John 4:5-42, Third Sunday of Lent
Our readings for today give us interesting perspectives and insights into thirsting and quenching one’s thirst. In the first reading, we encounter the Israelites who are wandering in the desert where there is no water and everyone is complaining to Moses about their thirst. In many of the translations, we are told that the people are grumbling or are murmuring against Moses. The word in Hebrew is riv. It implies a struggle or a legal action against another person. Riv is not a simple grumbling or a simple complaint against the person, it is something more serious. We can easily resonate with the seriousness of the Israelites’ position. In the desert, having no water to drink means one can die and in some situations, it takes only a few hours to get dehydrated. It is not surprising that in some Bibles, the word is translated as quarrelling.
But we have to take the situation of the Israelites within their larger context. They are out in the desert not for some afternoon stroll or because just some person willfully brought them there to let them die of thirst or hunger. The one who brought them there was God. In the reading, they had to be reminded of this fact. Moses was instructed by God to strike the rock and water will come forth so that the people can drink. It seems that the people had easily forgotten the more than awesome miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of the Egyptian army who were chasing after them. In the face of this inconvenience of finding no water to drink, they panic, struggle, and blame. God has to show another miracle before the people to remind them that he is present and will not abandon them. The key attitude that they are invited to acquire in this trying moment is one of trust. We will discover from reading the story to its end, that this is not something the Israelites were able to do easily—to trust in God who has saved them from their slavery in Egypt. They will continue to insist on their ways, to trust only in their instincts, to be stubborn in their desire to control things , and most unfortunately, to impose their own image of who God is for them. Despite the clear signs that they have received from him through his messenger Moses, they have their doubts.
The thirst for water manifested by the Israelites in the desert is just a metaphor for a deeper yearning, the yearning to establish one’s identity as a person and as a people. The problem is that they want to establish their identity apart from God. Their actions of impatience and apparently ignoring the actions of God in their lives manifest this desire to define themselves on their own terms and not on the terms of God who is their savior and who is the one who guarantees to provide for them. It is God who promises to bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey, and yet, they want to chart their own way. This willfulness earns for them 40 years of wandering in the desert.
We, Filipinos, as a people are also yearning to define ourselves. Much of our struggles today in various aspects of our lives—in politics, in culture, and in religion, for example, show this emerging “Filipino”. The real tragedy is that in defining ourselves, there is a gradual distancing from our Christian heritage. I may be preaching to the converted because most of you are still in touch with the religious aspect of your identity. But it is important to caution ourselves because all the “isms” are slowly creeping right underneath us! The question for us on this third Sunday of Lent is really: Do we still thirst for God? Do we thirst to be liberated by the truth?
The Samaritan woman was eager to receive the water that Jesus offered her. It was after all, water that when drunk, will quench one’s thirst forever. She thirsted for a normal life, a life that she could not have because of her circumstance. But Jesus makes it clear to her that she had to make a choice, it meant giving up her sinful and destructive ways. This she was able to do because she placed all her trust in Jesus, she allowed him to work his healing power on her. If we do thirst for God, we, too, have to make our choice to fully trust in him. As Filipinos, our emerging identity can only be made whole if we embrace the centrality of God in our lives. Let us pray for this grace for ourselves and for our Filipino brethren.