Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Third Sunday of Lent, all of us as Christians are called to remember the love that God has shown to us all despite the rebelliousness, disobedience and stubbornness which we had shown Him all these while. Beginning from the story in our first reading today, taken from the Book of Exodus of the rebellion of the Israelites against God at the place called Rephidim, where they complained against God and became angry at God as they thought that God had abandoned them and left them thirsty and hungry in the desert.
We have to understand that the truth is, God has been blessing them, providing for them and protecting them all through the challenging journey that they had gone through, starting from calling all of them through Moses, who confronted the Pharaoh with his brother Aaron, and sent ten great Plagues against Egypt and the Egyptians while the Israelites were protected from harm. Since then, God had led them out of Egypt, destroying the armies and the chariots of the Pharaoh sent after them, opening the sea before them to walk on the dry seabed.
And God also gave the people water to drink, water that is good to drink, plentiful and crystal-clear in the middle of the vast and dry desert. He gave them food in the form of manna, the bread sent down from heaven itself, every morning without fail, and also large birds to supplement what they have already had in the manna. For God to provide His people with sustenance and everything they needed in the middle of the lifeless and dry desert, He has done so much for the sake of His people, and yet we saw how the people complained and grumbled against Him.
While not specifically mentioned in today’s reading passage, the Israelites also complained because in Egypt although they were enslaved by the Egyptians, they were not short of food and good things to eat, complaining that all that they had to eat were the ‘tasteless’ manna when in another part the manna were actually described as being sweet and good-tasting. All these alluded to the fact that the Israelites were tempted and swayed by their own greed and desire for worldly sustenance and pleasures rather than to obey God.
As the Israelites put a lot of focus and emphasis on what they were missing and lacking from, this caused them to forget that they already had what they needed, all provided by God Who still continued to love them and was still patient with them despite their constant and repeated disobedience, complaining and grumbling against Him. And in what we heard of the rebellion of the Israelites at Rephidim, God still asked His servant Moses to give the people what they have asked for, which is drinking water, despite having been doubted by the very same people.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we must indeed count ourselves to be very fortunate to have such a loving God and caring Father, Who has always been so patient and good with us despite all of our disobedience, our pettiness and stubbornness, our sins and all sorts of wickedness we have done before Him, as the Israelites themselves can testify to us through their long history of rebellions and disobedience against God, both what we have heard in today’s reading from the Book of Exodus, and many other occasions.
The Lord has always been patient with His people, sending prophets and messengers, one after another to remind the people to turn away from their sinful ways and to embrace once again His laws and precepts. But more often than not, the people refused to listen and hardened their hearts, preferring to follow their own desires and paths, in disobedience against God. They worshipped the pagan idols and offered sacrifices to them, followed the wicked customs of their pagan neighbours among others. Yet, the Lord was still willing to forgive them and was willing to be reconciled with them.
Now, let us bring our attention to the Gospel passage today in which we heard about the Lord Jesus and His encounter with a Samaritan woman at a place named Sychar, in the land of the Samaritans. At that time, the Samaritans were at odds with the Jewish people in Judea and Galilee, and this enmity has occurred for several centuries by the time of Jesus’ ministry. The Samaritans were the descendants of the people who were settled in the region named Samaria after the old capital of the northern kingdom of Israel after the Assyrians destroyed that kingdom and brought most of its people into exile.
The Samaritans were therefore a mixture of peoples, with both descent from the Israelites through the people of the northern kingdom of Israel and those people who have been resettled from various origins by the Assyrians. The Jewish people, to whom the Lord Jesus and His disciples belonged to, were the descendants of the people of Judah, the southern kingdom which had been in conflict and rivalry against the northern kingdom of Israel. Therefore, the enmity and troubles between the Samaritans and the Jews had originated for many centuries.
The Samaritans and the Jews argued that they were the righteous and chosen people of God, as mentioned in today’s Gospel, the differences in viewpoints as the Samaritans argued that their ancestors’ practice of offering sacrifices on the mountains of Bethel or Ephraim was the right and legal way of worship, which had originated since as early as the earliest days of the division between Israel and Judah, over a thousand years earlier. the Jews argued that worship must be conducted at the Temple in Jerusalem, in the tradition of Solomon’s Temple which King Solomon built in that city.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, how are all these linked to what we have heard about the disobedience of God’s people earlier on? This is because the Jews at the time of Jesus often looked down and were very discriminatory against the Samaritans. The Jews were very proud of their status as the direct descendants of the Israelites of old, those same Israelites who were led by God out of Egypt in their Exodus. They saw the Samaritans as pagans and people who were unworthy, ungodly and wicked, and henceforth, ought to be despised and ostracised.
The Jews thought that they were guaranteed salvation and God’s inheritance because of their heritage, but they failed to realise that being the sons and daughters of Abraham and Israel alone were not good enough reason for them to become worthy and righteous before God. And the Lord Jesus showed it all through His words and interactions with the Samaritan woman, whom, in the terms of that day’s society, was among the lowest of all people. She was a Samaritan, prejudiced against as I elaborated earlier on, and she was also a woman, who was regarded as inferior to men. And her background of not being legally married, and having cohabitated in the past would have made her to be even less respected.
As the disciples of Jesus showed us, it was most bewildering to them that Jesus, their Master, a Jew, would be in such close proximity to a Samaritan, less still a woman, and being engaged in such a deep conversation with her. That was why the Lord revealed to them that the Lord does not distinguish His people in the manner that they have been divided against each other, being prejudiced against other people and thinking of themselves as being better than others based on their own prejudices and narrow mindsets.
The Lord loves all of us equally and He treats us all equally without any prejudices. As long as we are willing to embrace Him and His love, He will give us all the blessings intended for us, and through Christ, His Son, make us all to be His adopted sons and daughters. This is because Christ, the Son of God, has willingly entered into our world and assumed our human existence in the flesh, born as the Son of Man, and by sharing that humanity with us, we also share His connection with the Father. We call God, our heavenly Father because of this.
Our Lord Jesus showed us all that God’s love and forgiveness are extended to all of us mankind, and even to the worst of sinners, like that of the Samaritan woman, to whom the Lord Who knew her sins, offered the living water found in Him, essentially offering her forgiveness and reconciliation, and the fullness of grace by her faith in Him. And now, the Lord wants us all to reflect carefully on our way of living our lives, and how we live our lives together with all those who are around us, whether we want to be like the Jews and the Samaritans, who were prejudiced against each other, or whether we want to work together to be more faithful and help each other to be more committed to God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we are all called to renew our love and devotion to God, just as He has loved us all so much all these while despite all the terrible attitude, doubts, disobedience, and rebelliousness we have showed and committed in our lives. We must remember how God still provided for His people, the Israelites, for a total of over forty years throughout their time journeying towards the Promised Land. Despite all their constant actions in angering God and in betraying Him, God still sent them manna and food without fail, and provided drinking water in the desert.
If God loves us all so much despite our imperfections and sins, then why can’t we also do the same to our fellow brothers and sisters? Whenever we look down on anyone, or are prejudiced or biased against anyone, or whenever we think that we are better or more worthy than others, or when we are angry against certain people or are unhappy and even hating them, then we should keep in mind what the Lord has done to us, forgiving and loving us sinners, as St. Paul said in our second reading today, even when we are still so wicked, imperfect, terrible and in such a corrupted state.
This season of Lent, as we go forward in living our lives, let us all discern and strive to be more like God, to love the way He has loved us, to be more forgiving upon one another just as He has forgiven us, to be more patient with each other, with our spouses, children, parents, family members, friends and even those who we disagree and are unhappy with, just as the Lord has been so patient with us all these while. Let us all make this blessed season of Lent meaningful and fruitful to us all, and be closer to God, through our deeper appreciation of His love, through healthy prayer life and deepening of our spiritual life, and through our charity and acts of love to our fellow brethen. May God bless us all, now and always. Amen.