Where is God Sending You?

Homily for March 19, 2017 (3rd Sunday of Lent)

Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42

Linda Lutton, a Peabody Award-winning journalist, was working on a radio documentary series on the intersection of poverty and education in Chicago.  One day she found herself sitting in a 4th grade classroom on the city’s West Side.  The students were struggling to understand a word that for many of us would seem very simple.  The word was ripe.  After observing them work with their teacher to comprehend its meaning, Lutton realized why they found ripe hard to grasp: the small grocery and corner stores in their neighborhood were far more likely to sell snack foods, sugary drinks and liquor than fresh fruits and vegetables.  Living in what are often called “food deserts,” these kids couldn’t know what they hadn’t seen.

When Jesus offered to give “living water” to the woman at the well, she similarly couldn’t understand at first what he was talking about.  She got her water from a cistern.  She was readily able to recognize her bodily thirst; but she also had a spiritual thirst.  In the society of her time she was triply marginalized.  She was a woman in a patriarchal culture.  She was a Samaritan, part of a people with roots in the ancient northern kingdom of Israel who shared a love of the Torah and many of the practices of those who considered themselves more orthodox but whose defeat by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE had led to intermarriage with non-Jews. Their building of a temple on Mt. Gerizim set them further apart from Jesus and others with roots in the southern kingdom of Judah whose temple was Jerusalem.  Finally, she was morally suspect, with a series of failed marriages and yet another “complicated” relationship.

Jesus didn’t ignore any of those things; but he didn’t allow them to be a barrier to his reaching out to her and offering her the chance to receive water that would become in her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” and enable her to “worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  He seemed to know her even better than she knew herself, and it was with a mixture of amazement and hope that she went back to her village and invited the people there to see Jesus and answer for themselves the question:  “Could this be the Christ?” 

The people of Israel in our first reading had a different question on their minds:  “Is God in our midst or not?”  They hadn’t been on their Exodus journey that long, but food and water were already getting scarce.  Hungry, thirsty and worn out from their journey, they quickly forgot all the things that God had done for them and just wanted to go back to Egypt, even if it meant that a return to slavery would be the price of their security.  Despite their grumbling, God didn’t give up on them.  Instead, God gave them what they needed.

Though we may at times struggle with our own faith, we need not stay stuck on the questions that the Samaritan woman or the ancient Israelites asked.  We believe with St. Paul that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” and “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  With that peace, love, hope and the gift of the Holy Spirit, God sends us to be with those who are marginalized and who are struggling, searching or even despairing of God’s presence in their lives. +