Third Sunday in Lent

March 23, 2014
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
Exodus 17:1-7
Reading 2: 
Psalm 95
Reading 3: 
Romans 5:1-11
Reading 4: 
John 4:5-42
By Marjorie Suchocki

The texts from Exodus and John give us significant imagery of water--water springing from a rock; living water that comes from no well. The Psalmist gives an exultant commentary on Exodus 17, and Paul gives us a theological interpretation of the Johannine text.

In Exodus 17, the people grumble; they have made camp in a place where apparently there is no water, and they quarrel and complain. Moses, in his own turn, grumbles and complains to God about these argumentative people, and God solves the problem by telling Moses to get some of the elders together, and then to follow God's leading. The leading is precisely to a rock, presumably a rock of impressive size. Strike the rock, says God, and when Moses does, water springs forth and all the people drink their fill. Moses names the place Massah, which means "test," and Meribah, which means "quarrel." And then we have that interesting final statement, where the grumbling and arguing of the people boils down simply to this: is God with us, or not?

The Psalmist gives us an exuberant response, singing and making a joyful noise to. . .the rock of their salvation! Aha, and it was out of the rock that water sprang forth! To make sure his hearers get the point, the Psalmist enjoins them not to be like those quarrelsome ancestors at Massah and Meribah! For we know that The Lord is with us!

Now skip to the text in John. We all know the story; the lone woman at the well speaks with Jesus, and each time that his answers show he knows too much about her, she changes the subject. But Jesus stays with his message: he can give her living water. There is so much compacted into this story of the Samaritan woman that the text holds sermons for a month of Sundays, but given the companion texts in Exodus and Psalms, leave those possible sermons for another day and stay with the imagery of living water. In Exodus, God tells Moses to strike the rock so that the water may flow. In the gospel story we know that Jesus himself will be struck with blows and rods and ultimately with nails. But somehow, amazingly, against all hope, the living water of life will flow. This flow of water is more than the dark scene on Calvary, where the wound from the spear yields blood and water mingled. Rather, the "living water" is Easter Sunday, resurrection, triumph over all that would undo us. The "rock" is struck: living water flows evermore. Is God with us? Oh yes.

In Romans, it's as if the Apostle Paul offers a theological commentary on the three texts. We, through our own orneriness and sin, are akin to those complaining, quarrelsome Israelites in the desert. We lack the water of life. But God, in mercy, goes before us, reveals his presence in Christ, his presence with us. Paul interprets the death of Christ as a means of reconciling us to God, of bringing life out of death: Christ's death releases us from our many deaths into Christ's own resurrected life. As such, the sufferings we all encounter are disempowered; they are no longer able to undo us. Rather, the grace of God pours into us, and the love of God empowers us to the extent that, as Paul says in another text, we are more than conquerors in Christ. Now ask the Exodus question again: Is God with us? Answer with the Psalmist and all those through the ages who sing the exultant hymn of Easter, YES! OH YES!