Lent is about testings and temptations. “How are you doing?” God the great test prompter asks in the Third Week. The season kicked off with the story of Jesus being led (or “driven” in the Gospel of Mark) into the desert by the Holy Spirit. There he danced with the temptations that face most human creatures: power, security, and immortality. And passed with flying colors as beloved Son of God. This weekend’s readings narrate another encounter with temptation; one that is as significant as “the big three in the desert.” Israel tested God with the murmurings in the desert at Meriba. He gave them water from a rock. Passed the test with flying colors. The people of Israel did not do so well. They grumbled more and flirted with golden idols, rather then trusting the lead of the faithful God of Abraham, Sarah and Isaac across the desert.
The famous encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is our weekend’s Gospel with the “Elect” and candidates for Easter sacraments. In this exchange, there are a lot of borders between Jesus and the unnamed woman: “social norms, religious differences, patriarchal discrimination, and differing standards about ritual purity, among others.” They could turn around and go back to the familiar. Like their desert forbearers’ complaint that they were better off as slaves in Egypt where at least their thirst was quenched and the stomachs filled. But they stay at the well in the moment; And speak the truth to each other. And they taste living water that will sustain through almost any of life’s “testings.” We heard some incredible stories from parishioners about this kind of encounter with the poor at our Wednesday SOUP & STUDY.
The temptation in the desert was one rooted in the terror of change, the desire to hold onto familiar situations and circumstances rather than the divine risk. Trust in God comes bearing the taste of real human freedom. It did ultimately for them and us. It meant for Jesus the crossing of some serious gender, religious, and social divides. A new relationship brought the Gospel to the community of Samaria. After the Resurrection, it was the first of the Christian missions from its home in Israel. Human communion is our gift to our planet’s people. We do it at Mass every day. When we give from our means, when we forgive a grievance, when we follow the Spirit into a new culture, or take risks with civility across any divide, when we build friendship with someone whose sees life differently, we leave behind living water to quench the human thirst. We pass the test with flying colors that hang in the sky and prepare us and others for the next one. It’s like a drink of chilled water on a hot Arizona day.
A gentle week,
Fr. Michael Weldon, OFM
Gratitude is expressed for some of the above to Friar Dan Horan’s “Sunday Scripture Reflection” from Catholic Theological Union, March 19, 2017.