Sunday, March 19, 2017

3rd Sunday of Lent

3rd Sunday of Lent
19 March 2017
Ex 17:3-7
Ps 95:1-2,6-7,8-9
Rom 5:1-2, 5-8
Jn 4:5-42

Today’s Gospel is long. It is filled with rich details.  First, John reveals Jesus’ humanity as he describes His fatigue and thirst on the journey to Jerusalem.  Then he reveals the Messiah’s divinity and the gift he brings.

As she  learns of the gift of eternal life the Samaritan woman represents us.  She is those of us who are are alive today.  We see how easily she misunderstood both the gift and the giver.  And her story forces us to ask if we also misunderstand the giver and the gift he brings.

The first reading and the Psalm are closely linked.  In fact, Psalm 95 refers specifically to the events described in the reading from Exodus. The newly freed Israelites were complaining again.  God had given them manna and quail to ease their hunger.  But the people quarreled with Moses. At Meribah and Massah they forgot all that God had done for them in the past. They demanded that God give them water.  And they were in a hostile mood.  Moses prayed, "What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!" In answer to his prayer God instructed Moses to strike the rock with the same staff he used to part the waters of the Red Sea.  And water flowed. 

Psalm 95 has two parts.  The first seven verses are an invitation worship and thanksgiving. 

“Come let us sing to the Lord,
and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us
Let us approach Him with praise and thanksgiving
and sing joyful songs to the Lord.” 

However, next four verses are a warning  not to act like the Israelites in the first reading, a warning not to doubt that God is in our midst.  The psalm ends with the chilling verse, “So I swore in my anger, they shall not enter into my rest.”  That generation of complainers, those who demanded water at Meribah and Massah while doubting God, did not enter the promised land.  Like the Samaritan woman they misunderstood the giver and the gift, the gift of their lives.

The Gospel could be a movie script.  The scene is set. The motivation for the actors is there. There dialogue as the action unfolds is detailed.  After a long tiring  journey with the apostles Jesus sat near a well to rest  It was hot.  He was thirsty.   A woman going about her daily chores came for water and the drama began. Jesus asked the woman for water.  She was shocked that a Jew would speak to a Samaritan woman.  The revelation comes in the subsequent dialogue.  Jesus makes it clear that he is offering her a gift. That gift is the water that will quench her thirst forever.  He offers her a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  She is amazed. She begins to wonder who this man is. Could he be the Messiah, the one called the Christ,  He who is to come?  Jesus replies, “I am he, the one speaking with you.”  Last week we heard the account of the Transfiguration in which Jesus' divinity was confirmed for his apostles in the Father's voice.  Today, Jesus confirms his divinity for the Samaritan woman in his own voice.

Jesus is offering the Samaritan woman, and thus he is offering us, the gift of eternal life.  However he is setting two conditions for that gift.  The first is that we must recognize our need for the gift, the very specific gift which Jesus brings. That need cannot be met by anyone or anything else:  “If you knew the gift of God.. . .”  The second condition, the point where the Israelites failed repeatedly, is to recognize the gift and thank the giver,  “and if you knew who is saying to you, ‘ Give me a drink’ . . . .” 

Asking for a gift is humbling. When we ask for a gift we  admit our need for it.  When we ask we confront our dependence on the One who can give us the gift.  Humble is a state we try to avoid.  

The Samaritan woman misunderstands the gift.  “Sir, give me this water, that I may not be thirsty, or have to keep coming here to draw water.”   She assumed that Jesus was offering her rest from her daily routine.  She assumed Jesus' gift would free her from life’s discomforts and rid her of all suffering.   Like the woman at the well, we all assume, if not demand, that in one way or another, Jesus' gift will end all our troubles if not prevent them from ever happening.  We imagine that all of our problems  will be resolved to our satisfaction in the way we have determined they should be.  No pain.  No suffering.   No problem.

Jesus did not come into the world to take us out of it.  Jesus did not come to spare us the pain of living on this earth.  He did not come to free us from the limitations of being flesh and blood.  He came to experience those limitations with us, from the moment of his birth until his passion and death.  And he did so out of love.  He did so to give us the waters of eternal life.

 As stated so forcefully in Paul's Letter to the Romans,

"But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners
Christ died for us."

Every day the divine office begins with today's psalm.  Listen to the first stanza again.

"Come, let us sing to the Lord,
and shout with joy to the God who made us,
let us approach him with praise and thanksgiving,
and sing joyful songs to the Lord."

Consider that for the rest of today.

Yesterday's trip to Brezje and Lake Bled was terrific.  I did not know the group of people I was accompanying.  They turned out to be participants in a workshop on computer communication.  Part of the trip was also part of their final project.  The fifteen or so of us traveled in a small bus.  The driver picked me up at sv. Jožefa.  We drove approximately four blocks, stopped and disembarked.  Most of the participants had never been to LJ.  This was to give them an opportunity to walk around and take photos at the market and other areas around the three bridges.   The camera stayed in my backpack.  

Following lunch I celebrated Mass in the chapel at the Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, one of three Marian shrines in Slovenia and probably the most well-known.  Afterwards we went to Lake Bled, one of the, if not the, most popular tourist destinations in Slovenia.  Though the weather was not ideal in that it was cloudy, some sun appeared just as it was setting.  Am happy with the results.

The restaurant at which we had lunch served Slovenian food.  It was very good.  It is owned by a well-known contemporary musician and composer.  This flower was on the wall.  It is about three feet across.  The petals are sheet music of one of his songs.  I converted it to black and white because the edges of the paper had aged to a beige-yellow that was not particularly appealing. 

The Shrine of Mary Help of Christians.  The small domed area to the right is the chapel in which the icon is venerated.  It is where I celebrated Mass for our group.  In English as it was the only language they had in common. 

The chapel.  It is very small.  There are benches for perhaps 20 or so.  A number of tourists dropped into the Mass.  Because the space is small there was no option but to face away from the congregation from the offertory to the elevation before communion (O Lord, I am not worthy . . . ) for which I turned around.  This is not the first time I've celebrated Mass facing away from the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer.  It is not a bad thing.  

The main altar taken from the back of the church.  One of the things I always do when shooting in a church is to take a series from the very center of the main aisle.  It minimizes distortion of the image caused by the lens.  The church is much less elaborately adorned than the Franciscan Church in LJ. 

The view from the front of the church toward the loft.  We had the chapel from 3:00 to 4:00 (and were running about eight minutes behind when we arrived).  Did not hear the organ.  A Mass in the main church was scheduled for 4:00 PM as we were leaving. 

A close-up of the loft.  The series of panels is very attractive and nicely done.  

The next two are the same sculpture of the Holy Family.  The workshop director Mateja clued me in about approaching close to the sculpture and stooping a bit.  From a distance the cross is about 100 yards behind the sculpture and much taller.  However, when stooping, well the result is visible.  I'm impressed by the vision of the artist and the amount of engineering that went into the project.  
And as a silhouette

Lake Bled may be the most well-known tourist attraction in Slovenia.  A few rays of sunshine broke through the haze to add a nice dimensions to the relatively few photos.  The castle overlooks the lake.  The path from the parking lot to the castle is steep.  Very steep.  Alas, the free admission to the grounds was abolished.  At 10 Euro per head we did not go in. 

The church on the shore. 

The island in the middle of the lake.  There is a church here as well.  The main entrance on the other side features a very long staircase.  Not certain how many steps but it is a lot.  The haze interfered with sharp photos but added an ethereal dimension that I like. 

I changed one into black and white with a lot of  other manipulation on the computer to produce the result. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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