Sunday Sermon for March 27, 2011, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A
Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42
St. Paul tells us in the second reading that we have been justified by faith and that it is through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ that we have peace with God and access to the grace of God. He goes on to speak about the love of God that has been proven to us beyond reason by the fact that He sent His Son to die for us while we were sinners. This faith in God and His love for us is our only hope for salvation, but in the other two readings today we see that this faith and salvation are not so simple for us to obtain.
In the first reading we hear about Moses bringing the people across the desert. As usual, the people are whining and complaining, this time due to a lack of water for their children and livestock. The complaints are certainly reasonable as I think we could all understand if our own children were growing faint from thirst. However, the point that is of importance for us to see here is that the people had no faith in God. They are just like us: when things get difficult, rather than turning to God, we tend to turn in on ourselves or we turn ourselves against others.
I often marvel at how little humanity has changed over these past 3500 years. The ancient Israelites could just have easily been 21st century Americans who whine and complain about every little thing. We seem never to be satisfied, but rather than turning to God, we either try to control the situation ourselves or we just complain. Moses, at least, turned to the Lord and God showed Him the solution to the problem. If Moses had turned in on himself or fought back against the angry people, none of them would have received the water God provided from the rock.
Keep in mind that these are the people who had seen all of the plagues God had visited on Egypt, they had seen the Red Sea open up to allow them passage and then close suddenly on the Egyptians, they had seen and heard the various wonders at Mount Sinai, but they placed no real faith in God. Thankfully Moses was able to intervene for the people, but while the faith of Moses could obtain the water that kept the people alive, the faith of Moses could not obtain the grace of God for the people that would bring them eternal life. Each person would have to choose whether to believe in God or not. Of course, we know that everyone, save two, failed to enter the Promised Land due to their lack of faith.
We also know from the accounts related in both the Old and New Testaments that true faith in God and in His Messiah continued to be a problem for the Israelites. When our Lord came to them He did so in a hidden manner. They had the Scriptures, they knew the prophecies, now they would be required to make an explicit act of faith in Jesus as their long awaited Messiah. On the other hand, on many occasions when our Lord was addressing people who were not Jewish, He was much more explicit about who He was. This is probably because they did not have the fullness of God’s revelation, so He would speak more clearly to them so that they could make an explicit act of faith.
We see this in the Gospel reading today when our Lord speaks with the Samaritan woman. The disciples cringed at the fact that He was talking with a Samaritan woman; we would probably cringe at the fact that He was speaking with someone so deep in the pit of sin. It is to this woman that our Lord bluntly states that He is the Messiah. The woman believes, goes to town to tell others who, after two days of hearing the Lord, make an explicit act of faith that He is the Savior of the World.
Jesus still reveals Himself to people steeped in sin and to those who are not even Christian. We should not need such extraordinary revelations because we have been given the fullness of truth. Like the Israelites of old, we tend either to ignore the gifts of God, take them for granted, or whine and seek for more. St. Paul reminds us that we need faith to be justified, faith to be at peace with God and faith to have access to God’s grace and eternal life which is its goal. It is time we get the focus off of ourselves and put it on to God Whose love for us was proven on the Cross. We need to quit complaining and live by faith in the Lord.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.