Third Sunday of Lent
March 19, 2017
If you look at a map of the Middle East, it’s amazing to think that it took Israel 40 years of wandering through the Sinai Peninsula before making their way into the Promised Land. It’s a large land mass, but still…40 years? The Reading from Exodus 17 helps to give some insight. It wasn’t a matter of poor sense of direction. It was about needing to shake off the spiritual and emotional effects of being enslaved for so many generations. The time in the desert was akin to a “spiritual detox.” The experience of being enslaved dehumanized the people. They were looked upon and treated by the Egyptians as work horses. When people are denigrated for a long enough period of time, they lose their sense of self-worth and an appreciation for the value which God places upon each and every individual. In this passage, we find them still suffering from a slave mentality. When animals are hungry or thirsty, they cry out. And so, when thirst overpowered them, the people cried out, demanding satisfaction even if the cost might be their freedom. But God always hears the cry of the poor and the suffering and responded with a miracle. God called fresh water out of a dry rock.
In a way, this miraculous event in a barren desert foreshadows and points towards the Gospel passage for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. It’s likely that this was not a mere chance meeting. Jesus probably sent his traveling companions off for food because He anticipated the encounter and knew that they might try to prevent the woman from approaching, or would be scandalized by The Lord engaging a pagan woman in conversation, stepping up the intimacy by asking her for a cup of water.
Much like our Readings from last Sunday, we see that wonderful things happen when we encounter Jesus while we are alone in a deserted place. The Samaritan woman seems to have been suffering from a severe case of self-loathing. Her life was like a barren desert in which she was going round and round in circles, making the same mistakes over and over. Some theologians suggest that she was a victim of human trafficking, or she might simply have become enslaved to her own passions. Addictive behavior has the same impact as forced slavery…it robs its victims of freedom, dehumanizing them. It leaves them little better than animals.
Still, from this dry, hardened life, The Son did exactly for the people of the Samaritan town of Sychar what The Father did for the people in the desert. He struck the woman in her hardened heart, certainly not with a staff, but with loving and healing words. And then, life-giving water poured forth from her. She carried back to her village much more than buckets of water from the community well. She took back from her personal encounter with Jesus Christ the living water that Jesus offered her…and she shared it…and the people drank. This is not only a story of conversion, but also evangelization.