Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday in Lent, March 12, 2023
The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermons about the Samaritan woman are too often simplistic morality tales that completely miss the point of the story. Jesus reveals the truth about the various men in her life not to shame this woman, but to call her back to God. Jesus has no interest in her domestic arrangements, which, in any case, are symbolic of Samaria’s infidelities with foreign gods. His main interest is the woman herself, whom he calls to be his disciple and his friend.
Jesus asks the woman for a drink, because she’s got a bucket, and he is thirsty. He uses the situation to strike up a conversation with her. By asking her for a drink, Jesus begins to tear down the walls between their two nations, and between men and women everywhere. At first, she is shocked that he would ask her for a drink. But Jesus tells her that, if she knew who was asking, she would have asked him for the gift of living water. Jesus is the Son of God and the Giver of the Holy Spirit. That’s the point of the story.
The revelation of the secret about the woman’s “husbands” is meant only to reveal who Jesus is. Little by little, he leads this woman to understand that she has come face-to-face with the Son of God, who can give her living water. And so, she drops her jar, like the other apostles dropped their nets, and runs off to tell her village about him.
In our lesson from Exodus, we hear the story of the People of Israel wandering in the wilderness. They too are thirsty, and so they begin to doubt God’s promise of freedom. They ask Moses, “Have you brought us out here to kill us with thirst?” In response to their grumbling, God commands Moses to strike the rock, so that his People may drink. And out the water flows. In the Bible, this event is remembered as a time when the People’s faith was weak. Here, they put God to the test. There is an allusion to it in the Gospels, when Satan tempts Jesus to turn the stones into bread.
The same story is mentioned in Psalm 95, parts of which are used at Morning Prayer throughout the year. The whole of it is used on the Fridays of Lent. We also hear it today:
Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness,
at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when they tempted me.
They put me to the test,
though they had seen my works.
Forty years long I detested that generation and said,
“This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know my ways.”
So I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter into my rest.”
In the Bible, the desert is a place of temptation. But it is also a place where we learn to rely on God.
Lent is a season when many of us engage in fasting–and in acts of self-denial. It is possible to take these to excess. A good Lenten discipline stretches us just enough that we grow in self-awareness and commitment. We deny ourselves something we have come to depend on. We do so, in order to remember that we need God. A good discipline makes us face our boredom, irritability, and disordered desires, so that we can learn to turn to God in prayer—and to each other in works of mercy. There must be the possibility of failure, so that we can learn about our weaknesses. But a well-chosen discipline shouldn’t be something impossible or anything that causes bodily harm.
The disciplines of Lent are meant to help us turn back to God. For we have given our hearts to other masters. Like the people of Samaria, we have espoused ourselves to other gods: to pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, sloth, and all the rest—to contempt for other people, to our need for control, and ro every kind of self-centered and self-destructive behavior.
At the end of Lent, however, whether we have kept our disciplines well or poorly or not at all, we turn to Jesus on the Cross.. We turn to him for renewal in the gifts and promises of Baptism. We meet him risen from the dead. He sets us free from the power of sin and death.
There is an old, old tradition of seeing the saving death of Jesus prefigured in the water that came from the rock, when Moses struck it as God had commanded him. In the tenth chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes this comparison, when he observes that “The rock was Christ.” In the passion of our Lord according to John, when the spear pierces the heart of Jesus, we see blood and water flowing out, filling the sacraments with their life-giving power.
For our opening hymn this morning, we sang “Rock of Ages,” which also draws on the image of Christ as the Rock from whom the living water flows:
Let the water and the blood (we sang)
From thy wounded side that flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Cleanse me from its guilt and power.
And so today, we give our hearts to Jesus. Today, we ask him for the gift of living water. Today, we come to Jesus, and we let him quench our thirst for God.
For “we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves.” But “the love of God (the love of God) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”