Thursday, March 23, 2006

3rd Sunday in Lent (A)
From Quicksand to Solid Rock

Readings: Exo 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2,5-8; John 4:5-42

My sisters and brothers, recently a powerful anti-drug advertisement has been appearing on television. You may have seen it. A young man approaches a drug-pusher for a fix. He asks the pusher: How much? The pusher’s reply is striking. I don’t recall the exact words, but it goes something like this: Fifty dollars… and your health… and your freedom… and your family… and your happiness… and your life... It’s a very powerful portrayal of the terrible price exacted by drug abuse.

Of course, used in an ordered manner, drugs can cure us of our ailments. But when they are abused, trouble starts. Still, some people succumb to the temptation, probably because they are attracted to the euphoria and the temporary escape from the troubles of life that drug-abuse affords. But the long-term costs far outweigh any apparent short-term benefits.

Abuse leads to addiction. And drug addiction – indeed, any kind of addiction – enslaves. The more you have, the more you want. Just ask any recovering drug addict who has been put through cold turkey. Like quicksand, drugs suck you in, hold you captive, and then gradually drain the life out of you. Abuse leads to addiction. Addiction leads to death.

I don’t expect that there are any drug addicts in our midst this morning. But isn’t there a similar dynamic at work in the spiritual life? What do I mean?

Recall the dynamic of drug addiction: abuse, then addiction, and then death. Let’s first consider the abuse. According to St. Ignatius, all things on the face of the earth are created so that human beings can use them to glorify God. In this he was only echoing Augustine, who said that we should use all things but enjoy only God alone. Yet, is it not often the case that we look to things less than God for our fulfillment and ultimate enjoyment? Does this disordered relationship to things not amount to abuse? And is it not the case that the more we have the more we want? Does the abuse then not lead to addiction? And is it not also the case that our addictions often turn us away from our deeper selves, away from our neighbour, and ultimately away from God, the source of all life? The dynamic repeats itself: abuse, addiction, and death.

Of course our drugs are not heroin, or cocaine, or ecstasy. Their names sound more respectable – names like work, productivity, high-technology, efficiency, consumer goods, free-trade… But whatever their names, when they are abused, when they are treated as ends in themselves, the death-ward slide begins.

And it is precisely this tendency towards death that is the target of God’s action in our readings today. The Israelites, in the first reading, are tormented by thirst. More than a physical thirst, this is a spiritual thirst. They have been rescued by God from abuse in Egypt. But their taste-buds have not yet gotten accustomed to the spiritual food and drink that God is offering them. They remain addicted to what they had in Egypt. In the desert they are going through cold turkey. And it’s not fun. Is it any wonder that they complain? Similarly, in today’s gospel, the Samaritan woman is also thirsting for something more than water. As Jesus gently points out, she has no husband even though she has had five. We don’t know her situation in detail, but her thirst is plain to those who, like Jesus, have the eyes to see.

What is God’s response to this terrible thirst born of abuse and addiction? In the first reading, God produces water in the wilderness for the people to drink. And in the gospel, Jesus offers the Samaritan woman living water. From where does this water come? In what does it consist?

In contrast to the quicksand of addiction, the living water that God gives flows from solid rock. This is the rock in the desert that Moses strikes with his staff, but which is only a foreshadowing of the ultimate rock who is the crucified Christ – struck by the centurion’s lance, as he hangs upon the cross. And out of his pierced side flows blood and water.

This is Christ the Rock of our salvation. And the water he gives is nothing less than the love of God for each and all of us – a love expressed in the death of Christ for our sakes. As Paul says in the second reading, what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. God’s response to abuse, addiction and death, is to rescue us from the quicksand and to place our feet firmly on the solid rock of his love for us in Christ. This is the rock from which flows the living waters of our baptism, which, as Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, will turn into a spring inside (us), welling up to eternal life.

These are the waters for which the elect among us are strenuously preparing themselves throughout this season of Lent. Aided by our prayers, they are trying diligently to turn away from the quicksand of sin, so as to be firmly founded on the solid rock who is Christ. Can those of us who are already baptized do anything less? Should we too not recall the grace of our own baptism? Should we too not assiduously turn away from our own addictions so as to be more firmly grounded on Christ?
My sisters and brothers, on this third Sunday of Lent, let us take the words of the psalmist to heart: Come, ring out your joy to the Lord; hail the rock who saves us… O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts…

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