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MARCH 27, 2011: THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings: 

Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2,5-8
John 4:5-42

Every biblical author has unique characteristics in his or her writings which distinguish them from other writers; traits which surface even when their compositions are intermingled with other writings. Today's Exodus pericope provides a classic example. Though the Torah (the Bible's first five books) are made up of at least four distinct sources, even an "amateur" can pick out the Yahwistic author's work when reading those passages which describe the Israelites' forty-year wilderness experience.

Whenever we hear those recently freed Hebrew slaves griping, complaining, or grumbling about their wilderness predicament, we know the narrative is from the Yahwistic source. That author - who many modern scholars believe is a woman - often addressed a problem with which many of us can identify. Given a choice, we'd prefer living during a different, more significant period of history than the humdrum one we experience today. Especially if we're people of faith, we'd like to have participated in such events as the Exodus, or been one of those fortunate individuals sitting at Jesus' Last Supper table. Our faith would certainly be stronger and more committed if we'd actually experienced such "saving" events and people.

This desire seems to be behind the Yahwistic author's frequent mention of Israelite griping, complaining and grumbling during the Exodus. She tried to show that it took just as much - if not more - faith to notice God present and working in the lives of the Exodus community as it does to surface God in our present lives.

So when anyone in the Yahwistic author's community began to excuse their lack of faith on time and place, she'd look them in the eye and reply, "Let me tell you about some things that happened during the Exodus."

In this particular passage, it's significant that what people are griping about - water - is actually as close to the rocks that are all around them. The very thing hiding the water contained the water. Yahweh is just as much in the midst of 10th century BCE Jews as Yahweh was in the midst of the complaining 13th century Jews. In both situations, God's presence could only be surfaced by people of faith.

In many ways, John's Jesus is working on the same level as the Yahwistic theologian. The very thing the Samaritan woman is willing to spend time and effort to acquire, Jesus offers for free. "Everyone who drinks this (well) water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him and her a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

No wonder the somewhat confused woman responds, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

The evangelist is teaching his community that what we most desire - life, symbolized by water - Jesus freely offers us. The problem is that only a few are willing to pay the price of committing themselves to imitate Jesus' dying and rising; the very thing that opens up the source of life. It's right in front of us, but we never notice it; just like Moses' water from the rock.

As usual, Paul provides some of the best insights on the subject. We not only find it difficult to notice God around us, we don't even notice God in us.

Listen again to those well-known words: "God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Obviously Jesus saw something in us that we rarely see in ourselves: God's presence. Even in our sinful selves, that presence makes us more than worthy to be "died for."

If more of us priests could be convinced to proclaim, "God is with you!" during the Eucharist, instead of the biblically incorrect, "God be with you!" maybe there'd be a lot less griping, complaining and grumbling.