3 Lent, Year A: Need and God


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

If the account of the Israelites thirsting in the desert were merely a human story of biological need, our sympathies would lie entirely with the people. “Give us water to drink” is surely a desperate plea, and so we hardly wonder that they complain against Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17:3). On a deeper level, the story is primarily about quarreling and putting the Lord to the test, that is, failing to trust that the Lord who has delivered will deliver again. A question arises. Do we trust God to give us all we need in the wilderness of this world, in this valley of tears?

We are warned, in the words of the psalmist, “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’” (Ps. 95:8-11).

There are many reasons to be in church, but one of the most important is that we should ask again for a heart of flesh, a heart pure and responsive to God. Indeed, this is precisely the emphasis at the beginning of the liturgy. “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.”

Opening our hearts, we discover again all that resides there. Justified by faith, the faithfulness of God toward us, we have peace with God. We have access to this grace, a free and fearless entry to the courts of heaven. Astoundingly, we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. We see and experience anew God’s love poured into our hearts, an inexhaustible source of refreshment and life.

Through the lens of God’s grace and faithfulness, his peaceable presence and open welcome, his love poured endlessly into the deepest places of the heart, we see our suffering in a different way. “[W]e boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). Hope amid suffering is the result of divine intervention, “love poured into our hearts.”

Returning to the image of water and the experience of thirst, we see Jesus, tired from a long journey, sitting at Jacob’s well. “A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’” (John 4:7). We see Jesus’ humanity in his thirst. He became what we are. And yet he is more than what we are, being himself, in his divinity, the source of his own eternal refreshment. Jesus is “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). He experiences all our need and yet remains divinely above need, receiving and being in every moment all that God is. Jesus invites us to this experience, although it will always be incomplete for us in this life. Our need lays bare our dependence upon God. “We have no power in ourselves to help ourselves” (2 Cor. 3:5).

Jesus is our daily bread, saying to us, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work” (John 4:34). In our need, Jesus says, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you” (John 4:26).

LOOK IT UP: Psalm 42:1

THINK ABOUT IT: So longs my soul after you, O God.


Online Archives