Branching Out Blog

"Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday in Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 11, 2023 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(Chapter 17:3-7)

In the scene described in this reading, the Israelites have been wandering in the dessert for years since their escape from Egypt; they are hungry and thirsty. They complain to Moses,“Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die of thirst with our children and our livestock?” In Egypt, they had led a horrible existence of slavery and violence; yet, that seems better compared to their present suffering. “So, Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people?’” The Lord instructs Moses to go to the rock of Horeb: “Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.”

So goes the continuing story of God’s relationship with the Israelites. With each crisis they face, their faith is tested, often beyond their ability to be faithful. No matter! God is always with them.

Thousands of years later, we face our own crises on personal and societal levels. A family member dies painfully, tragically, or unexpectedly. Sickness strikes. A relationship shatters. Addiction takes over a family. And then there are the crises of our society: the pandemic, hunger, poverty, homelessness, injustice, racism, sexism, climate change. Our relationship with God is tested in all these crises.

The key to our relationship with God and our spiritual, emotional, and physical health is what God has said to us in the Hebrew Scriptures and what Jesus said in the Gospels: “I am with you always.”

 Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Do you know someone who has a hardened heart, someone who can no longer hear God’s voice? Maybe your prayer for that person will reach his or her. It may take a while, maybe a long while, but do not give up. “I am with you.”

A reading St. Paul's Letters to the Romans

(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)

Paul tells his brothers and sisters in Rome, “Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope for the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Let’s read that last line again: “The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” It is not as though the love of God is something outside of us. No, it is within us, because the very Spirit of God is in us. Do you believe that God’s Spirit is alive in you?

A reading from the holy Gospel according to John

(Chapter 4:5-42)

This is the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, and it links with our first reading about water flowing from a rock through the power of God.

“Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well…. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her ‘Give me a drink.’” The woman then asked, “‘How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman for a drink? For Jews have nothing to do with Samaritans….’ 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.’”

The woman was skeptical and asked him, “Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I will give will never thirst; the water I will give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

This woman had a hard life, with five husbands, but Jesus did not condemn her. She believed in him and told everyone in town about him. Jesus wound up staying there two days, and, “Many more began to believe in him because of his word.”

The fact that Jesus spoke in public to a woman who was not his wifeand a Samaritan at thatshocked his disciples at first, but Jesus did not care. He wanted to reach out to someone whose neighbors might have seen her as a great sinner, so he said, “the Father seeks such people to worship him.” She did, and so did the other Samaritans who were considered by Jewish people to be heretics. We can declare with them: “We know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

   

 ✝️

Painting: Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guernico), 1640-1641. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. Public domain.

Excerpts from the English translation of the Lectionary for Mass © 1969, 1981, 1997, International Commission on English in the Liturgy Corporation (ICEL). All rights reserved.
 
Bill Ayres was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. He has been a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years and has two weekly Sunday-night shows on WPLJ, 95.5 FM in New York. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.

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Topics: woman at the well, Hear the Word! by Bill Ayres, Third Sunday of Lent

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 19, 2022 6:00:00 AM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(These readings from Cycle A may be used on this Sunday)

(Chapter 17:3-7)

When the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they entered a desert land that was hardly habitable. There was little food, so God provided manna and quail for the people to eat. In this passage, they are angry because there is no water, a complaint that seems reasonable in a climate that is 100 degrees with the sun beating down. Would you complain? I would.

So, the people test God (that is what Massah means) and quarrel with God (that is what Meriba means) and God comes through. Moses strikes a rock and water pours forth. Remember, this is a story filled with symbolism, so the staff with which Moses strikes the rock is the same staff that he used to part the water so the Israelites could cross the sea dry-shod and escape Pharoah’s army and slavery in Egypt. The question that the people were asking“Is the Lord in our midst?”—was answered with a powerful “Yes!”

Sometimes, in our darkest, most challenging moments we may ask the same question. Where are you, God, to help me out in this tragedy, depression, betrayal, loss, illness, or worse? The answer is always the same. It is the promise that appears most often in the Hebrew scriptures and in the words and actions of Jesus, “I am with you.”

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 95)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” This is not about hearing voices in your head. How do we really hear God’s voice? It is in prayer, listening to and reading the scriptures, and in our relationships with the people in our lives. We never know when God will speak to us through events and people. The key is listening with the heart as well as the ears.

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Topics: woman at the well, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, RENEW International, Third Sunday of Lent, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit

'Hear the Word!' by Bill Ayres: Third Sunday of Lent

Posted by Bill Ayres on Mar 6, 2021 6:00:00 PM

A reading from the Book of Exodus

(Chapter 20:1-17)

Here the Hebrews are given the Ten Commandments by God, through Moses. The first three deal with every person’s relationship with God, and the first commandment sets the Jewish people apart from all other nations. At that time, most people were polytheiststhat is, they worshiped many gods that were not the one God: the sun, moon, stars, animals, and many more. Over the years, the Hebrews, too, were tempted to engage in false worship. This commandment is the most important of all, because it creates a powerful bond between God and the whole nation and with each person. Yet the bond was always in danger of being broken by false worship.

The last seven commandments deal with a person’s relationship with others. These, too, constituted a quantum step forward in laying out standards for good behavior within families and communities. Of course, the commandments were stated in the context of a society thousands of years ago, a patriarchal society that we are still struggling to go beyond, a society in which there is no slavery or gender inequality.

Responsorial Psalm

(Psalm 19)

“Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.” On one level, the commandments are words of everlasting life, but on a much deeper level, Jesus is the Word of God who gives us the gift of everlasting life.

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Topics: Bill Ayres, Lent, Reflections on the coming Sunday's Gospel, Third Sunday of Lent

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