Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

March 12: Third Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Living water

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

Moses’ popularity among the enslaved Israelites could not be greater than on the day he led them out of Egypt. It was not long, however, before his popularity was all but gone.

His people found themselves in the desert, running out of water, and they complained bitterly: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst?”

Moses learned a lesson that popular leaders all eventually learn. Their popularity disappears quickly unless they have a good answer to this question: “What have you done for us lately?”

Today’s responsorial psalm is a painful reminder of the day that the Israelites lost confidence in Moses and faith in God. They tested God though they had seen all the marvelous deeds as God freed them from “the house of slavery.” Sadly, they never entered the Promised Land.

We who live along the shores of one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lakes have no experience like that of the Israelites in the desert. For us, an abundant supply of clean freshwater is as close as the nearest faucet.

Once the Israelites settled in Canaan, their anxiety over their water supply did not diminish. Canaan has few readily available water resources. The possibility of drought leading to famine was a constant threat.

Rain had to come at the right time and in the right amount to replenish the land’s springs and rivers. People had to dig and maintain wells to exploit groundwater and cisterns to catch and save rainwater. A visit to the community’s well or cistern was a daily chore to provide water for family and livestock. During one of those trips, Jesus initiated a conversation with an unnamed Samaritan woman who came to the well at Sychar.

The woman was surprised by Jesus’ request for a drink of water. Men — especially rabbis — did not speak in public to women who were not their wives. Also, Jews and Samaritans shared an unfortunate history of rivalry and tension that occasionally erupted into violence. In addition, there was a longstanding dispute over the proper place to worship their common ancestral deity. As a result, Jews and Samaritans normally avoided one another.

The woman misunderstood Jesus’ words about the “living water” that he offered her. She thought that such a gift would relieve her of the inconvenience of a daily trip to the well.

The “water” that Jesus offered her was eternal life. As their conversation continued, the woman’s past came to light. Jesus’ knowledge of her situation impressed the woman. She believed him to be a prophet.

The woman changed the topic of the conversation by raising the issue of the proper place to worship. Jesus asserted that the real issue is proper worshipers rather than the place for worship. Finally, Jesus revealed his identity to her.

The disciples returned from their errands and were shocked that Jesus flouted religious and cultural norms to speak with the woman. Full of enthusiasm, the woman went on to tell her neighbors of her encounter with Jesus. Through her testimony, many of the townspeople came to believe in Jesus, welcoming him to stay in their town.

An ordinary, daily trip to the town’s well proved to be a moment of grace for the Samaritan woman. She received much more than she expected. Jesus offered her “living water” and she believed.

Paul describes the consequences of believing in Jesus. It is the gift of justification that flows from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that brings with it peace with God through Jesus Christ. What the Gospel lesson speaks of as “living water” the apostle calls grace that gives us access to God.

Grace is not an abstract idea. It is an event. Grace happened on the cross when Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners. The death of Jesus shows the extent to which God will go to be reconciled with us.

Moses gave the thirsty Israelites water from a rock in the wilderness. Jesus offers “living water,” which is the gift of everlasting life. The Samaritan woman’s faith in Jesus shows us that we can only humbly and gratefully receive that gift that comes to us through the cross that gives us peace with God. That is the living water that satisfied our thirst for God’s love.


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