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FEBRUARY 24, 2008: THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings: 

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

Even without reading the Exodus text in Hebrew, students of Scripture can distinguish the Yahwistic author from the book's other two sources when they hear the narrative of Israel's 40 year trek through the wilderness. Almost always when the Chosen People gripe, complain, or argue with God and Moses during this most important event in Jewish history, the Yahwistic author is responsible for the narrative.

Writing in the 10th century B.C.E., 300 years after the actual Exodus, this very perceptive theologian is confronting those in her community who long for the "good old days." Convinced the 13th century was an especially sacred time - because of Israel's liberation from Egypt - these folk long to return to those "thrilling days of yesteryear." They regard their own day and age as sub-par. If they had their druthers, they'd vote to live during Israel's Exodus and wilderness experience. Yahweh was so close to their ancestors during those two generations that one would wake up every morning to new, overwhelming wonders. God's presence and actions were simply a part of everyday life. Too bad they're now condemned to live at a different time, in a different place. Yahweh's greatest actions and Israel's most terrific days are over. The present is nothing compared to the past.

Part of the Yahwist's reason for writing was to convince her 10th century community that Yahweh was just as active in their lives as Yahweh had been three centuries before. One way of accomplishing this goal was to take the "romance" out of Israel's golden age. Instead of depicting awe-struck, faith-filled individuals on the receiving end of these saving actions, she informs her readers that "the people grumbled against Moses, demanding to know, 'Is Yahweh in our midst or not?'" Those taking part in Israel's greatest event never looked at it as Israel's greatest event. They, like the Yahwist's community, believed their best days were behind them. They also longed to return to the past, to Egypt where they had three squares a day and all the water they could drink.

The Yahwist's thesis is clear: There is no golden age for people of faith. No matter how exceptional God's actions are, most people never seem to notice them while they're taking place.

Paul couldn't agree more. Scholars often point out that the Apostle rarely refers to the historical Jesus in his letters. If his writings were our only source of knowledge of the Jewish carpenter-turned- reformer, we'd have to be content with, at most, just one small paragraph of facts about his life. (Remember, Paul was martyred about 10 years before our first gospel was composed.)

Paul always focuses on what the risen Jesus is doing in the lives of his followers. In today's Romans pericope, for instance, he zeroes in on what our faith in Jesus is offering us right here and now. His dying for us, "while were still sinners," brings about a "peace with God." Because of Jesus, "we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand." The good old days are our present days.

John works from a parallel premise in constructing his Samaritan woman at the well narrative. Among other things, Jesus not only breaks into the life of a "heretic," he also gets rid of the idea that some geographic places are more sacred than others. "Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem . . . . The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth." True worship can be done any time and any place.

The "biblical trick" is not to pray that God enter our lives, but to pray that we discover how, when, and where God's already in our lives.