Exodus 17:3 – 7
This Sunday, we hear the well-known account of God providing water from the rock for the disgruntled Israelites in the desert. As we recall from the first 14 chapters of this book, they had escaped the Egyptians and had spent a little over a month in the desert before they complained about having no food. In chapter 16, we hear them complain about having no food and how God provides them with manna and quail (cf. 16:1 – 3, 13 – 15). Then, they moved on to Rephidim, where there was no water (cf. Nm 33:10 – 15). Before we read the passage we will hear on Sunday, however, let’s read Dt 8:1 – 6; their wandering in the desert was a way for God to test them. Remember that as we review Sunday’s pericope.
Of course, I think we can all relate to the Israelites; after all, it seems that they had good reason to complain. They didn’t know where they were going, they didn’t have enough food and water and, at least in Egypt they had a place to lay their heads and food to eat. We’re all a little like that, too, aren’t we? We prefer the familiar and hesitate to put our absolute trust in God. But, that’s what he calls us to do. Let’s review the reading with this in mind.
Although we will start with verse 3 on Sunday, let’s begin with verse 1:
1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole Israelite community journeyed by stages, as the Lord directed them, and encamped at Rephidim. But there was no water for the people to drink
Rephidim: (רְפִידִם means “place of rest”). In case you look for them on your maps, you will probably find no listing of Elim or Rephidim; we just are not sure where they are although some Protestant scholars place Rephidim near Mount Sinai, where some traditions place Moses’ receiving the Ten Commandments.
2 and so they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
and so they quarreled with Moses: as Moses points out so well, their argument isn’t with him – after all, he isn’t hiding a well behind his tent for his own use – but with God.
3 Here, then, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?”
“Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Notice the language; they are talking as if they are still slaves whom Moses rounded up and drove into the desert. Actually, it was their free choice to follow Moses; he simply led them at God’s direction to escape servitude.
4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!”
5 The LORD answered Moses, “Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river.
the staff with which you struck the river: this is the same staff that Moses threw on the ground before Pharaoh and it turned into a serpent. It was the same staff he then used to turn the Nile River blood red and, as they left Egypt, he used it again to control the Red Sea, allowing the Israelites to cross over on dry land and drowning the Egyptian army.
6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
7 The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”
Massah . . . Meribah: Hebrew words meaning respectively, “the (place of the) test,” and, “the (place of the) quarreling.”
Test…quarreling: As we heard in the Book of Deuteronomy, the desert was a testing ground where the people had to face the question of whether or not they could learn to trust God and God’s providence. But, the people turned into a place where the people tested God.
For another version of this incident, let’s look at Nm 20:2-13. And, for a NT reference to this, let’s look at 1 Cor 10:4. And, remember the earlier incident with water in Ex 15:22 – 27. There is debate among scripture scholars about whether these are three distinct incidents, or just variations of a single event. Let’s look at Dt 33:8. Whether there are three distinct incidents or just one, the purpose of the incident is clear: to see how the people would respond to God’s test.
John 4:5 – 42
This Sunday, we hear the Johannine account of Jesus’ first revelation to the Gentiles. Remember, the Gospel on the First Sunday of Lent recounted Jesus’ temptation. Last week, we heard Jesus’ transfiguration – the revelation of his divinity to his closest companions. This Sunday, his divinity is revealed to the Gentiles. This narrative also permits John to develop the theme of the water of Judaism being replaced by the life-giving water of Christ. The rabbinical teachings compare the Torah with water (as cleansing, as satisfying thirst, as promoting life). Jesus is the fulfillment of what the Law could only promise.
Before we begin to read this Sunday’s pericope, let’s remember the purpose of the Gospels: accounts told by believers to believers to assure them that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God who came to bring God’s kingdom among us. John’s Gospel stories have multiple layers of meaning. Every movement, every line of dialogue, has a rationale and a message – all are open to multiple interpretations and understandings.
Let’s also notice the ironic contrast between the first reading and the gospel. In the first reading, the people are thirst and God provides them with water. In the gospel account, however, it is God – in the person of Jesus – who is thirsty. He asks for water from a well that is associated with God’s care of his people through one of the patriarchs – Jacob. But, God is really thirsting for a renewed relationship with all people, as is personified in the Samaritan woman.
To get a fuller understanding of the setting for Sunday’s reading, let’s begin at the beginning of chapter 4.
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John
2 (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples),
3 he left Judea and returned to Galilee.
Here, we learn that Jesus is involved in an activity with water – baptizing at the Jordan River. Like light and darkness, water is a constant theme in John’s Gospel.
4 He had to pass through Samaria.
He had to pass through Samaria: Actually, he didn’t – the Jews would usually cross over the Jordan and bypass Samaria, so he chose to do so for a reason. As you will notice in your footnote, this is a theological necessity. In fact, the Greek wording here can be translated as “he felt the need to.”
5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Sychar: Jerome identifies this with Shechem, a reading found in Syriac manuscripts. Let’s read Gn. 33:18-20 to learn how Jacob would come to dig a well here.
6 Jacob’s well was there.
The location of Jacob’s well is well known; it lies just outside Askar, which is near Shechem. In Jesus’ time, this was deep in Samaritan territory so we see here, in John’s Gospel, that Jesus is already beginning his ministry among the Gentiles early in his ministry; this is very different from the Synoptic Gospels that present Jesus’ ministry strictly among the Jews.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
sat down there at the well: Why didn’t Jesus join his disciples as they went into town? I always think of him saving a seat by the well as the disciples went and got some food, just as we would do in a crowded snack shop. By sitting down at Jacob’s well, Jesus was doing more than resting. He was symbolically putting himself in the place of the ancient well as the new source of life.
It was about noon: This is the same hour when Jesus would be crucified. This is his hour, the hour when his saving work was done.
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
8 His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.)
Not only was it unheard of for a rabbi to speak familiarly with a woman in public but also for a Jew to request water from a Samaritan. Samaritan women were regarded by Jews as ritually impure, and therefore Jews were forbidden to drink from any vessel they had handled. Jesus is untroubled by such restrictions; he even spoke favorably of Samaritans (cf. Lk 10:33; 17:16)
10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Living water: the water of life, i.e., the revelation that Jesus brings; the woman thinks of “flowing water,” so much more desirable than stagnant cistern water. This figure of speech is taken from the OT (cf. Jer 2:13; Ez 47:9). John uses the device of misunderstanding to teach(cf. 3:3 for an earlier example).
11 (The woman) said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?
Sir: the Greek kyrios means “master” or “lord,” as a respectful mode of address for either a human being or a deity; cf John 4:19. It is also the word used in the Septuagint for the Hebrew ‘adonai, substituted for the tetragrammaton YHWH. Notice, in this story – just as in the story of the cure of the man born blind, which we will hear next Sunday – the woman progresses in her understanding of Jesus, from “a Jew” to “sir” to “a prophet” and finally “Christ.”
12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?”
Are you greater: The woman is being sarcastic, but there is irony in her statement for the one who is reading or listening to this story who is aware that Jesus is, indeed, greater than Jacob.
13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again;
14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.”
“Go call your husband and come back.” Have you ever wondered why Jesus would ask this question? It doesn’t seem to follow logically from the conversation that has preceded it. But, in doing so, he opens a conversation that is full of deeper meaning. Remember, the Old Testament frequently compared God’s relationship with his people to a marriage. The Samaritan people are seen as having divorced themselves from God and engaged in several other marriages, first with the Assyrians, then the Syrians, worshiping their gods. The woman’s recognition of Jesus as a prophet recalls the use by the prophets of the Old Testament of this imagery.
17 The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
This mountain: Gerizim, on which a temple was erected in the fourth century B.C. by Samaritans to rival Mt. Zion in Jerusalem; it was here that the Samaritans worshiped (cf. Deut 27:;4 Mt. Ebal = the Jews’ term for Gerizim). Jesus responds that the time will come when this argument will be irrelevant.
21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
22 You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews.
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
In Spirit and truth: not a reference to an interior worship within one’s own spirit. The Spirit is the spirit given by God that reveals truth and enables one to worship God appropriately (John 14:16-17). Cf “born of water and Spirit (John 3:5). Spirit is not seen as a limiting reality, but speaks of God’s life-giving ability.
24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Anointed; when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
The expectations of the Samaritans are expressed here in Jewish terminology. They did not expect a messianic king of the house of David but a prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15).
26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.”
I am he: it could also be translated “I am,” an Old Testament self-designation of Yahweh (Isaiah 43:3, etc.); cf John 6:20; 8:24,28,58; 13:19; 18:5-6,8. See the note on Mark 6:50.
27 At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
Talking with her: the Samaritans were despised by the Jews because they had sold out to the Syrians and then the Assyrians and had worshiped their gods. Consequently, the Jews were forbidden to associate with Samaritans, a religious and social restriction that Jesus is pictured treating as unimportant.
28 The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people,
left her water jar: now that she has met the source of living water, she has no need of any other.
29 “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah?”
30 They went out of the town and came to him.
31 Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
33 So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”
Again, the disciples misunderstand Jesus; meanwhile, he sums up his entire work!
35 Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
“In four months . . .’: probably a proverb; cf Matthew 9:37-38.
36 The reaper is already receiving his payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
37 For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”
39 Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.”
began to believe in him because of the word of the woman: The woman is presented as a missionary, described in virtually the same words as the disciples are in Jesus’ prayer (John 17:20).
40 When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days.
41 Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
42 and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”
Romans 5:1 – 2, 5 – 8
We hear from Paul’s letter to the Romans this Sunday. Remember, Paul is writing to a community that he did not form but is intending to meet when he gets to Rome.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
(1-11) Popular piety frequently construed reverses and troubles as punishment for sin; cf. John 9:2. Paul therefore assures believers that God’s justifying action in Jesus Christ is a declaration of peace. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ displays God’s initiative in certifying humanity for unimpeded access into the divine presence. Reconciliation is God’s gift of pardon to the entire human race. Through faith, one benefits personally from this pardon or, in Paul’s term, is justified. The ultimate aim of God is to liberate believers from the pre-Christian self as described in Romans 1-3. Since this liberation will first find completion in the believer’s resurrection, salvation is described as future in Romans 5:10. Because this fullness of salvation belongs to the future it is called the Christian hope. Paul’s Greek term for hope does not, however, suggest a note of uncertainty, to the effect: “I wonder whether God really means it.” Rather, God’s promise in the gospel fills believers with expectation and anticipation for the climactic gift of unalloyed commitment in the holy Spirit to the performance of the will of God. The persecutions that attend Christian commitment are to teach believers patience and to strengthen this hope, which will not disappoint them because the holy Spirit dwells in their hearts and imbues them with God’s love (Romans 5:5).
We have peace: a number of manuscripts, versions, and church Fathers read “Let us have peace”; cf Romans 14:19.
2 through whom we have gained access (by faith) to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
3 Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance,
4 and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,
5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
6 For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
7 Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
good person: In the world of Paul’s time the good person is especially one who is magnanimous to others.
8 But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
The readings this week – the third week of Lent – invite us to reflect on the reality that our faith is based on a personal encounter with God – and especially with Christ. Our baptism reminds us of the life-giving water that God provides all who put their trust in him. And, as we put our faith in God, we live in greater peace.