3 Lent

Ex. 17:1-7 • Ps. 95
Rom. 5:1-11 • John 4:5-42

The Venite closes with this warning: “Harden not your heart, 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’” (Ps. 95:8-11). Numbers 20:2-13 tells a similar story, although adding the detail about Moses striking the rock twice, interpreted by some as Moses’ celebrated fault for which he was forbidden entrance into the Promised Land.

A “people with a wayward heart” and “doubting Moses” may obscure a simpler reading that invites a strong parallel to the gospel. “The people thirsted for water,” we are told. “Why,” they ask Moses, “did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” Thirst is a desperate need, a condition a human being cannot long endure. God does not scold the people, but rather provides for their need. “I will be standing in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink” (Ex. 17:6). Water gushing from the rock is an answer to the question Is the Lord among us or not?

Drinking the water of God, indeed, bathing in it, “we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:1-2). Jesus is himself the Living Water, cleansing us without and reviving us within. In one of the truly great ecumenical texts of the New Testament, Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). In our need, we may ask, “Where do you get that living water?” Jesus speaks to us just as he spoke to the woman: “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never thirst. The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14-15). The cool cup of Christ is a miraculous satisfaction.

And yet the cup is always given. In a sense, desire and satisfaction have met and kissed each other. Jesus is the water we receive and always the water we want. Ultimately, this is about love. “If you thirst, drink from the font of life. If you hunger, eat the bread of life. Blessed are those who hunger for this bread and thirst for this font. Always eating and drinking, they still desire to eat and drink. A most beautiful thing! Always Christ is consumed and sipped, always hungered for and thirsted for, always tasted and always desired, which is why the prophet says: ‘Taste and see how sweet and pleasant the Lord is’” (Ex instructionibus sancti Columbani abbatis, n. 13; my translation).

Scanning a series of maps for a planned hiking trip, I look carefully; I remove my glasses for close inspection; I search for water. And I recall from other hikes the visceral cry of the body for water and the absolute joy of drinking it.

Jesus, come to me first as summer fire, burn me and dry me until I know my naked need.

Look It Up
Read Rom. 5:1. Jesus gives access to this grace.

Think About It
Weak, dead in our sins, hungry and dried out: “God proves his love toward us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”


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