3rd Sunday of Lent (A)
Like Turkey or Chocolate
Picture: cc schmish
Sisters and brothers, do any of you cook? Or, even if you don’t, perhaps you’ve spent some time helping out in the kitchen. If so, you may have noticed how different foods react very differently to heat. When I stick a turkey in a hot oven, for example, the soft meat will gradually toughen up. And if I leave it in too long, the whole bird will dry out. It’ll become as hard as a stone. Maybe hard enough even to give someone a serious injury if I threw it at him.
But things are quite different if I put a solid bar of chocolate in a skillet, and heat it over a stove. In contrast to the turkey, the hard chocolate melts. And, once melted, it can be used to make a delicious dessert, or to bake a scrumptious cake. Quite a contrast, isn’t it, the effect of heat on turkey and on chocolate?
And this contrast that we see in food can also be seen in people too. Take the people in our Mass readings for today, for example. All of them are experiencing heat of some sort. Yet they react quite differently. Consider the Israelites in the first reading. They’ve been wandering in the desert for some time. It’s very hot. And they’re very thirsty. How do they react? Very much like a turkey left for too long in a hot oven. They become hardened. They start complaining against Moses and against God. So angry do they become, that Moses begins to fear for his life. Any more and they will stone me! But how does it happen that the people could be so harsh towards Moses? He is the hero who led them out of slavery, the instrument that God used to help them across the Red Sea. Like a turkey in an oven, the Israelites have allowed the desert heat to dry them out. In their craving for water, they’ve lost touch with the deeper desires that motivated them to flee from Egypt in the first place. They’ve forgotten their yearning for freedom. They’ve misplaced their thirst for God.
Contrast this experience of the Israelites with that of Jesus in the gospel. He too is suffering from the heat. We’re told that it’s about noon, the hottest time of the day. He’s tired from traveling, and probably thirsty too. He finds a well, but he doesn’t have a bucket to draw water for himself. So Jesus does something that was considered very inappropriate in those days. He asks a strange woman for water. And not just any woman, but a Samaritan. As might be expected, instead of giving him what he wants, the woman starts arguing with him. At this point, another person might have been irritated by the heat and the woman’s reluctance. Maybe even to the point of losing his temper, and taking what he wants from her by force.
But Jesus is more like a bar of chocolate than a turkey. Instead of being hardened by the heat, his heart melts with compassion. Instead of quarreling with the woman, he enters into a spiritual conversation with her. Instead of forcing her to give him a drink, he helps her to find that inner spring of living water welling up to eternal life. And he is able to do this because, unlike the Israelites, Jesus remains very much aware that it is not just for water that he is thirsting. As much as he may desire a drink from the well, what he craves even more is to do what his heavenly Father has sent him to do. My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, he says, and to finish his work. And, as is written in the first letter to Timothy, the Father’s will is for everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (2:4).
Much more than a drink of water, what Jesus is thirsting for is the faith of the Samaritan woman. So much so that, quite strangely, even by the end of this long gospel reading, we find no mention of Jesus ever having had a drop of water to drink. Somehow it just doesn’t seem as important anymore. And not only Jesus, but the Samaritan woman too. Whereas, initially, she was suspicious of Jesus, after speaking with him, we’re told that the woman gets so excited that she forgets the reason why she went to the well in the first place. She even leaves her water pitcher behind, and runs off to tell other people about her experience. Like Jesus, she seems no longer interested in water. Other thirsts have become even more important. And, like Jesus, the woman’s heart, which had earlier been hardened by many failed relationships – we’re told that she’s had five husbands – has now begun to melt. The stone of hurt feelings has been transformed into a spring of new life, a fountain of living water that refreshes not just the woman, but her fellow Samaritans as well. They invite Jesus, a Jew, to stay with them.
Quite a contrast, isn’t it, sisters and brothers? The hostile hardening of the Israelites versus the compassionate melting of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. A contrast that is very much like the difference between a turkey in an oven and a bar of chocolate on a skillet. And, more importantly, this is a contrast that we can still experience today. Sure, we may not be living in a desert. But we remain exposed to heat of various kinds. Some of these may be more personal in nature. Like the Samaritan woman, we may face disappointments in our relationships, or challenges in the workplace, or troubles in school. How do we react? Also, on a national level, as we remain affected by an economy that is still struggling to recover, or when terrorists continue to threaten our security, what is our response? Do we allow the heat to harden us and to dry up our deeper desires for justice and peace and love? Or do we find opportunities to reach out to others?
As followers of Christ, we know what our reactions should be. We know, that especially when the heat is on, each one of us is called to act with compassion. For this is what we ourselves have received from the Lord. This is the grace of our baptismal commitment, which we are preparing to renew at Easter. This is what we are celebrating in this Eucharist. The deep, abiding, and unconditional love of God for God’s people. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading: God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Sisters and brothers, how are we reacting to the heat today? Like turkey or chocolate?