Saturday, March 18, 2017

Third Sunday of Lent

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 1214-1216, 1226-1228: Baptism, rebirth of water and Spirit
CCC 727-729: Jesus reveals the Holy Spirit
CCC 694, 733-736, 1215,1999, 2652: The Holy Spirit, the living water, a gift of God
CCC 604, 733, 1820, 1825,1992, 2658: God takes the initiative; hope from the Spirit

“The Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Agostino Carracci, 1595
Reading I: Exodus 17:3-7
Commentary on Ex 17:3-7
This passage continues the journey of the Hebrews in the desert following their departure from Egypt. They have already been fed by manna in the wilderness, here they complain bitterly against Moses for having taken them to a land with no water, and the hardship causes them to doubt that God is with them. In response to this challenge, God provides yet another miracle as he commands Moses to take his staff and strike the rock at Horeb, revealing a spring of water. The place was later named Massah and Meribah: Hebrew words meaning respectively: "the (place of the) test" and "the (place of the) quarreling."
CCC: Ex 17:1-6 694; Ex 17:2-7 2119
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
R. (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Commentary on Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
This part of Psalm 95, commonly used as the invitatory psalm for the Liturgy of the Hours, is a song of thanksgiving. In these strophes the incident at Meribah is remembered (Exodus 17:3-7), and God’s undeserved mercy proclaimed. The community is rejoicing that the Lord is God and that he has brought us salvation in spite of our forebears' obstinacy. We are encouraged to listen to the Lord, even if what we are asked to do is difficult.
CCC: Ps 95:1-6 2628; Ps 95:7-8 2659; Ps 95:7 1165; Ps 95:9 2119
Reading II: Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Commentary on Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
In the previous chapter, St. Paul has established that through faith in Jesus Christ, the Christian is justified (recreated just as if they had not sinned).  The apostle now begins a discussion of how this justification is experienced. The reconciled Christian will be saved, sharing with hope in the risen Christ.
"The justified are endowed with theological virtues. By faith, they live in peace with God and have access to his grace; in hope, they long for the glory of God that awaits them; and in love, they show that the charity of the Spirit dwells in their hearts (CCC 1813). Equipped in this way, believers can become more like Christ through endurance and suffering (CCC 618)."[5]
“Popular piety frequently construed reverses and troubles as punishment for sin; cf John 9:2. Paul therefore assures believers that God's justifying action in Jesus Christ is a declaration of peace. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ displays God's initiative in certifying humanity for unimpeded access into the divine presence. Reconciliation is God's gift of pardon to the entire human race.”[6]
CCC: Rom 5:3-5 2734, 2847; Rom 5:5 368, 733, 1820, 1964, 2658; Rom 5:8 604
Gospel: John 4:5-42
Commentary on Jn 4:5-42
The story of the Samaritan Woman, told in its entirety, provides several theological points. First, the fact that Jesus came this way implies his broader mission, not just to the Jews but to the whole world. The fact that upon meeting the Samaritan woman he asked for a drink is significant, in that Jews would have never have considered drinking from the same vessel as a Samaritan woman who would have been considered ritually unclean.
Often what we hear in Sacred Scripture seems to have only one purpose when in fact there is more. We note that the location of this event is set at “Jacob’s Well”. It is a clear reference to Genesis 33:19-20, a place where Jacob “… set up an altar there and invoked “El, the God of Israel.
The discourse with the woman is instructive, providing rich imagery of water and spirit recalling the gifts given in Baptism. At the same time we see the recognition that Jesus is the Messiah (although the Samaritans would have had a different expectation of the Messiah, thinking more in the lines of a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15).
There is further symbolism, culturally focused, in Jesus revelation to the woman. When he tells here she has been married 5 times it is a likely reference to the 5 images of Baal worshiped by the Samaritans. Women who practiced that religion were ritually married to the 5 idols.
The conclusion of the story demonstrates the clear perception by those who encounter Christ that he is the Messiah. This revelatory presence is noted in the concluding verses of the story as the Samarians exclaim “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world."
CCC: Jn 4:6-7 544; Jn 4:10-14 694, 1137; Jn 4:10 728, 2560, 2561; Jn 4:14 728, 1999, 2557, 2652; Jn 4:21 586; Jn 4:22 528, 586; Jn 4:23-24 586, 728; Jn 4:24 1179; Jn 4:25-26 439; Jn 4:34 606, 2611, 2824
In this shorter version of the story of the Samaritan Woman part of the dialogue is omitted that revolves around the primacy of the Jews in receiving God’s word. Also omitted is the Lord’s description of the woman’s past life and the encounter with the Lord’s disciples and his decision to stay.
Presented in this form the story focuses more on the identity of Christ and less on his universal mission.
CCC: Jn 4:6-7 544; Jn 4:10-14 694, 1137; Jn 4:10 728, 2560, 2561; Jn 4:14 728, 1999, 2557, 2652; Jn 4:21 586; Jn 4:22 528, 586; Jn 4:23-24 586, 728; Jn 4:24 1179; Jn 4:25-26 439
Because we heard it last, the story of the Samaritan Woman at the well can overpower the other Sacred Scripture given today.  The theme that seems to run through the Old Testament reading about the rock at Horeb and the Gospel is the water theme.  In both cases, God gave living water to those who challenged him.
We note that the water given to the “stiff-necked” Hebrews at Horeb was a sign that God was with them.  We see in the story of the Samaritan Woman that the water offered to her was symbolic of faith that once given, would give everlasting life (St. Paul’s letter to the Romans would say she was “justified”).  We can feel the similarities and the differences if we place these two encounters with God side by side.
Perhaps the most significant similarity is that, in both cases, God’s presence was needed either for life in the literal sense or life in the spiritual sense.  In both cases, God was asked for water. And in both cases, though the request was not merited, God responded.
As always, we see the Word of God as both an invitation and a promise.  The promise in this case is that, if we need God’s indwelling strength, all we need to do is ask.  We do not need to presume we have done anything to merit God’s saving help.  Rather we know that we are undeserving yet still hope in God. 
The Exodus story gives us a clear picture.  The Jews of the story had already seen God’s mighty hand part the Red Sea for them so they might leave bondage in Egypt.  They had marveled at the pillar of fire sent by God to them, keeping them safe from Pharaoh’s chariots. They had been fed by manna when they were hungry. Yet, finding themselves thirsty in the desert, they perceive that God had left them.  What had they done to deserve God’s help?  Yet, even this stiff-necked people received God’s saving grace through the water of life, flowing from the rock.
If God showed this unbelieving people such love and mercy, how much more can we who work hard to remain faithful expect?  If Jesus offered the Samaritan Woman, married five times and living with still another man, the faith and salvation of God, how much more can we who try to live by his statutes expect?
That is the promise. What then is the invitation?  The invitation is to be like Christ in our love and generosity to others, even others who do not share or appreciate our values.  Each day we are given the opportunity to demonstrate our faith.  We are asked for help by those whom society might call “undeserving,” and we are challenged by those who see our faith and beliefs as superstitious nonsense.  Each day we are invited to respond to these challenges with faith and compassion.  Each day we can choose to offer living water to those who are in need. This is our invitation to the New Evangelization.
As we reflect today about the gifts of water and spirit, let us pray that what flows in us may become a fountain, giving God’s gift to those who are in need.

[1] Catechism links are taken from the HomileticDirectory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture today is “The Samaritan Woman at the Well” by Agostino Carracci, 1595
[4] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.
[5] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp. 263
[6] See NAB Footnote on Romans 5:1-11

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