19 MARCH, 2017, Sunday, Third Week of Lent

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19 MARCH, 2017, Sunday, Third Week of Lent


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ EX 17:3-7; ROM 5:1-2, 5-8; JN 4:5-42 ]

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 have 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.  Even if our body is well looked after because we have attended to our physical needs; and even if our human spirit is satisfied because we have healthy relationships with people; yet 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.  This is what St John and Paul speak about.  On this basis, we could say with Paul that “this hope is not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given us.”

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.  This is the kind of love Paul meant.  Hence, he says “what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.”  Only such an experience of His overflowing love will buttress our hope in Him, a hope, Paul reassures us, that is not deceptive.

If faith is the answer to such an experience, necessarily we must ask exactly the nature of faith that is required of us.  Is faith simply a blind surrender and trust?  Nay, faith is a surrender based on a real and personal knowledge that what we hope for is well founded in truth.  Of course, faith entails trust and surrender as well.  But faith is not founded on falsehood. That would be fideism and superstitious.  Rather, faith is founded on the promises of God which are true.  Thus, Jesus tells the Samaritan that true worship, that is, a true experience of God, is not based on whether we worship at the right or wrong mountain but whether we worship in spirit and in truth.

Concretely, to worship in spirit and in truth implies two things.  Faith requires a sharing of the same spirit of Jesus, which is the sharing of the same mind and heart.  So, to worship in spirit and in truth presupposes that firstly, our minds must be converted.  It requires an open mind.  It is said that education is to replace an empty mind with an open mind.  Precisely, Jesus comes as prophet to fill our mind, but we need an open mind to listen to Him.  The Samaritan woman was open to what Jesus had to say and could recognize that He was a prophet.  If we truly want to have the mind of Jesus, we too must listen attentively to His word that is read and proclaimed.  Reception of the Word is therefore one aspect of being given the living water of the Spirit from Jesus.

Of course, listening is not sufficient.  We can listen and yet not be converted.  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 saviour. 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 saviour 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.

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved

Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
  1. Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
  2. Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
  3. It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.

Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email requests.