The Third Sunday of Lent (Scrutiny I)

Today’s readings
Note: At this Mass, we were celebrating the First Scrutiny with the Elect preparing for baptism at the Easter Vigil, so readings from Cycle A were used, as per the Rite.

We have with us today, three young people who are seeking to receive the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and First Eucharist, at the Easter Vigil this year.  Because they are old enough to be of what we call “catechetical age,” they do not receive infant baptism, but instead prepare for the sacraments in a similar way to adults in our RCIA program.  These children have been preparing for the last two years, and we have accepted them back at the beginning of that as catechumens, an order of people preparing for the sacraments.  Two weeks ago, they were sent to the Cathedral in Joliet to be chosen by Bishop Hicks to receive these sacraments, and now we call them the Elect.  Today they are with us to undergo a special ritual called the scrutiny, in which they are called to repent of sin and its hold on them, and receive a blessing which is a minor exorcism, giving them grace to open their hearts to receive these Easter Sacraments.  Today we continue to support them with our prayers, and through our own ongoing conversion of heart.

Because of the scrutiny today, we have special readings, which are different from those we would ordinarily hear on this particular Sunday of the Church year.  Today’s readings focus on the theme of water, which sets our hearts on baptism.  Whenever we hear about water in the readings as we do today, we think of baptism.  And so, appropriately enough, on this day of our first scrutiny, we think of the waters of baptism that will flow over the Elect and wash them of their sins, bringing them into the family of God’s chosen people.  What a glorious thing that is to think about!

Our readings today tell us just how important water is to us.  In the first reading, God has led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and now they are making their way through the desert into the promised land.  This is kind of how our spiritual lives are like: God never wanted us to linger in darkness and sin, so he made a way for us out of all of that.  Traveling through the desert of our lives, God provides for us so that we can make our way to the promised land of heaven.  And see how he does provide for the people!  When they complain that they are thirsty, God gives them water in the desert, which is impossible.  But nothing is too hard for God, and he gives them water so that they won’t faint from thirst in the desert.  Water sustains us and gives us life.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus asks the woman of Samaria for a drink of water.  Now Jesus was being really bold here, because men in those days did not speak to women who were not accompanied by another person, and Jews never, ever spoke to Samarians, and certainly never used something that they used, like a bucket or a cup to drink from.  But Jesus says to her anyway, “Give me a drink.”  But here’s the amazing thing.  Jesus wasn’t so much thirsty for water as he was for her faith.  He wanted to provide water for this woman, who has been bogged down by where life has taken her.  He wants to get her through the desert of her life, to the promised land.  “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst,” Jesus says to the woman, and this stirs up her faith.  She responds with eagerness: “Sir give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty…”  And then she goes into town, leaving her water bucket behind, turning away from her past life, and tells everyone about Jesus, and they come to believe in him.  Jesus was thirsty for their faith.

Water is a powerful thing on earth.  It can be dangerous: we’ve all heard sad stories about people drowning in Lake Michigan or on raging rivers, or even in backyard pools.  But water most often is wonderful: it cleans us, refreshes us, sustains us.  Our bodies are about sixty percent water, more or less, so we need water to keep us living.  Today we see that water can be powerful in our spiritual lives.  Water can wash away our sins, and we call that baptism.  We look forward to that wonderful day with our Elect on the evening of Holy Saturday.

What we need to see in water is that it is a symbol of the fact that God gives us what we need, when we need it.  He gave the Israelites water in the desert, which is amazing.  He used water to awaken the Samaritan woman’s faith.  He provides refreshment for us on our spiritual journey, and he washes us clean with the waters of baptism.  We are all thirsty for something: the Israelites were thirsty for God’s help in the desert, Jesus was thirsty for the Samaritan woman’s faith.  We are thirst people too, and we can only quench that thirst by being washed clean in the waters of baptism, and growing each day in our faith.

Even those of us who already have been baptized need to hear in these readings that we have to open ourselves to being quenched in our thirsts by God.  We can’t be going back to Egypt when things get rough: that only leads to the slavery of sin.  We have to be resolute and make our way through the desert of our lives, depending on the providence of God to build up our faith, so that we can make our way to the promised land of heaven. That promised land is where we are all expected.  Life is our journey of getting there.  The only way to make it is to drink deep of the Living Water that is Jesus, and allowing him to lead us to heaven.

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