March 19, 2017

III Sunday of Lent

Thirst is an experience we all can identify with.  When we are thirsty, we feel restless, uncomfortable, tired, weary, irritable and unable to focus on what we are doing.  Perhaps, for this reason, today’s scripture readings use the symbol of thirst to express these feelings of ours which extend beyond simply physical thirst.  Indeed, we are all seeking something in life that can fulfill us.   Such a need can be as tormenting, as the need for water.

Firstly, for many people, their thirst is for material things, like the Israelites in the first reading.  Like them, we are always grumbling that our material life is not comfortable enough. The word ‘enough’ simply does not exist in our vocabulary because we have a well that cannot seem to be filled.  Once something is given, we immediately seek something else.  That is the trouble with human beings.  Look at the Israelites. Once their thirst was quenched, they complained about the lack of bread, and then after being satisfied, they complained that they had no meat.  So you see, no amount of material goods can satisfy the physical needs of a person.  Such satisfaction will not turn into a spring of fulfillment but only emptiness and frustration.

Of course, for some people, it is not physical needs that they are looking for.  This group of people has gone beyond the survival level.  They are seeking emotional needs, like the Samaritan woman.  We are told that she had five husbands. She must have gone through quite a number of broken relationships.  She must have been a broken and bitter lady.  So you can imagine how surprised she must have been when Jesus, a Jew at that, took interest in her and initiated a conversation with her. To know that somebody is concerned for her and interested about her life, as she remarked at the end of today’s gospel, “he told me all that I have ever done” certainly uplifted her.

Yet, in the final analysis, our physical and emotional needs, while certainly important, cannot give us the fulfillment that we are really seeking.  Our divine spirit is starved because the Spirit of God is missing in our lives.  God, it must be said, is irreplaceable.  No human person can rest so long as his divine spirit is not in touch with the Spirit of God.  For this reason, we need more than simply water and human relationships to satisfy us.  We need living water, which is the Spirit of God, to nurture and strengthen us.  This living water is Jesus Himself, who comes to give us His Spirit.

But the fact is that many of us do not feel the love of God present in our hearts – the kind of experience that Paul speaks about.  In fact, we are just like the Israelites who in their emptiness and thirst questioned:  “Is the Lord with us, or not?”  Many of us too are asking the same question; ‘Is God real?  Where is He?  If He is real, why don’t I experience Him and why doesn’t He seem to care?’ Yes, questions like that imply that somehow we are distant from God.  Is there anything we can do to improve our relationship with Jesus, our living water, the source of life?

Yes, only one thing is necessary.  We need to give faith a chance.  St Paul wrote to the Romans that it is “by faith we are judged righteous and at peace with God, since it is by faith and through Jesus that we have entered this state of grace.”  Faith, then, is the pre-requisite for entering into a deep experience of God’s love and grace which is the experience of being loved even in our sinfulness, nothingness and brokenness.

The second thing could be listening to Jesus.  Of course, we can listen and yet not be converted.  So we need to open our hearts as well.  We must be careful not to reduce our relationship with God to an intellectual enterprise.  Rather, the words of Jesus must help us to open our hearts to Him so that He can reveal to us who we truly are.  This was the case of the Samaritan woman.  Because she was open to Jesus, she was able to have a real relationship with Him.  She came to know herself more truly and thus was liberated from her bondage to her broken life.  We too must learn to relate with Jesus in prayer in a personal manner.  Our relationship with God is not with someone impersonal but someone who is real to us.  In speaking to Him about ourselves, we too will be released from all those bondages that imprison us from becoming the person God meant us to be.

In this way, we will come to experience Jesus not only as a prophet or a teacher but our Messiah and savior. This was what happened to the Samaritan woman.  At the end of the conversation, the faith of the woman progressed from recognizing Jesus as a prophet to that of the Messiah.  Unless, we see Jesus as the Anointed One, the Messiah of God who died for us even in our sinful state, we cannot really come to affirm that God is love in Jesus.  But if we do, then we will experience that unmerited love in our hearts which cannot but touch the very core of our beings.  This is what Paul meant when he speaks about the love of God being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  True experience of God is the experience of the unlimited and unconditional love of God for us even in our unworthiness.  This is what ultimately transformed Paul and it will be for us as well.

But all this can happen only when we, as Paul tells us, by faith enter into this state of grace that is a relationship with the Lord.  Thus, today, we must be like the Samaritans who begged Jesus to stay with them.  And He obliged their request by staying an extra two days with them.  And because they were open in their minds and in their hearts, they were nurtured with the living water as Jesus shared His mind and heart with them.  At the end of it all, the conclusion of the Samaritans was this:  “Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the savior of the world.”  Yes, unless we can say that we have faith in Jesus, not because of what others have told us about Him but because we have seen and experienced His truth and love, and therefore His Spirit in us, we cannot claim to have a true faith in Jesus.  Only this kind of faith will truly justify us, make us wholesome and restore us to fullness of life.

Let us therefore, on this third week of Lent, deepen our prayer life and our relationship with God.  Let us make use of the Lenten works, be it fasting, prayer or penance, to come to a deeper realization of our sinfulness so that the love of God can become clearer and more real to us.  The day we experience both our sinfulness and unworthiness; and also the love of God for us in Jesus, we will find that the promise of Jesus is true – the promise that a spring of love will well up in us to eternal life, a life of God.

God bless us.

Posted in Messages from Fr. Francis