Father Donald Senior, CP

March 7: Third Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Love changes everything

Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42

Sometimes unexpected things pop into my head when reflecting on the Scriptures. For example, the readings for this Third Sunday of Lent reminded me of the lyrics from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s song, “Love Changes Everything.” One of the lines says, “Yes love, love changes everything. Now I tremble at your name. Nothing in the world will ever be the same.”

In many ways, the conviction that love changes everything might be shorthand for the entire message of our Scriptures. The readings for today give us both sides of the equation. 

The first reading from Exodus recounts a famous incident during the desert sojourn of the Israelites on their march from slavery in Egypt to the land of promise. I am convinced that the refusal of the Bible to fall into pure sentimentality is a sign of its divine inspiration. The story of Moses drawing water from the rock is a prime example.

Despite being freed from oppression and fed with manna, the people “grumbled against Moses.” All during the exodus we hear such very human complaints — bad food, not enough to drink, poor leadership. No wonder Moses cries out to God, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!”

Despite the people wondering aloud, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”, God tells Moses to strike a rock and water pours out. The responsorial Psalm 95, in reflecting on this incident during the Exodus, describes this reaction in the phrase “harden not your hearts!” This is a lament heard throughout the Scriptures. 

Jesus himself will confront his own disciples with the same accusation: “Are your hearts hardened?” (Mk 8:17). A hard heart is loveless, the hearts of those so turned in on themselves that they miss the beauty around them and, above all, miss the needs and hopes of others.

Contrast this with the other readings for this Sunday. The second reading from the Letter to the Romans is one of Paul’s most powerful statements, affirming that at the very center of our Christian faith is the conviction that Christ’s death for us is the ultimate sign of God’s own intense love: “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. … God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”  

Paul’s point is that we have not earned God’s love, but in the spirit of authentic love, it is freely given. No hardness of heart here. Even though we grumble and are sinners, God loves us anyway.

The Gospel passage for today is the enticing encounter of Jesus with the woman at the well. Readers of John have long found this story one of the most fascinating and beautiful parts of John’s portrayal of Jesus.  

The passage itself supplies us with basic information: Jews and Samaritans did not get along, which was an alienation going back some centuries before Jesus. For a man — and a Jew at that — to linger at the village well alone with a woman raised eyebrows (as the disciples’ startled reaction confirms, “they were amazed that he was talking with a woman”).

Above all, Jesus converses with the woman in an almost playful, yet honest and deeply respectful way. As their conversation progresses, the woman grows in the realization of who Jesus is — a prophet, a messiah or more. He is one who knows all about her checkered history but accepts her as she is, which echoes Paul’s affirmation that “God first loved us.”

The result is that a woman whose troubled life had isolated and shamed her is now fully alive and she brings the good news to her village. When they come out to meet Jesus, they too, have their hearts opened and acclaim him as “the Savior of the world.”

“Love changes everything. Nothing in the world will ever be the same.” This is a conviction that the Gospel of John proclaims at every turn. And it is the realization of God’s tender love and mercy that should open our hearts this Lent.


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