The people of Israel grumbled against Moses enough for him to think that they actually might try to kill him. Scripture reads: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut 6,16). Jesus actually quoted this passage when He was being tempted in the desert by the devil. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that tempting God wounds the respect and trust we owe our Creator and Lord. It always harbors doubt about His love, His providence and His power (cf CCC 2119). In this Reading, the people of Israel tempt and challenge God to supply water for their thirst. Water is a symbol of life and every human being needs water to sustain life. Water is also used for cleansing. It is fitting that water is used in baptism. In the Sacrament of Baptism we are cleansed of our sins and are given a new life as a child of God. The rock in Horeb, according to Saint Paul, is a figure of Christ: “All drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ” (1 Cor 10, 4). The words Massah and Meribah mean “quarrel” and “test”. The people ask, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” That question never seems to go away. It was asked thousands of years ago and it is still asked today, usually when tragedy strikes. It is yet another way of tempting God, trying to get Him to reveal Himself, although, depending on the circumstances, it can be at times quite understandable in our lowly humanity. During Lent, we do indeed ask the Lord to reveal Himself but not in a way that would be considered tempting God. Through prayer we seek Him longing for intimacy and forgiveness, longing to quench a thirst that water cannot suffice.
Second Reading, Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
The apostle Paul proceeds in this Reading to show how wonderful a benefit it is to be truly justified by the coming of Christ. Saint John Chrysostom adds that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ by laying aside all contentions; or let us have peace with God by sinning no more. And we can have this peace even when we’re in the midst of our greatest trials, which, with our Lord’s help, can lead us to an increase in virtue and patience. God has showered us with the blessings of faith, charity, patience, and fidelity even though we’re not deserving of it. Knowing this, there must be the greatest confidence that after this pledge and assurance of His good will towards us, He will finish the work He has begun and bring us to His heavenly Kingdom. Saint Paul writes: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.” Indeed, we are temples of the Holy Spirit which means that the great Paraclete resides in our soul, sanctifying it and making it a partaker of His divine love. Because of God’s love and mercy for His people, Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly; meaning that we were sinners and consequently His enemy. Saint Paul continues: “Perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die”; that is to say, courage to die for a person that has been good to us. As Saint Jerome puts it, “Scarcely would anyone die for a just cause; for who would ever think of dying for injustice?” For however long our journey is in this life, chances are we will never fully grasp how much God loves us.
Gospel, Saint John 4:5-42
Saint Augustine taught that the woman of Samaria symbolizes the Church which was not yet justified, but was about to be justified. Saint Augustine continues: “She comes in ignorance, she finds Him, and He converses with her. We must see what this woman of Samaria was and why she had come to draw water. The Samaritans did not belong to the Jewish nation, but were foreigners. It is part of the symbolism that this woman, who is a type of the Church, came from a foreign nation, because the Church was to come from the Gentiles and so be of a different race. Because she provided a symbol, she became the reality too. For she came to believe in Jesus Who was putting her before us as a symbol. She was surprised that a Jew was quite uncharacteristically requesting a drink from her. Although Jesus asked for a drink, His real thirst was for this woman’s faith.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church shares something beautiful about Jesus’ thirst: “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is He Who first seeks us and asks for a drink. Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him” (CCC 2560). Continuing with Saint Augustine’s homily, he says: “Jesus asks her for a drink. He is in need as One Who will accept, He abounds as One Who will satisfy. Jesus said, ‘If you knew the gift of God.’ God’s gift is the Holy Spirit but He still speaks to her in a veiled language, and gradually He enters into her heart. The water which He was about to give to her is surely the water referred to in the words, ‘With You is the fountain of life.’ Jesus was promising her plentiful nourishment and the abundant fullness of the Holy Spirit. The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’ Need drove her to this labor, while her frailty recoiled from it. How wonderful if she heard the invitation, ‘Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ That was what Jesus’ words to her meant -- an end to her labor; but she did not yet understand their meaning.” The Samaritan woman uses the term, “our father Jacob” because the Samaritans claimed lineage from Abraham, therefore, they called Jacob their father because he was Abraham’s grandson. The Venerable Bede explains that they also called Jacob their father because they lived under the Law of Moses and were in possession of the land that Jacob had bequeathed to his son Joseph. When Jesus tells her to go call your husband, He begins to show her that He knows all about her life. The Samaritan woman says: “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain,” meaning Jacob and the ancient patriarchs, whom the Samaritans called their fathers. The mountain is Gerizim, where the Samaritans had built a temple; and it was there that the Samaritans would come to worship instead of at Jerusalem. The Samaritans believed that the patriarchs had exercised their religious rituals on this mountain. Jesus tells the woman that salvation is from the Jews. Saint John Chrysostom explains the meaning of our Savior’s words: “The Israelites, on account of their innumerable sins, had been delivered by the Almighty into the hands of the king of Assyria, who led them all away as captives into Babylon and sent other nations whom He had collected from different parts, to inhabit Samaria. But the Almighty, to show to all nations that He delivered up His people solely on account of their transgressions, sent lions [aggressive men] into the land to persecute these strangers. The Assyrian king upon hearing this, sent them a priest to teach them the Law of God; but they did not depart wholly from their impiety, for many of them returned again to their idols, while at the same time worshipping the true God. It was on this account that Christ preferred the Jews before them saying, ‘Salvation is from the Jews,’ whom it was the chief principle to acknowledge the true God and hold every denomination of idols in detestation. The Samaritans, by mixing the worship of one with the other, plainly showed that they held the God of the universe in no greater esteem than their idols.” Jesus tells her: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” The Catechism explains that worship in Spirit and truth of the New Covenant is not tied exclusively to any one place. What matters above all is that, when the faithful assemble in the same place, they are the living stones gathered to be built into a spiritual house. For the Body of the risen Christ is the spiritual temple from which the source of living water springs forth: incorporated into Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are the temple of the living God (cf CCC 1179). Jesus was not in any way suggesting that Christian worship should have no use of external signs towards God, for that would take away all sacrifice, sacraments and prayers. The Samaritan woman tells Jesus: “I know that the Messiah is coming, the One called the Christ; when He comes, He will tell us everything.” Even the Samaritans, at that time, expected the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said to her, “I am He,” which He proclaimed to the Samaritan woman, first by His words, but perhaps even more by His grace, which would have convinced her heart that He was indeed the Messiah. The disciples were amazed that He was talking to her and experiencing this may have taught them something about the humility of Jesus. The Samaritans looked for the Messiah because they had the books of Moses, in which Jacob foretold of the world’s Redeemer: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah or a ruler from his thigh, till He that is to be sent comes” (Gen 49, 10). Jesus tells His disciples to look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. The harvest of souls was approaching when Christ came to teach the way of salvation and to send His apostles to convert all nations. “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for”; by these words Jesus testifies to His apostles that the prophets had sown the seed in order to bring all to believe in Christ. This was the end of the Law, the fruit which the prophets looked for to reward their labors. Jesus, likewise, shows them that as it is He Himself Who sends the apostles; it is also He Who sent the prophets before them, and that the Old and New Testaments are of the same origin. Finally, through the grace of God, we see that many of the Samaritans came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Saviour sent to redeem the world.