Third Sunday in Lent: Worshiping in “Spirit and truth”

Lectionary Readings:

  • Exodus 17:3-7. When the Israelites grumbled about their difficult times in the desert the Lord instructed Moses to strike a rock that water flow from it for the people to drink.
  • Romans 5:1-2, 5-8. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us . This hope will not disappoint us.
  • John 4:5-42. Jesus converses with the Samaritan woman at the well, declaring that people will worship the Father neither at Jerusalem nor at Mt. Gerizim, but “in Spirit and Truth.”

Thoughts for your Consideration:

In the first reading and in the Gospel passage water becomes the catalyst for a teachable moment that God shares with us. Water is a very sacred symbol within our faith tradition. Water is a basic necessity of life and in both readings the physical importance of water is raised. As a sacrament water is used as our initiation into our faith community. Water is a powerful symbol for us. We have recently seen the devastating power of water with the tsunami in Japan and we can recall the equally devastating tsunami in Indonesia and the impacts of hurricanes on our own nation. And yet water is also a life-giving resource for us. In a recent study on the development of liturgical space I was excited to learn about the prominent resurgence of the baptismal font as a central symbol of our liturgical experience. As a symbol of our life journey the baptismal font are now being placed at the entrance of the Church and facing the Altar. It is also suggested that the fonts offer a sense of flowing water that again is aimed towards the Altar where the Eucharist is celebrated. In this way water will have the effect of reminding us of our life journey initiated with baptism, processing to Christ, and ending with a promise of eternal life.     

It is not surprising that God uses water as the context for providing us an amazing lesson on justice and discipleship. In the first reading God is dealing with a disgruntled and ungrateful liberated community. They curse their new found freedom and threaten Moses for having brought them into the desert. God responds patiently to their need and uses the opportunity to demonstrate that he indeed is the source of life. God’s action in this event is reversed in the Gospel passage where a thirsty Jesus confronts a difficult social challenges.

In the gospel Jesus confronts the ugliness of human prejudice with the indignant response of the Samaritan woman at the well who is ethnically horrified at being asked to serve “a Jew.” Notice the difference between how God responds to the Israelites with compassion and mercy and compare that to the indignation of the Samaritan woman who responds with sarcasm to Jesus’ request for water. But instead of offering a human response by putting her in her place as a non-Jew Jesus takes this opportunity to break down the walls of religious discrimination and teaches her about the unifying truth of faith. The lesson here is that neither Jerusalem nor the Samaritan holy place of Mount Gerizim has a monopoly on faith. When religious institutions are narrowly defined so as to discriminate against others then that religious institution has become an idol that detracts from the true center of worship. “True worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”

The lesson continues when Jesus’ disciples arrive. This time it’s a lesson on discipleship. Being a product of their own Jewish culture they seem surprised and perhaps confused by the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. While the Samaritan woman is sharing her amazing experience with her local community Jesus offers the disciples a lesson on the patient endurance of ministry. Discipleship may not be very socially rewarding. We preach the just word through our actions as well as our words and sometimes we may feel that our accomplishments are insignificant. But Christ reminds us that this is a long haul ministry and we all build on each other’s contributions.  

“’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.”

In the second reading Paul reminds us that this radical and just love that Christ exemplified “has been poured out into our hearts.” In reminding us the radical nature of God’s love he reminds us that Christ did not just die for good people but for all of us “while we were still sinners”. As disciples we are not allowed to place artificial boundaries on God’s love through our own social constructs. Following the example of Jesus we are called touch each and every person we encounter with the same expression of love, respect and patience that God showed the Israelites and Jesus exhibited to the Samaritan woman. We must persevere in this challenge with the gentle reminder that Paul give the Roman community, “hope does not disappoint.”

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About jdgonzo73

I am a Catholic lay minister in the field of Christian ethics, Latino theology and Paulacrucian spirituality. I am currently a Doctor of Ministry student at Fordham, an ad-junct professor at Molloy College and St. John's University and the Project Coordinator with the Catholic Roundtable.
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