3rd Sunday of Lent (A) (1st Scrutiny)
Picture: cc amanda tipton
My dear friends, have you ever come across parents who stubbornly refuse to give their child a cookie? Even when the child cries very pitifully. Complaining that it’s really hungry. Why do you think parents do that? Why do they seem so cruel as to ignore their child’s hunger pangs? I’m sure the parents among us can answer this question quite easily, right? It may be that it’s almost dinnertime. And you don’t want to ruin your child’s appetite. Rather than tormenting the child. You are actually teaching it an important lesson. How to deny a little craving, in order to satisfy a bigger hunger. A deeper yearning.
This lesson is not unlike what God is teaching the people of Israel in the first reading. Like a hungry child craving a cookie, the people are tormented by thirst. And they grumble to Moses. They ask him a question that the poor man doesn’t seem to know how to answer. A question similar to the one we asked about those parents earlier. The question is Why? Why refuse your child a cookie? Why bring us out of Egypt? Why torment us with thirst?
Instead of telling the people the answer to their question, Moses prays to God. And God teaches him how to get water for the people to drink. So that, at first glance, it seems that God gives in to the people’s craving. But still, the question remains, doesn’t it? The question Why? Why bring the people into the wilderness to be tormented by thirst in the first place? Could it be that it’s because, like any good parent, God allows the people to experience a temporary thirst, in order to prepare them for a more substantial drink? Could it be that God is teaching them to endure the more obvious thirst of their throats, so that God can quench the deeper yearning of their hearts? The yearning not just for water, but for love. For God’s love.
And, of course, this is a yearning that is present not just in the Israelites. But also in all of us. In you and in me. It is the same yearning that the second reading says God has already taken steps to satisfy. For the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. How did this happen? It happened when at his appointed moment… Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Proving, once and for all, how much God really loves us.
Which is why it’s not quite accurate to say that the people’s question in the first reading is left unanswered. Why bring us out of Egypt? Why torment us with thirst? Although Moses doesn’t seem to answer the question by his words, he does so through his actions. In the steps that he takes to provide water for the people to drink. The early Fathers of the Church saw in Moses’ actions in the wilderness a foreshadowing of what would happen to Christ on the Cross. Just as Moses struck the rock with his staff, causing water to flow for the people to drink. So too was Christ, the rock of our salvation, struck by a spear. And from his side flowed blood and water. Signs of God’s forgiving love. Symbols of God’s life-giving Spirit. Poured out so selflessly to satisfy all thirsty hearts. Why bring us out of Egypt? Why torment us with thirst? So that you may enjoy a more satisfying drink.
And it is this same drink, this living water of his own self-sacrificing love, that Jesus offers the Samaritan woman in the gospel. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, she too is thirsty. Isn’t this why she has come to the well to draw water? And yet, Jesus insists on chatting her up. On distracting her from her immediate concern. Which is to quench her thirst. And, once again, we might ask Why? Why torment the people of Israel? Why delay the woman at the well? The answer becomes clear as the reading progresses. Jesus delays the woman’s efforts at quenching the thirst of her throat, because he wishes to help her satisfy the deeper yearning of her heart. The yearning for love. God’s love.
A yearning that she has tried so desperately and so unsuccessfully to satisfy on her own. In each of the five husbands she has had in the past. And in the man with whom she is living now. The one who is not her husband. Somehow, in the course of their conversation, Jesus manages to help the woman to recognise her own deep yearning for love. And, more importantly, to believe that he is the One who can satisfy it. Anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again, the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside, welling up to eternal life.
As they speak, the woman is gradually led from guarded suspicion to tentative interest, and then to joyful excitement. We’re told that she puts down her water jar. She forgets the thirst of her throat. And she hurries back to the town to tell the people. To share with them the deep stirrings of her own heart. This shift in the woman’s reaction is all the more striking because she had earlier gone to the well at the hottest part of the day. When there would be no one else there. Presumably to avoid her neighbours. Probably because her scandalous marital situation was a subject of local gossip. And yet, here she is now, rushing so eagerly to speak to the very people she had been so carefully avoiding earlier.
To leave our water jar. To forget the thirst of our throats. To deny our craving for cookies. This too is what we do in Lent. Through prayer and fasting and almsgiving. We do it not to torment ourselves. But to turn away from sin. To make space for God. To let go of our greed for material things, for example. Our thirst for revenge. To acknowledge that we have a deeper yearning that only God alone can satisfy. A yearning that God has already satisfied. Through the selfless sacrifice of Christ the Son.
And this is also what the Scrutinies are meant to do for you, the elect. You who are preparing for baptism. By celebrating these rites, we hope to distract you the way the Lord distracted the woman at the well. We invite you to leave your water jars. To forget the thirst of your throats. To deny your craving for cookies. And we do this not to torment you. But so that, especially in these days of more intense preparation, you may allow yourselves to be filled more completely with the love of God. To surrender yourselves more fully to the warmth of the Lord’s embrace. So that, like that Samaritan woman at the well, you too might eventually rush eagerly to tell others of the One who has awakened such joyful stirrings in your heart.
My dear sisters and brothers, this is something that we all know quite well: Parents sometimes refuse their child a cookie not to torment it, but to train it. Is there perhaps a cookie craving that God is inviting you to deny today?