Have you ever forgotten to eat?  It’s a strange question – how can you forget to eat?  Recently a bride and groom shared how that happened to them.  After all the catering places they had visited and debates over the menu they had, when it came to the actual Wedding day, they had forgotten to eat.  Between taking pictures, greeting their over 250 guests, toasts, dancing, and more pictures, the whole celebration and feast just flew by.  So much so that it didn’t even register to them till the next day when their friends were commenting on how much they enjoyed the cocktail hour and how great the dinner was the couple looked at each other and realized neither one of them had a chance to eat themselves.  That recently wedded couple is far from the first who found that in the excitement of the Wedding day those normal human urges could get lost.  It is true on the other emotional extreme as well – when people suffer a loss, are grieving and mourning, sometimes that experience is so consuming they have to be reminded “you need to eat.”  It is even true that people can sometimes get so engulfed in a project or task that they are working on that this very human need gets eclipsed.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the the THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT – March 12, 2023, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

Has that ever happened to you?  Were you got so lost in something you were doing or were so overwhelmed by emotion, that you didn’t notice you hadn’t eaten for an extended period of time?   We are so acutely tuned to feeling those cues pointing to a hunger a thirst, to our physical needs, and attending to them on a regular basis that those times when they are forgotten and why are noteworthy.

Throughout this Gospel, we keep hearing about hungers and thirsts   We have the disciples leaving Jesus to go into town for food.  The woman comes to this well to draw water to attend to her thirst.  Jesus asks her for a drink which sparks this whole fascinating dialogue between her and Jesus.  The disciples coming at the tail end of this encounter, and not sure what is going on, do know the reason they left Jesus in the first place was to get food – so they imagine Jesus must be ravenous as well that they plead with Him to eat.  Jesus turns down their offer with, what initially confused them saying “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”  All of this double speak about hungers and thirsts, and how they are attended to points to the reality of there being physical needs and spiritual ones.  And how God can use the one to point us to the other.  Which is nothing new.

Think back to our first scripture reading today, coming from the book of Exodus.  Just to recap, over 3,000 years ago, our ancestors in the faith, the Jewish people had just experienced freedom from slavery in Egypt through mighty words, and actions through God’s loving and guiding hand.  First, the plagues visited the Egyptians who were oppressing them while at the same time sparing the Jews; then God sends a pillar of cloud and fire that guided their path out of Egypt; then when they get to the Red Sea, a seemingly dead end, that God parts the waters for them to lead them to freedom (and then allowing the waters to flow again, drowning the Egyptians who had pursued them).   After they were in safety and journeying along, there was an instance where the Lord had purified their water (seriously, they complained the water didn’t taste right, so God fixed that for them), they had heavenly sustenance called Manna – literally bread from heaven to feed on as they continued their journey to the Promised Land.   The point was, in countless ways, every day, the Lord had proven that He was with them.  Every day He was caring for them.  Yet in the first reading, we pick up the story of how on this particular day, when they get to the next stage of their journey towards freedom there was a setback.  They had gone where the Lord had directed them to set up camp.  And there wasn’t water there.  What was their response?

To remember all the ways that the Lord had protected, provided, and guided them?  To recall the big and little miracles that had been utterly amazing?  To recount how faithful God had been?   Not quite.  They turn on Moses and say: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?  Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” They’re grumbling, complaining, questioning.  They make it seem like it’s directed at Moses, but in reality, they are grumbling, complaining, and questioning God.

Their human needs and trials drive them to the point that the very name of that place of trial was called “Massah and Meribah” meaning “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  But notice God didn’t get angry with them for their lack of faith.  He uses their very human experiences to show out miraculously once again.  Moses strikes a rock and water flows from there.  God answers their question “is the Lord in our midst or not” with a definitive yes as He provides water to address their physical need.

But it was meant to be more than that.  It was to become another reminder of His loving presence was with them, even in the midst of their trial.  They needed to remember that.  They needed to trust Him.  They needed to put more faith in Him than in their physical wants and needs.  When doubts arose, which they would, they had to, as the responsorial psalm that we sang reminded us: look to Him, listen for His voice, and most importantly “harden not your hearts as at Meribah as in the day of Massah in the desert…”

Easier said than done.

Look at this encounter in the Gospel as Jesus meets the woman at the well.  While we don’t have the full story of what happened – why was she married 5 times and now living with someone who wasn’t her husband – we can surmise that there’s been a lot of pain and sadness…  she has been hurt, manipulated, used.  There’s been bad decisions and sinful choices.  She has heard gossip slander her making her trials become labels and lies that diminished her view of herself, dash her hopes, and yes harden her heart.  She’s isolated from her community, feels distant from God, and is simply in survival mode going to the well for water, to just address a physical need.

But this would be no ordinary day for her.  Jesus is sitting there waiting for her.  And engages her in this somewhat humorous dialogue where he not only speaks into her painful story but also that of her people.  Because yes, she’s experienced brokenness, judgment, and isolation – but so have her fellow Samaritans.    The Samaritans and the Jews had been warring with each other for centuries.  The Samaritans were kind of long-lost cousins to the Jews – after their kingdom had become divided, they had allowed pagan customs and even other gods to enter in and for their faithfulness to the Lord God to waver.  Their Jewish counterparts had made their displeasure known and that turned into not just a family war, but isolation for the Samaritans where they felt this distance from the Lord God.  They still believed in Him, but more than likely in answer to the question “is the Lord in our midst or not?” had assumed the answer was not.

So the woman at the well not only is dealing with all the baggage that is weighing her down, but she represents her people.  And she encounters Jesus, God himself, sitting at the well.  Asking for a drink.  As the back and forth continues though – as she realizes that Jesus isn’t scandalized by her presence, nor is He put off by her hardness of heart, He keeps gently engaging her, till she realizes that He’s drawing deep into her heart and soul for her to recognize her hunger and thirst for Him.   And what melts that hardened heart is when she realizes the feeling is mutual.  He hungers and thirsts for her.

That’s why even if Jesus was physically a bit parched and felt His stomach grumbling, He didn’t notice or need the water from the well or the food from the apostles.  Nor did the woman worry about her thirst as she abandons her jars to run back to town… She’s experienced the living waters of Christ, which brought her new life.  And the joy of that encounter moves her from being alone and isolated to being a messenger to the very people she had been estranged from.

She boldly returns to any and everybody to tell them to come and meet Christ.

So often during Lent, we can get distracted by all that we are doing or trying to do:  What we gave up.  What we have taken on.  What we are trying to do.  Which is understandable.  Lent invites us to enter into a spiritual desert – which means we have to disorient our routines to make that happen.  Especially as we engage more intentionally in the spiritual practices of fasting, prayer, and giving.   In all of that, though we can get lost in denying our physical wants and needs, and some of our everyday hunger and thirsts, take on even greater urgency than normal. Especially the ones we are intentionally denying ourselves.

But the whole reason we do this is not for some spiritual endurance challenge to prove to God how much we love Him and appease Him.  Thousands of years later, after experiencing the glory of the Resurrection and Ascension, the one thing that remains unfinished for Jesus is us.  That in the perfection of eternity, the one thing lacking or missing is us.  And remarkably, Jesus hungers and thirsts for you and me.  He meets us, and He waits for us, right here.  Wanting us to believe that His love is greater than anything we’ve done that we tell ourselves is so bad that keeps us at a distance, makes us doubt, and hardens our hearts.  Do we believe that?  Will we go to Him, go to confession and bring our sins so we can experience His love and Mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation? And share the truth that transformed the Samaritan Woman and made her witness and testimony resonate for thousands of years:  There is nothing we can do to stop God from loving us.  This Lent, may we be brave enough, humble enough, like the Samaritan woman to let Him and then to love Him back.