A reading from the Book of Exodus
(These readings from Cycle A may be used on this Sunday)
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.”
“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.
A reading from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans
(Chapter 5:1-2, 5-8)
Paul gives us a message of hope. “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.” This is the ultimate “I am with you.” Paul is telling us that the Holy Spirit, the very presence of the third person of the Holy Trinity, lives within each of us. Of course, saying that is not enough, we need to experience it and believe in the Spirit within us. Do you pray to the Holy Spirit, have conversations with this deep inner presence? Do you sometimes sense the Spirit in someone else or in something you hear or read or encounter in nature, or in the love of someone you also love? Amid all the electronic communication that bombards you every day, try to go inside for a while so you can deal more sanely and happily with the outside world.
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to John
Jesus is tired and thirsty, so he goes to the communal well, talks to a woman there, and asks her for a drink. This could be seen as three strikes against Jesus, three mistakes that a good Jewish man should never commit. First, he talks to a woman who is by herself. Second, she is a Samaritan; Jews consider her people heretics. Third, accepting a drink from a Samaritan would have made him ritually unclean. Shame! Three strikes and you are out. But Jesus came for all, and here he is reaching out beyond his usual audience, his fellow Jews. Jesus wants to expand the notion of what water really means. He tells the woman, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water that I shall give shall become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Water was life to the people in the desert, and God gave them water. Water is life to us, and God bathes us in the water of Baptism and gives us the Holy Spirit to be with us always. That is who we are. That is the gift of life that God has given to us, life shared in the community of the Trinity. It makes everything different if we accept the gift. Let us consciously try over and over to accept the gift as it is given in so many ways that we may have missed or shut out.
Painting: Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Angelika Kauffmann, 1796. 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 Ayers was a founder, with the late singer Harry Chapin, of WhyHunger. Bill was a radio and TV broadcaster for 40 years. He is a member of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, New York.