Sunday, March 23, 2014

Brought Back on Track

3rd Sunday in Lent (A)

Picture: cc atomicjeep

Sisters and brothers, I think you’re familiar with the words distract and detract. You know that, literally, to distract or to detract is to draw something away from its intended path. What is your experience of distraction and detraction? Some time ago, a young family of three was at a food court. The two parents and a little girl. The daddy had just left the table. I presume to get some food. And the little girl started crying very loudly, wanting to follow her dad. At which point, the mom nonchalantly reached into her handbag, pulled out her cellphone, and handed it to the girl. Immediately, the crying stopped. And, very quickly, the girl became completely engrossed with the phone. Without even realising it, she had been successfully detracted. Distracted. Drawn away from her original intention of following her dad.

We find something very similar in our readings today. In the first reading, the Israelites are tormented by a terrible thirst for water. And, as a result, not only do they complain loudly against Moses, the reading says that they also put the Lord to the test, by saying ‘Is the Lord with us or not?’ Now it may not be so obvious to us. But the people are actually allowing themselves to be distracted. They are allowing themselves to be drawn away from their original path. For this thirst that is tormenting them–this thirst of the lips and the mouth and the throat–is causing them to forget a deeper thirst. A thirst of the heart.

As you know, it wasn’t so long ago that the Israelites had been suffering terribly under the oppression of the Egyptians. Treated as slaves, they had cried out to God for help. And, mercifully, God had heard their cry. Had brought them out of Egypt with mighty hand and outstretched arm. This is why the Israelites are in the wilderness in the first place. God is quenching their thirst for freedom. God is leading them to the Promised Land. But they  forget all this as soon as they encounter difficulties in finding water. The thirst of the lips distracts them from the thirst of the heart. And, all too quickly, they turn against the very God who is trying to set them free. They are distracted.

The gospel too paints us a picture of distraction. Like the Israelites in the first reading, the Samaritan woman is thirsty for water. Which is why she goes to the well. But this thirst of the lips is not the only thirst that she has. Again like the Israelites, this woman is also experiencing a deeper thirst. A thirst of the heart. For we’re told that she goes to the well at the sixth hour. Twelve noon. The hottest part of the day. When there would normally be no one else there. People usually draw water earlier in the morning. Or later in the evening. When it’s cooler.

And there’s a reason for the woman’s apparent shyness. Jesus reveals later that she has had five husbands, and the one she is with is not her husband. So hers is an irregular marital situation. A scandalous situation. One likely to attract gossip. No wonder she avoids people. And yet, isn’t it likely that, precisely because of this separation from others, she is experiencing a thirst of the heart? A deep yearning for human connection? But the woman seems oblivious to this. For when Jesus offers to quench her thirst of the heart with living water, the woman keeps bringing the conversation back to the thirst of the lips. Back to the water from the well. Quite clearly, like the Israelites, the Samaritan woman is distracted.

But that’s not all. Our readings are not just about distraction. They are also about how God brings distracted people back on track. In the first reading, God chooses to do this by giving the Israelites what they want. God instructs Moses to strike the rock with his staff. And out flows water for the people to drink. In the gospel, Jesus masterfully converses with the woman until she becomes willing to entertain the possibility that Jesus might be the person she is thirsting for without realising it. Such that she puts down her water jar and leaves the well. She abandons her distraction. And runs back to town. To the very people she has been avoiding. In order to tell them all about this fascinating person she has met. I wonder, she tells them, if he is the Christ.

Distracted people being brought back on track. This is what our readings are about today. And this should be no surprise to us. For we continue to make our way through our Lenten pilgrimage. And what is Lent if not a time for getting back on track? A time to become more conscious of the different ways in which we might have allowed ourselves to be distracted. Allowed our various more superficial appetites and desires to draw us away from our deeper thirst for God. Distractions like burdensome trials and tribulations. Or worldly dreams and aspirations. The thirst for things. And the hunger for recognition.

During Lent, we allow God to redirect our heart. To bring us back on track. And, in our readings today, God does this in two ways. By showing us a person. And by bringing us to a place. The person is, of course, Jesus. He is the one who shows us what it looks like to always remain on track. In the gospel, the disciples urge Jesus to eat something. To satisfy his hunger for food. His need to fill his stomach. But Jesus’ reply shows us that his focus is on a deeper hunger. On a deeper need. My food, he tells them, is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work. Jesus is so focused on doing the Father’s will, that he allows nothing to distract him from it.

But God brings us back on track not just by showing us the person of Jesus. God also directs our minds to a very particular place. In the first reading, the Israelites are brought back on track at the Rock of Horeb. In the gospel, the Samaritan woman is brought back on track at Jacob’s Well. But what about us? Where are we to go? Where is our Rock? Where is our Well?

St. Paul provides us with a hint of an answer in the second reading when he writes, what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This verse should transport us to that moving scene, described so vividly in John’s gospel (19:34). As Jesus hangs dead on the cross, one of the soldiers pierces his side with a lance: and immediately there comes out blood and water. This, my dear sisters and brothers, is our Rock. Here is our Well. This is the privileged location where we are all brought back on track. For it is in this blood and in this water that we are baptised. It is here that the love of God is made powerfully present to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. And it is also this same place that we allow ourselves to revisit at this and at every Mass.

Sisters and brothers, amid the many things and situations that distract and detract us, that draw us away from our focus on God, how is the crucified and risen Christ continuing to bring us back on track today?

1 comment:

  1. Dear Lord, Thank You ever so much for leading me back on the right track..

    indeed, over the past week or so, in order to "escape" from my current difficult situation, I allowed myself to be distracted by a current global tragedy - the MH370 mystery.. and I was getting so very "involved" until You stepped in to intervene ...

    all of a sudden, it's like I had a big strong tap on my shoulder - a kind of wake-up call - and I was awakened... I knew I have to go on with my life and stop being further distracted...

    Thank You, Lord, for your most timely intervention and for leading me back to You - I feel so much loved and accepted and i see myself now as the privileged sheep - the one You carry on Your shoulders as You go in search of Your lost sheep - as sheep had often strayed away, and some are unable to come back to You on their own accord...We too, often stray away from You because of our own folly, pride and self -will....

    O Lord, it is so comforting to be back SECURE in Your Loving Embrace, once again!

    Whenever I am lost, Lord, please draw me back like You just did...

    Deo Gratias.

    Seeing Is Believing
    28 March 2014 8.20pm