Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent
In 2007, a book containing the letters of Mother Teresa was published under the title, Come Be My Light. Her writings revealed that this great saint, whose selfless actions taught the world that where there is love there is God, had great difficulty experiencing the presence of God in her own life.
While it may cause some of us to doubt, “If this woman couldn’t feel God’s presence, how can I?” I believe the truth of the matter is one of universal significance that makes Mother Teresa more relatable to all of us: we don’t always see the work of God in our lives; we don’t always feel him with us.
Although this was Mother Teresa’s experience, on a very deep level, her example of great faith continued to preach the reality of God’s existence in the world. Through her, countless people “saw and believed” (John 20:8). Her life’s work is a modern-day testimony of what Christ told his disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel:
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment
and gathering crops for eternal life,
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for;
others have done the work,
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” (John 4:35-38)
The first reading for the Third Sunday of Lent ends with the bitter words, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” coming from the mouths of the Israelites, whom God had recently saved from their slavery in Egypt. Through Moses, God performed many miraculous signs of his power before their very eyes. Now, shortly after, they display their lack of trust by turning against Moses and God. So we rightly ask, how could they be so forgetful, cold, and heartless?
I believe the answer is as simple as recognizing the state of our miserable human condition. If we are not constantly turning to God and recalling the great things he’s done for us, we quickly get distracted and caught up in our own selfishness and soon forget how blessed we are. In our weariness, our dry mouths cry out, “Where is God?” God allows our thirst to remind us who the only one who can definitively quench our thirst is.
The part that stood out to me the last time I read this passage is in bold:
Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
God was always with them, “standing there” in their midst, and they did not see him. Another interesting thing I found is what’s missing from this text. It goes on to tell about Moses’s striking the rock in the presence of the elders and the people, but it does not say that water came forth or that they drank. Yet know one ever doubts it – God said it would happen, so it happened, is what we’re supposed to assume.
Similarly in the Gospel reading from St. John, Jesus is standing right in front of the Samaritan Woman at the well. As the story develops, they talk about a lot God, but she does not recognize that it is he who is standing right in front of her and speaking to her. At various stages her awareness of Jesus’ identity grows from his being just another Jewish traveler to “Could this be the Messiah?” to her fellow townspeople proclaiming, “this is truly the savior of the world!” thanks to her faithful witness (like that of Mother Teresa).
Another interesting similarity between the two passages is all this talk about thirst and water but we never actually see the water or anyone drinking it. There’s a point to that.
It’s like one of my favorite passages from the Gospel when Jesus is in the boat with his disciples and they forgot to bring bread. As you read this passage notice the parallels with the first reading, where the Israelites doubt God’s presence, as well.
They had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. He enjoined them, “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread. When he became aware of this he said to them, “Why do you conclude that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or comprehend? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many wicker baskets full of fragments you picked up?” They answered him, “Twelve.” “When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many full baskets of fragments did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (Mark 8:14-21)
At the beginning of the same chapter where this episode occurs (Mark 8) Jesus performs the miracle of feeding 4,000 people, which should have been fresh on his disciple’s minds. Following that incident, before they got into the boat, the very same people before whom Jesus had just multiplied enough bread to feed 4,000 people asked him for a sign – what more did they need? And now, his own disciples are worried, thinking, “Oh shoot! He’s upset with us because we forgot to bring bread.” You can see Jesus brining his hand to his forehead and sighing, “Do you still not understand?”
Mark gives us a subtle clue regarding Jesus true identity at the beginning of the text: “They had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat.” Jesus is the bread. Just as in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus is the water. Just as God is with them, even when they cannot see it with their eyes, God is always with us. Where?
We need to examine our lives.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is one of the three readings for the Scrutinies, a period of examination, purification, and enlightenment during Lent, especially for those who are preparing for baptism. I explained more about the Scrutinies in my post earlier this week (Click Here to read that post).
In my next post, I will delve deeper into the Gospel passage and offer a guided meditation to help you search for Christ’s presence in your life, following the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Christ at the well.