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The source of the first biblical reading for this Lenten weekend’s liturgies is the Book of Exodus, one of those five books of the Bible regarded as the basis of God’s revelation to his chosen people. The initial theological concepts and regulations about behavior are seen as being rooted in the original teachings of Moses.
Together, these books constitute the Torah, then and still the cornerstone of Judaism. Another name is the Pentateuch, this term coming from the Greek word for five.
As the title implies, the Book of Exodus is primarily concerned with the experiences of the Hebrews as they fled Egypt and moved toward the land that God had promised them. It was a difficult trip.
Even today, a journey across the Sinai Peninsula by land is bleak. It is not surprising that the Hebrews wondered if they had swapped the witch for the devil as they wandered across Sinai. They grumbled about Moses, their leader, in their frustration, bewilderment and misery.
Water was a precious commodity in this arid environment. The people thus understandably feared thirst. Moses, enlightened by God, told them to look for water in an improbable place, the side of a rock. As directed, Moses struck the rock in the presence of the people and water flowed.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. As is so typical of Paul’s writing, this passage celebrates Jesus as the only source of life and of bonding with God. It also proclaims salvation in Christ as the gift coming from the willing sacrifice of the Lord on Calvary.
For its last reading this weekend, the Church presents a section of St. John’s Gospel. It is the story of the Lord’s meeting with a Samaritan woman beside a well in Samaria. The reading is heavy with lessons for us.
First, the site is Samaria. For the Jews of the Lord’s time, Samaria represented many bad things. The woman is a Samaritan.
Samaritans were of Hebrew heritage, but they had acquiesced when foreigners invaded the land, compromising with paganism, and even inter-marrying with pagan foreigners. Inter-marriage added insult to injury, because by such unions Samaritans defiled the Hebrew heritage.
Faithful Jews scorned Samaritans, looking upon them with contempt.
Also at the time of Jesus, no adult, unmarried man ever engaged a strange woman in conversation, let alone a Samaritan.
The message is that, obviously, Jesus set all these considerations aside. He bore the mercy of God, and this mercy was meant for everyone, all social conventions aside.
Furthermore, by outreach to this Samaritan woman, the Lord asserts that every person possesses dignity, indeed a right to eternal life.
More than Jacob of old, Jesus promises a gift of water greatly more satisfying than any that could be drawn from a well.
Finally, the Lord predicts that a new order is coming. It will be neither centralized in Jerusalem, nor on the mountaintops where the Samaritans customarily worshipped.
The Church’s preparations to receive new members during the Easter Vigil are a central part of Lent. Central to the Vigil is the triumphant celebration of the Eucharist. The Lord lives! Water also is a prominent symbol. The Church will baptize new members with water blessed during the Vigil.
For Catholics, the water blessed during the Easter Vigil will symbolize new life in Christ. The previously baptized will renew their baptismal promises aloud. The priest will sprinkle them with blessed water to recall their baptisms.
While water will symbolize new life, in these readings the Church tells us that God alone, in Jesus, is the source of eternal life as indicated by baptism.
Lent is our time to decide whether to embrace this life or not. †