(Readings of the Holy Mass – Third Sunday of Lent)
Nothing is impossible for God. The angel Gabriel mentions this to Mary in reference to Elizabeth’s conception of John the Baptist in her old age (cf. Luke 1:37). Jesus mentions it following his statement on the difficulties for the rich in entering the Kingdom of God (cf. Matthew 19:23-26; Luke 18:25-27). The saying comes to mind when considering the readings for today’s liturgy.
The Gospel account recalls Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Saint John the Evangelist tells us the story. Jesus is thirsty and in need of water. He goes to a well. A Samaritan woman arrives. Jesus asks for a drink of water. During the encounter, we soon realize that the real “thirst” that needed to be quenched was not that of Jesus but of the woman. Jesus knows her needs. He knows her situation in life. He realizes she needs healing. He will offer her life.
Notice that Jesus is the one who initiates the encounter, asking the woman for a drink when she approaches. The woman is astonished at Jesus’ request: “How can you, a Jew, ask me a Samaritan woman for a drink?” Jesus sees through nationality, gender and sin. He sees the person. A person who has had a rough life. She has had five husbands and is now living with a man outside of marriage. It seems from this reference that her ability to maintain relationships is damaged. Something is wrong. We do not know exactly what it is because that’s not essential to the story. What is essential is that she is in bad situation and needs help. A situation that could well be described as an impossible one. Jesus is there to help. He is there to heal and to offer her life.
As the conversation continues, Jesus speaks of “living water,” which he can offer her. She does not understand. Jesus is patient and explains. The water that He will provide will lead to eternal life. The conversation flows into worship of God. Jesus teaches her that worship will be renewed and all will worship the Father in “spirit and truth.” Her journey of faith has begun. She recognizes Jesus as a prophet. Now the conversation moves to a new level. She begins speaking of the long awaited messiah. Jesus says to her: “I am he.” Her acceptance of Jesus and her faith in Him is seen in her going back into town and telling everyone. At the end of the story, we hear the townsfolk say: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” The Samaritan woman placed her faith in Jesus and her seemingly hopeless life found hope; the impossible was replace by the possible; and sin was overwhelmed by mercy.
The first reading recalls the famous story from Exodus of the water from the rock. God led the Israelites to freedom from Egypt through the mediation of Moses. It was another seemingly impossible situation. They were enslaved by the Egyptians, their newborn males were being killed, and their quotas for work were torturous. No hope in sight. Nothing to suggest this suffering would end. It seemed impossible. Yet it was not impossible for God. He gave them life, he gave them freedom, and he gave them safety.
Now we find the Israelites, not too far removed from the earlier situation, wandering in the desert. They grumble for lack of water saying to Moses: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” Their reaction is a reminder to us of how easy it is to forget the goodness and power of God and how he has acted in the past when present hardships overwhelm us.
Psalm 92 (responsorial) urges us not to fall into this trap: “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, Where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.”” Moses is upset but he brings the complaint to God. God in turn hears the cry. He gives Moses instructions to strike the rock. Out of the solid rock now flows water. Nothing is impossible for God.
God’s love and care for us is immeasurable. He acts in ways that we cannot. Sometimes his ways are so powerful and great that we cannot fathom them. Sometimes His ways are so subtle that we do not notice them. Yet He acts all the same. God is active in our lives and in the life of the world in all times and in all places. He sees and hears. He sees all that is going on. He hears all the pleas of our hearts. The liturgy today provides us with a few things which may help us on our Lenten journey.
First, to remember. God has acted in the past. His saving activity is abundant – most especially and completely in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. His love is perfect.
Second, to believe. The Israelites forgot how good and powerful God is and they grumble. Their belief waned. It is easy for that to happen. Lent provides us an opportunity to strengthen our faith. The Samaritan woman at the well comes to faith; and through her witness all the townsfolk. She believes in Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. She has come to believe and to acknowledge Him as the One who can give life and she puts her faith in Him.
And third, to proclaim and invite. The Samaritan woman went into the town to announce her encounter with Jesus. She was a witness of God’s love and mercy, a witness of Christ to other people. The others first came to faith through her witness. And after meeting Him, will profess Him as the “savior of the world.”
We remember, believe and proclaim that no situation is hopeless, no challenge insurmountable, no sin beyond the reach of mercy for nothing is impossible for God.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.
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