Saturday after Ash Wednesday

Today’s readings

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”

This past Sunday, I was coming down with the upper respiratory infection I now am getting over.  It really came on suddenly, with a vengeance, and I was thinking last weekend if I took care of myself it would all go away quietly.  On Sunday night, my mother told me, “you better go to the doctor.”  I thought, no, I’ll just wait a couple of days and it will go away.

Well, it didn’t.  Monday it was much worse, and I took Mom’s advice and went to see my doctor.  I’m glad I did because I’m actually making progress and feeling a little better each day.  But to get there, I had to admit that I was sick, that I needed a physician, which is exactly what our Gospel reading calls us to do this morning.

That one line is significant: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.”  Anyone who has battled an addiction will tell you how true it is.  You cannot make any progress is wellness in any aspect of life if you don’t admit you’re sick.  And we all have difficulty doing that sometimes, I think, and much to our demise.

It’s important that we learn to do that in the spiritual life.  If you don’t think you need a physician for your spiritual life, congratulations, you can skip Lent.  In fact you don’t even need a Savior!  I say that in jest, but really it’s true.  Jesus is very clear today: he came to call sinners to conversion, and that includes all of us.  All of us, myself included, maybe even foremost among all, need conversion in our spiritual lives.  And the good news is that Jesus gives us Lent to do just that.  Be converted, be healed, be made whole so that the glory of Easter can brighten our lives.

So our reflection this morning is two-fold.  First, where and how do I need the Divine Physician in my life right now?  And second, invite him in and let him heal us.

The Second Sunday of Advent

Today’s readings
#advent #adventnd

Have you ever had the feeling hat things were just not right? I don’t mean not right like you got the wrong order at Portillo’s, or your postal delivery person gave you the neighbor’s mail. I mean, really not right, in a fundamental sense, like the world was off its axis in some way. I think these days we’ve gotten a sense of that after having been through a particularly contentious and almost ridiculous election campaign, and in view of the violence in our cities and all around the world. It seems in some way that we are more adrift than ever.

And perhaps even a bit closer to home, we could all probably think of times in our lives when things just haven’t been right: times of transition, times dealing with the illness of a loved one, or family difficulty, times when we have been looking for new work or trying to discern a path in life. These are unsettling times that we all have to experience every now and then.

So in view of the craziness in our world, and the sadness that sometimes happens in our own life, it’s easy to get to feeling like things are just not right.

And God knows it isn’t right. He’s known that for a long time. The whole Old Testament is filled with God’s lament of how things went wrong, and his attempts to bring it back. The fourth Eucharistic Prayer sums it up by saying to God, “Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.” But, as we well know from our studies of the Scriptures and its proclamation in the Liturgy, again and again humankind turned away from the covenant and away from the God of our salvation. Ever since the fall, things just haven’t been right.

So what is it going to take for all of this to turn around? What is going to get things whipped back into shape? Albert Einstein once said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Nothing ever changes if nothing ever changes. Things don’t suddenly become right by continuing to do the wrong thing. I really think the only way things will ever change is by starting over. And that’s what I believe God is doing, in our time, throughout all time, and particularly in this Advent time.

Today’s first reading speaks of this new creation: a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. It’s quite a visual, and when I think about it, I remember a young woman in a previous parish who once visited the concentration camp at Auschwitz. She saw the horrible death chambers and holding cells. But she also noticed, that growing up through the cracks in the asphalt, were some beautiful little wild flowers. Her tour guide commented that that was nature’s way of healing what had gone on there. It was a new creation, breaking up through the horrible devastation of the murder and destruction that had reigned in that place.

The bud that blossoms from God’s new creation is something completely different, something incredibly wonderful, something that would never be possible in the old order: “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” None of those species would ever get along in the old creation; none of them would ever have been safe. But in the new creation, all of them will know the Lord, and that knowledge will give them new life, a new direction, new hope and a new salvation.

In today’s gospel reading, Saint John the Baptist proclaims the coming of Christ who will do things in a new way, too: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The all-consuming fire of the Holy Spirit will burn away all that is not right and heat up all that has been frozen in listless despair for far too long. That fire will force a division between what is old and just not right, and what is of the new creation: “He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

All of these are nice words, and the idea of a new creation is one for which I think we all inwardly yearn. But what does it really mean? What does it look like? How will we know that we are moving toward new creation and new life? I think Saint Paul gives us a hint in the second reading today: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to be people who think and act in harmony with one another and with Christ. We have to be people of unity.

Which is, as most things are, so much easier to say than to actually do. For one thing, if we are really to be created anew, that means that some of the old stuff has to die: the death chambers have to be closed, the chaff has to be burnt up in the fire. Our old, stinkin’ attitudes have to be abandoned: resentments have to be put aside, rivalries have to be ended, forgiveness has to be offered and accepted, jealousies have to be thrown away. All of that festering, disease-ridden thinking has to be put to death if we are ever to experience new life.

The death of that old nonsense then has to give way to the new life that God intends for us. We have to be a people marked by new attitudes, new grace, new love. We have to strive for peace and justice – real peace and real justice available to everyone God has created. We have to be a community who worships God not just here in Church, but also out there in our daily lives: a community that insists on integrity, a community that genuinely cares for those who are sick, in need, or lost. We have to be a people who worship God first every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, who confess our sins with hope of God’s mercy, who give priority to prayer in the midst of our crazy lives.

Most of all, we have to be a people who are open to being re-created. If we are not willing to put to death our old stinkin’ selves and embrace new attitudes and ways of living, if we are not in fact willing to take up our crosses and follow Christ, then we are proving Einstein right: we are doing the same old thing and hoping for a different result. It doesn’t work that way. We have to cooperate with God’s new creation, we have to be eager to let God do something new. We have to be willing to live out of boxes for a while, so that the transition can take place. We have to have unwavering hope that giving ourselves to God’s re-creation will be worth it, if not immediately, then certainly in the long run. We have to truly believe our Psalmist’s song: “Justice will flower in his days, and profound peace, till the moon be no more.”

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

If we think that we are the ones who get to determine the direction of our lives, we are dead wrong.

Look at Saul: educated in all the finest Jewish schools, well-versed in the Law and the Prophets, and zealous for the faith to a fault. He was absolutely the model Jewish man and had credentials that came directly from the high priests. Everyone knew of him, and his fame – or infamy – spread all over the Judean countryside. He had participated in the stoning of Saint Stephen, letting the cloaks of the ones stoning him be piled at his feet. He was bringing all the followers of Christ back in chains to be tried and punished for following this new way. He was even on his way to Damascus to collect “the brothers” – that is, the apostles – and put them on trial. The man was greatly feared.

Look at Ananias. He was no fool. He was well-acquainted with Saul’s evil plans and did everything he could to stay out of his path. He obviously wanted to stay out of prison, but more than that, he wanted to keep people like Saul from destroying the community of the followers of Jesus. Ananias was every bit as zealous for the faith as Saul was.

They both knew the direction of their lives and thought they had it all planned out. But they were dead wrong.

God can take the most zealous and stable of us and throw our whole lives into confusion. He sometimes uses great means to get our attention and move us in a new direction. Like a bright light, or a vision. But sometimes he uses quiet words in prayer or the gentle nudging of a friend. Conversion is a life-long process for all of us, and in St. Paul’s and Annanias’s stories, we can see the danger of being too entrenched in what we think is right. The only judge of what is really right for us is God alone, and when we forget that, we might be in for a rude awakening.

The whole purpose of all of our lives, brothers and sisters, is to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” The way that we do that is to constantly listen for God’s voice and always be willing to go wherever he leads us.

The Third Sunday of Lent: Scrutiny I

Today’s readings

Note: This homily was for the Mass at which the RCIA Elect was present for the First Scrutiny, so particular readings are used for that.  All other Masses used the readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle B, including Jesus clearing the temple courtyard.

What is it going to take to quench the thirst that you have right now?

We’re lucky; we live in a part of the world where we can reach for all sorts of things when we’re thirsty. There is soda of all kinds, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages, and all kinds of hot drinks like coffee and tea. But not all of them are appropriate all the time. For example I love coffee, tea and occasionally a good glass of wine. But after I’ve exercised or done some kind of strenuous work, or walked outside when it’s hot, none of those things can help me. In those moments, I need a cold glass of water. Our bodies are made up largely of water, and so when that level is low, there’s only one thing that can quench our thirst.

So again, what is it going to take to quench the thirst that you have right now?

There’s a lot of water in today’s Liturgy of the Word. The Israelites, near the beginning of their forty year journey through the desert, are beginning to miss some of the comforts of home, like water! So when they complain to the Lord, he gives them water in the desert. Which is pretty amazing – they had water in the desert! And in our Gospel today, our Lord stops along his own journey to get a drink of water from the Samaritan woman – and this whole interaction is less about Jesus’ physical thirst than it is about other kinds of thirst in the story – but more on that in a bit.

We always have to think about why the Church is giving us these particular readings on this particular day. Why is it that we have part of the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert and the rather strange story of the interaction with the woman at the well today? Well, (no pun intended) whenever there’s this much water being mentioned in the readings, we need to think of a particular sacrament, and that sacrament of course is Baptism.

Now maybe it makes a little sense. We have our Elect, Brandon, with us today, and he is preparing to receive baptism at the Easter Vigil. But even that’s not the whole story. because this reading is for all of us. Lent itself is about baptism, and even if we’ve already been baptized, there’s still work to do. We are still being converted to become more like our Lord every day of our life. That’s what Lent is all about – getting back on the path and going a little farther forward. Lent points out for all of us that we’re still thirsty.

So again, what is it going to take to quench the thirst you have right now?

For the Israelites, it’s hard to know what was going to help them. They’re just at the beginning of their journey and already they’re complaining. They get thirsty and the first thing they do is complain – not pray – and tell Moses that they’d rather be back in Egypt in slavery than out wandering around in the desert with nothing to quench their thirst. And it’s not like the slavery they experienced in Egypt was a minor inconvenience – it was pretty horrible and if they missed their quota even by a little bit, they were severely beaten. But sometimes it’s better the devil you know: sometimes we get stuck on what we’ve become used to and have given up yearning for something more.

For the woman at the well, there’s a lot stacked against her and there is no reason Jesus should have been talking to her. In fact, the disciples, when they return and witness it, aren’t really sure what they should make of it. Because in that culture, nobody talked to Samaritans – it would be like striking up a casual conversation with an Isis member. And for a man to speak to an unaccompanied woman was unthinkable. But Jesus knew she was thirsty – see it wasn’t about his thirst at all, except, as Saint Augustine tells us, Jesus was thirsting for her faith.

It’s a pretty weird conversation, to be honest. But in talking about her five previous husbands and the Samaritans’ practice of worshipping on the mountain, Jesus was pointing out how her own search for something to quench her thirst was so far pretty futile. She was looking for love in all the wrong places. The five men she was married to represented a history of failed attempts at finding love. And the guy she was shacked up with now represented the fact that she’d pretty much given up. But on some level, the fact that Jesus knew all this without her saying it woke her up a bit. And so then they talk about how the Samaritans worshiped. They were looking for God on the mountain, but the thing is, the God they were looking for is the same one that she had been searching for in her relationships, and he was standing right in front of her now.

So what is it that is finally going to quench the thirst you have right now?

Are you going to stay in the slavery of your former way of life, or do you want to journey on to the Promised Land? Are you going to continue to be content with failed or broken relationships, or are you going to refresh them with Living Water? Are you going to continue to leave God up on that mountaintop where he doesn’t get in the way of your daily life, until you need something? Or are you going to look him in the eye and ask him to give you what you really need so you’ll never thirst again?

Because for the Israelites, it wasn’t really water they needed. They needed a renewed relationship with God. And the woman at the well didn’t need those guys who weren’t leading her to right worship. She needed Living Water. In fact, she became so convinced of it that she left her bucket behind – that bucket that symbolized her former way of life.

We’re all on a journey. Brandon’s doesn’t end at the Easter Vigil when I pour water over his head – it starts there. All of us together are journeying on to the Promised Land of eternal life. And the only way we’re going to get there is by drinking deeply of the Living Water and allowing the One who gives it to us to lead us. It does mean that we’ll have to leave Egypt, and our buckets, behind.

The Twenty-fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I wonder if you find this Gospel parable a little aggravating. I know I do. Certainly the people hearing it in Jesus’ day would have been aggravated too. They knew the economics of day laboring better than we do (although day laborers are by no means extinct in the twenty-first century). The very thought that those who labored hard all day, in the sun, would get the same as those who worked but an hour was unthinkable. I dare say we find it that way too.

So it’s important for us to notice that this is not intended to be a parable about justice. Jesus tells us right away: “The kingdom of God is like a landowner…” So the parable is not about justice, but instead it is an illustration of the workings of the Kingdom of God. In one sense, that’s comforting, because Jesus is not telling us that we should run our businesses with lavish disregard for economic wisdom. I would be hard pressed to be convinced to even run the parish that way.

But now think about the fact that the parable is about the Kingdom of God. Jesus was delivering a message to the religious establishment: they didn’t have the monopoly on the kingdom. They thought they had earned God’s reward, and Jesus tells them it doesn’t work that way. It’s not about what you’ve done or how long you’ve been doing it, it’s about God’s mercy and love that is poured out with lavish generosity. They would have found that pretty irritating.

And maybe some of us do, too. Do you mean to tell me that those of us who have worked hard and long for the mission and spent our days and nights at church might inherit just as much as someone who ignores the Gospel and converts on his or her death bed? Well, yes. That could be. Many years ago now, I heard about the deathbed conversion of actor John Wayne.  I thought at the time, “Gee, that’s convenient.”  Here he may well have led a life of excess and who knows what all debauchery and only on his deathbed was he willing to form a relationship with God.  Here those of us disciples have been working hard at it all this time, and yet some can get it just at the last minute?  That makes me bristle with thoughts of unfairness.  But, as the prophet Isaiah tells us today, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts, and our ways are not God’s ways.

It’s important to note that we cannot pass judgment on anyone. I don’t know the details about John Wayne’s life and certainly not about his relationship with the Lord. Who knows if a conversion wasn’t something he had been looking forward to for a long time and he didn’t know how to make it happen. The important thing is that his desire was granted, in the waning moments of his life, and God is generous. That’s all we need to know.

Let’s face it, none of us wants God to be too strict an accountant. No matter how hard we may try to be good disciples, we often fall short in big ways and small ways. God gives us second chances all the time. And thank God he’s generous, or we’d all of us be in a world of hurt, without exception. Pope Francis is reminding us all of that kind of humility and its value, and we would do well to live it. The last line of the Gospel is hopeful: “The first will be last and the last will be first.” So whether you’re first or last, you still have the possibility of life eternal. News doesn’t get any better than that.

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul

Today’s readings

If we think that we are the ones who get to determine the direction of our lives, we are dead wrong.

Look at Saul: educated in all the finest Jewish schools, well-versed in the Law and the Prophets, and zealous for the faith to a fault.  He was absolutely the model Jewish man and had credentials that came directly from the high priests.  Everyone knew of him, and his fame – or infamy – spread all over the Judean countryside.  He had participated in the stoning of Saint Stephen, letting the cloaks of the ones stoning him be piled at his feet.  He was bringing all the followers of Christ back in chains to be tried and punished for following this new way.  He was even on his way to Damascus to collect “the brothers” – that is, the apostles – and put them on trial.  The man was greatly feared.

Look at Ananias.  He was no fool.  He was well-acquainted with Saul’s evil plans and did everything he could to stay out of his path.  He obviously wanted to stay out of prison, but more than that, he wanted to keep people like Saul from destroying the community of the followers of Jesus.  Ananias was every bit as zealous for the faith as Saul was.

They both knew the direction of their lives and thought they had it all planned out.  But they were dead wrong.

God can take the most zealous and stable of us and throw our whole lives into confusion.  He sometimes uses great means to get our attention and move us in a new direction.  Like a bright light, or a vision.  But sometimes he uses quiet words in prayer or the gentle nudging of a friend.  Conversion is a life-long process for all of us, and in St. Paul’s and Annanias’s stories, we can see the danger of being too entrenched in what we think is right.  The only judge of what is really right for us is God alone, and when we forget that, we might be in for a rude awakening.

The whole purpose of all of our lives, brothers and sisters, is to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.”  The way that we do that is to constantly listen for God’s voice and always be willing to go wherever he leads us.

The Third Sunday of Ordinary Time: No Time Like the Present!

Today’s readings

One of the things that I think plagues us modern people is that we tend to have delusions of eternity.  By that I mean, we tend to have a view that we have all the time in the world, and so we put off things that are truly important, because we always think we have plenty of time.  We put off going to confession, because we don’t have time to think about that right now, and besides it takes time to examine our conscience.  We put off being of service, because the kids have sports and we don’t even know where to start.  We put off our prayer life because we’re exhausted and it’s hard to quiet ourselves and let God speak to us.  It’s no wonder someone once said, “One of the greatest labor-saving inventions of today is tomorrow.”

So the readings today really speak to us.  The theme today is that there really is no time like the present.    In our first reading, after some procrastinating of his own, and ending up in the belly of a big fish, God has him disgorged on the shores of Nineveh to do what he was sent to do: preach repentance to the Ninevites.  The Ninevites were unspeakably evil to the Israelites, so it’s no wonder Jonah dragged his feet when it came to preaching to them.  Why would they listen to him?  And who cares if they didn’t?  Let God destroy them, he thought, and be out of our hair forever.  But that was not God’s will.  So he preaches repentance to them, and notice what happens: they immediately put on sackcloth and ashes and take up a fast.  They do penance for their evil deeds right now, and thus God repents of the punishment he had planned to inflict on them.

In our second reading, Saint Paul is very clear with the Corinthians: time is running out.  And because time is running out, there is no time like the present to cast off the concerns of this earthly existence.  So stop worrying about purely human relationships, stop worrying about weeping, rejoicing, buying and selling and using the world.  Because there’s not going to be a world here for long.

Now, I should mention that Saint Paul was certainly writing out of the view that people of his day generally had, which is that the second coming of Christ and the final judgment would happen very soon.  It did not, obviously, happen in their lifetimes, but the message is still valid.  We don’t know how much time we will have, and so ultimately we must always be prepared to go to heaven.  We can’t be putting it off: we have to cast off cares that are purely rooted in this life and hitch our wagons to what will bring us to the life to come.

And so we see the issue brought out in the call of the first apostles.  Jesus passes by a fishing town and calls to Andrew, Peter, James and John.  They don’t hesitate for a second when he tells them to “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”  They leave behind the boats, their fishing equipment, their family and even the workers who were hired to help them and follow Jesus.

I always wonder what made them do that.  I mean, here Jesus just passes by, gives them a one-sentence command, and they drop everything and follow him.  There was no plan laid out, he didn’t give them a bunch of reasons why they should do what he asked of them.  He just commanded, and they just followed.  Now, it occurs to me that perhaps they knew about Jesus beforehand.  Maybe they had heard him speak or at least heard people talk about Jesus.  So perhaps they were very eager to meet him.

And one wonders, too, how good they actually were at fishing.  Other stories in the Gospel seem to suggest they didn’t have much success.  They really never catch anything worth noting unless Jesus is there, telling them to put out into deep water, even though they had been hard at it all night.  Then they bring in hundreds of fish.

So maybe their quick obedience to the call of discipleship is a combination of things: they have a hard life and maybe aren’t making much of a living; they probably heard Jesus talk or heard about the miracles he had been performing; he spoke of a better life and the promise of eternity.  Maybe all of this made them very eager to jump at the chance to follow Jesus.  But whatever the reason is, we need to see that when they are called they follow immediately.  They don’t put it off; they don’t say, hey, let us bring in fish for today and send the hired men home.  They don’t ask for time to say goodbye to their family, they don’t hesitate even for a moment.  There is no time like the present: come, follow me.

We disciples also are called to be fishers of men.  And there is no time like the present.  We may not have tomorrow, so we have to preach the Good News to those God puts in our path, through our words and most importantly through our actions.  We don’t know when Jesus will return in glory and demand – as he is most worthy to demand – an accounting of our life and our blessings, so we have to reach out and be of service to every person in need, no matter who they are, even if they are as unspeakably evil as the Ninevites.  And on this day of prayer for the Sanctity of Human Life, in remembrance of the sad decision of Roe v Wade in 1973, we have to be a people who pray and write our legislators and take a stand for life in any way we can.  Thousands of babies die from abortion every year, the sick elderly are ignored, racism and discrimination continue even in this day and age, and so much more.  We know, we have been taught that life is precious from conception to natural death.  We need to tell the world how urgent that is so that no more lives would be wasted or suppressed for convenience.

The work of discipleship is of the utmost importance and is extremely urgent, souls need to be saved, hearts need to be won for the kingdom, lives need to be changed – and so we have to be willing to do it right now, not just when we’re good and ready, not when we have a few moments, not when things settle down a bit.

The Kingdom of God is that important, brothers and sisters.  When will we respond?  When will we give everything to follow God’s call in our own lives?  It better be now, because the world as we know it is passing away.

Friday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Just like John in today’s reading from the Revelation, we who are followers of Jesus are called to take in the Scriptures and internalize them.  And just as for him, they will first taste sweet: our initial experience with God, or even a fresh new experience of him will often be a pleasant encounter.  But eventually, the word becomes sour in our stomach as we realize what the word means for us.  We may have to change in some way, or end a toxic relationship, or take a leap of faith, or attack a pattern of sin.  None of that is easy, but like the Psalmist, we may remember what Jesus has in store for those who do his will and pray, “How sweet to my taste is your promise!”

Third Sunday of Lent [Scrutiny I]

Today’s readings

NB: This homily is based on the readings from cycle A, which was read just for the Mass of the Scrutiny.

Last year about this time, I got the flu – bad.  It was one of those rare occasions when I was so sick, I couldn’t even get out of bed.  I had a fever, chills, aches and pains, the whole deal. When it was at its worst, I was trying to drink a lot of fluids, which is pretty much the only thing you really can do when you have the flu. So I drank a lot of water, but as time went on, I got sick of drinking a lot of water. So I supplemented it with tea, of course, but I even gave myself permission to do something I don’t do very often, and that was to drink some soda – 7up mostly. And that tasted good, the 7up, but because it’s sugary, sooner rather than later I’d be thirsty again, and the only thing that really helped was – water.

I thought about that experience as I was preparing today’s homily, because this set of readings, which are being used just for this Mass because of the Scrutiny we will pray in a few minutes with our RCIA Elect, these readings are all about water. Whenever we see this much water in the Sunday readings, we should always think of a certain sacrament. Guess which one? Right, baptism. And so we’ll talk about that in just a minute, but before we go there, let’s take a minute to get at the subject of thirst. That, after all, is what gets us to water in the first place.

The Israelites were sure thirsty in today’s first reading. After all, they had been wandering around the desert for a while now, and would continue to do so for forty years. At that point, they were thinking about how nice it would have been if they had just remained slaves in Egypt, so that they wouldn’t have to come all the way out here to the desert just to die of thirst. Better slaves than dead, they thought. The issue was that they didn’t have what they thirsted for, and had not yet learned to trust God to quench that thirst. So Moses takes all the complaining of the people and complains to God, who provides water for them in the desert. Think about that – they had water in the desert! And they had that water for as long as they continued to make that desert journey. They never ran out, they didn’t die of thirst, God proves himself trustworthy in a miraculous way. The end of the reading says they named the place Massah and Meribah because they wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” Can you imagine that?  God had led them out of slavery in Egypt with great miracles and signs, and is guiding them through the desert with a column of cloud by day and a column of fire by night.  Is the LORD in their midst or not?  Obviously, the answer was “yes.”

Which brings us to the rather curious story we have in the Gospel reading. If we think the story was all about a woman coming to get a bucket of water, then we’ve really missed the boat. This story asks us what we’re thirsting for, but at a much deeper level. Did Jesus really need a drink of water? Well, maybe, but he clearly thirsted much more for the Samaritan woman’s faith. Did she leave her bucket behind because she would never need to drink water again? No, she probably just forgot it in the excitement, but clearly she had found the source of living water and wanted to share it with everyone.

In the midst of their interaction, Jesus uncovers that the woman has been thirsting for something her whole life long. She was married so many times, and the one she was with now was not her husband. She apparently couldn’t find what she was thirsting for in her relationships.  She was worshipping, as the Samaritans did, on the mountain and not in Jerusalem as the Jews did. And every single day, she came to this well to draw water, because her life didn’t mean much more than that. She was constantly looking for water that would quench her, and yet she was thirsty all the time. Kind of reminds me of having the flu.

And all of this would be very sad if she hadn’t just found the answer to her prayers, the source of living water. There is a hymn written by Horatio Bonar in 1846 called “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” that speaks to this wonderful Gospel story.  We’re going to hear it in a few minutes as part of our scrutiny, but I want to focus on the words of that hymn because they relate to today’s Gospel story:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,

“Behold, I freely give

the living water; thirsty one,

stoop down and drink, and live.”

I came to Jesus, and I drank

of that life-giving stream;

my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,

and now I live in him.

And that’s exactly what happened to the Samaritan woman. She drank of the stream of Jesus’ life-giving water, and she now lived in him. She couldn’t even contain herself and ran right off to town, leaving the bucket of her past life behind, and told everyone about Jesus. They were moved to check this Jesus out, initially because of her testimony. But once they came to know him as the source of life-giving water, they didn’t even need her testimony to convince them; they too lived in him now.

Today’s Scriptures plead with us on the subject of conversion.  The Israelites were wandering through the desert learning to trust God, being converted from the Egypt of their past sinful lives to the Promised Land of God’s inheritance.  The Samaritan woman was being converted from the stagnant water of her own past life to the living, life-giving water of new life in Christ.

Remember that I said earlier that, whenever you see this much about water in the readings, the point is always baptism.  Conversion is necessary before baptism can happen.  And that’s what brings us here today. Lent, if we give ourselves to it, is totally about our baptism and our need for life-long conversion. For those among the Elect, that’s quite literally true. Our elect have been walking the desert journey to come to God’s promise just as the Israelites did. And they, like the Samaritan woman, have come to know the source of life-giving water. Just four weeks from yesterday, they will stand before us, have water poured over their heads, and receive what they have been thirsting for all this time.

But the rest of us, too, find conversion and baptism in our Lenten journey. Lent, as is often pointed out, means “springtime” and during Lent we await a new springtime in our faith. We await new growth, we look for renewed faith, we recommit ourselves to the baptism that is our source of life-giving water. We have what we are thirsting for, and Lent is a time to drink of it more deeply, so that we will be refreshed and renewed to live with vigor the life of faith and the call of the Gospel. These Lenten days take us to Easter and beyond with water that we can pour out in every time and place where God takes us. The life we receive in baptism can revive a world grown listless and jaded and make it alive with springs of refreshment that can only come from the one who gives us water beyond our thirsting, that follows us in our desert journeys, that springs up within those who believe.

The Israelites wondered, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” As we see the waters of baptism refreshing our Elect, and as we ourselves are renewed in our own baptism, we can only answer that question with a resounding “YES!”  So – is the LORD in our midst or not?

Second Sunday of Lent

Today’s readings

I think that two words sum up what we are being told today in our Liturgy of the Word: WAKE UP.  There is a lot of waking up going on: Abram falls into a deep trance and is enveloped in terrifying darkness, he then wakes up to see God ratifying the covenant.  The disciples on the mountain have fallen asleep as Jesus prayed, and they wake up to see our Transfigured Lord conversing with Moses and Isaiah – symbols of the Law and the Prophets.

We too are called to wake up.  We too have once been enveloped in a terrifying darkness. The light of the Gospel and the joy of the sacraments banishes that darkness, if we but move forward in faith. The problem is that so many times we get dragged back into that darkness. It’s so easy to return to sinful ways, bad habits, patterns of brokenness, the shame of addiction. We want what we don’t need. We seek easy answers rather than work through the tough times. We make Gods out of success, and money, and pleasure, rather than honor the God who compassions us through failure, poverty and pain. We see to all our own creature comforts with little regard for the poor, oppressed and marginalized. We return over and over and over again to the terrifying darkness of sin in thought, word, and deed. Lent reminds us that we cannot survive living that way. We must confess our sins and wake up to be children of light.

Waking up to the call of God in our lives, we are called to be light to others.  We have to be willing then to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  God’s compassion has been poured out on us so that we can then be compassionate to others. That compassion demands that we have concern for every person God puts in our path, that we take time out of our busy and hectic schedules to listen to a hurting coworker or look in on a sick neighbor. God’s love has been poured out on us so that we can love as he has loved us. That love demands that we discipline children with patience, that we honor and respect our parents, that we go the extra mile to share the gifts we have been given. We must wake up to live as God’s people.

We are a people who have been given so much. God has reached out to us in great love and mercy and has taken the initiative to form a covenant with us, first with the sacrifice of Abraham, and in the last days through the blood of Jesus, poured out on the altar of the Cross. We deserve none of this, because we as a people and as individuals have turned away from God over and over again. But over and over again, God has sung to our spirit, giving us grace, and called us to be sons and daughters of light. But we have to wake up and receive it.