this Rock who is Christ, we actually begin to see that this is a Rock that seeks and that speaks. We realize that it is not really we who have come to Christ, but rather that it is Christ who has been seeking us out. It is Christ who has gone out of his way to meet us, as he does with the Samaritan woman. It is Christ who wants to engage us in conversation. And what power is to be found in that conversation! Notice how Jesus gradually leads the woman at the well to acknowledge him as the Anointed One, the one who can give her the living water she needs to quench her inner thirst. How does he do this? What is this water?

To ponder upon these questions is also to begin to realize that not only does this Rock who is Christ seek us out and speak to us, but it also bleeds. For just as the rock in the desert is struck by a staff to produce water for the people, so too is the Rock who is Christ pierced by a soldier’s lance as he hangs on the cross on Calvary. And out of the wound flows blood and water for the life of the world (see Jn 19:34). This is the only thing that can truly quench our thirsty hearts. This is what St. Paul is talking about in the second reading, when he says that the love of God has been poured into our hearts. This is the living water offered to us by this Rock who is struck, this Christ who died for us while we were still sinners. And these are also the living waters into which we are all baptized.

It is also when we are immersed into these waters that, together with St. Paul, we realize how immense is God’s love for us in Christ. It is in these waters that we experience the reason why Christ the Rock seeks us out, why He speaks to us, and why He bleeds to save us. It is quite simply because, remarkable as it may sound, this Rock actually thirsts for our love. As Jesus tells the Samaritan woman: Give me a drink. Give me a drink…

For us to listen and to respond to this plea is also to find the way out of our predicament. It is to see that this spot between a rock and a hard place is really a fruitful place. For this is where we experience the love of Christ being poured into our hearts. And this is the also the place where we receive the strength to share that same love with others, just as the Samaritan woman did, when she brought the people of her town to meet Jesus. And today, we are given the opportunity to share Christ with others in a very concrete way by contributing generously to the Catholic Charities Week campaign. This is one way of responding to the Rock who thirsts, the Rock who continues to say to us: give me a drink…

Sisters and brothers, on this 3rd Sunday of our Lenten training, how is Christ meeting us and quenching our thirst? And how might we respond to Him by extending a helping hand to others who may also be finding themselves between a rock and a hard place?

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