- St. Paul's
Sermon - 3 Lent
In the Name…
A Sunday School teacher asked the class, “Why did the Hebrews wander in the desert for forty years?” One boy put up his hand and said, “Because, in the desert, Moses couldn’t get a good signal on his GPS.”
As the Hebrews began the Exodus I’m sure they thought they would have a great future ahead of them. They had seen the miracles wrought in Egypt and were excited that God was bringing them to a land of freedom and plenty. But in our first reading today we see that all is not going well.
We can imagine them saying, “Hold on. It’s not supposed to be like this.” Instead of a triumphal procession, this Exodus thing is turning into a hard slog. They complain about all this time in the desert. They’ve run out of water and feel that God is distant. They no longer trust Moses to lead them. They even no longer trust God. Moses was afraid that the people might stone him. As it is, they put God to the test. Of course, we know what happened.
Now, in his letters, St. Paul tells us that what happened to them is a warning to us. Maybe sometimes we murmur because we focus on what we don’t have, or on what we think we should have, rather than focusing on what God has already done for us or that which we do have.
God had a plan for the Hebrews. It just wasn’t what they wanted. How easy it is for us to also forget that God has a plan for us and sometimes that plan isn’t what we want for ourselves. So, the first reading is not just about ancient peoples. The first reading is also about us. Because, God knows what we really need, not what we think we need, and God knows what will best prepare us for our future.
To use another example, God had a plan for the woman of Samaria. When she got up that morning, it must have seemed to her just like any other day. She went to the well at noon on her own as usual instead of in the morning with the women of the town. This social ostracism was probably due to her reputation. Serial monogamy and now a spousal alternative. But despite all that, whatever had gone on before, Jesus had a plan for her, and that plan was to lead her to him. Instead of the water of her daily routine, Jesus offered himself as the water to eternally sustain.
When Jesus first speaks to the woman, she assumes he doesn’t know her from Eve, but Jesus reveals he knows her very well. He knows her past, but he doesn’t condemn or reproach. Rather, he compassionately names and understands her circumstances. She could have felt shamed and humiliated, but it doesn’t appear that is her reaction. She apparently feels safe with him, despite his deep knowledge of her personal life.
I wonder. What is it like to be fully known? For most of us the prospect of being transparent to others—even those whom we trust—is a bit unnerving. We like to keep our secrets secret, whatever they are. We prefer to hold our past in private and only disclose it at our own discretion. In this passage, however, we discern that although God’s knowledge of us is total and complete, its purpose is different from what we fear most. God knows who we are and loves us anyway. And, as a result, our secrets lose their power over us and we are free to live with joy.
In one of her writings, St. Theresa of Lisieux speculated that Jesus may have spoken to this woman because he saw in her a kindred soul - rejected; shut out. In his ministry, he had found only ingratitude and indifference. He had found few willing to give themselves and trust completely. Last Sunday, we read of how he had had a disappointing conversation with Nicodemus. “Are you a teacher of Israel” Jesus had lamented, “and you do not understand the things of God?” And so, St. Theresa says, “He was thirsty for love.”
Naturally, Jesus was physically thirsty since he had been traveling on a presumably hot day. But his real thirst was for this woman’s faith. And ours. For, Jesus continues to thirst for our faith and our love. He wants us to find authentic joy in Him. And, he wants us to bring that faith, love, and joy to others. He wants us to be like the woman who left her jar by the well and hurried back to the townspeople whom she had been avoiding to tell them that she may have found the Messiah.
Like Jesus and like the Samaritan woman, we often experience a physical thirst for water, since it is indispensable for life, but there is also a spiritual thirst in each of us that God alone can satisfy and which is indispensable for eternal life. The Samaritan woman understood this, that Jesus could provide a “living water” that became in her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
But to give us this gift, Jesus asks for our faith. He knocks on the door of our hearts and waits patiently for our answer.
The lesson of the Hebrews and the Gospel of the woman at the well speak to us still. They should move us to rediscover the meaning of our life in Christ. To renew our profession of faith in him. When the Samaritan woman’s life was transformed by her encounter with Jesus, she ran to take the Good News to her people. She became a missionary disciple. And, this is what Jesus is calling all of us to be, not just followers, but leaders, leading others to the water we have found and which sustains us.
Just as the Hebrews in the first reading are a warning to us, the woman of Samaria is an example to us. By sheer grace, we, like her, have heard Jesus offer us living water. Jesus knows all about us, even what we do not want to face. But he ignores all that and wants to give us a new identity in himself.
For, Christ is the one who drowns out the noise of our murmuring. Christ is the source of trusting worship even when we are thirsty because we know he has a plan. As St. Paul said, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
Yes. God does understand us. And, yes. God has a plan for us. We just have to make it ours.
In the Name…