March 27, 2011 - Third Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

We were just singing, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Whose voice? The voice of the Lord, full of power and splendor. The voice of the Lord that created the earth and can destroy it. The voice of the Lord, which is sometimes heard in a burning bush and sometimes heard in thunder and sometimes heard in a soft whisper. The psalmist warns us, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

We would not need this warning if we were not in danger of doing exactly that, of hardening our hearts. I often think that I would love to hear the voice of the Lord more often. If I went outside today and a voice came, whether as thunder from the sky or as a small whisper, telling me what God wanted, step by step, I would gladly follow it. So I think, but the psalmist warns me that if today I heard his voice, I would be in danger of hardening my heart.

We hear the voice of the Lord speaking today to the Samaritan woman. She has many opportunities to harden her heart. She goes out to the well with a bucket to get water for herself. The voice of the Lord speaks: “Give me a drink.” She could have refused him the water. She could have been intent on her own needs. We too will hear the voice of the Lord asking for our help. We will hear voice of the poor asking us for help. We might resent this, thinking only of our needs. We cannot put off helping the poor until we have first taken care of ourselves. We have to be open to the voice of the Lord speaking from an unexpected source.

The Lord speaks to the woman again, offering living water that would free her from thirst. She opens her heart to this offer and asks for this living water. Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come back.” He shows her that he knows about her sins. She could have hardened her heart and asked Jesus what business of his it is whether she has had 100 husbands. When we hear the voice of the Lord, we might not like what he has to say. It may draw attention to our failures. It may make demands on us, that we abandon a way of life which is not acceptable to the Lord. Throughout this dialogue, the Lord contradicts the woman, calls her ignorant, points out her sin, and offers what he seems incapable of giving. The woman could have responded by hardening her heart and rejecting what he said, or she could have opened her heart to the truth, as she did.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” The psalmist is basing his warning on the events of the first reading today. The Israelites in the first reading are not unlike us. They seem like a very frustrating set of people to work with, and so God found them, hard-headed and hard-hearted, just like us. They ask Moses today, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” They seem to have a very short memory. Moses did not make them leave Egypt. They were slaves in Egypt. They asked God to release them from their slavery. God sent Moses to fulfill their prayer, to lead them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey. Nobody made them leave, they gladly marched out of Egypt.

The Israelites heard the voice of the Lord speak, but their hearts were hardened by thirst. If God gave us everything we wanted, at the instant we wanted it, for 99 days, on the hundredth day, if there were a delay in getting what we wanted, we would complain loudly. The Israelites are not wrong in their desire for water. Two million people, wandering in the desert, are in desperate need of water, but, instead of turning to the Lord in their need, instead of waiting for him, instead of trusting that he would provide what they needed, they grumble and blame Moses for making them leave Egypt.

And these Israelites should not be confused about whether God was really behind the mission. The locusts, the frogs, and the flies, the hail and fire, the darkness that covered the land, and the other plagues should have clarified this. If not, then the way that the Red Sea split in two and allowed them to cross on a dry sea floor with walls of water on either side ought to have been final confirmation. After all that, did God really intend for them to die of thirst in the desert?

We too struggle when God does not seem to be answering our prayers immediately, but if he did answer our prayers as soon as we asked, we would quickly forget where the answers were coming from. When all is going well, we forget about God. It is too easy to go through our daily routine without remembering how completely we depend on God. We begin to think that we are getting along fine and that God is a minor character in our life. Suddenly a roadblock appears in our way, and we cannot get around it or over it. After trying everything else, we turn to prayer. If God answered our prayers immediately, we would soon begin to depend entirely on ourselves again.

During such times, when we are in desperate need, when we pray as if for the very first time, we can learn hope. Specifically, we can learn to place our hope in God. Such hope does not disappoint because it is based in God’s promise to us. The Israelites should have hoped in God who promised to take them to the Promised Land. He was not going to let them die of thirst on the way there. The promise of God to us is the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Jesus Christ died for us, not because we were good, but because he loved us even though we were not. After his death and resurrection, an act of utmost love, he gave us the Holy Spirit, who is love, to dwell within our hearts. After all that, will he not keep his promises to us?

The Holy Spirit is God’s promise to us. If we were to try and express this promise in words it would be: “God loves us and will always love us.” When we come up against any struggle, when we find ourselves in the middle of the desert without water, this hope, this promise, should be enough to get us through anything. God has not promised that we will be rich in this world. He has not promised that we will be free of sickness or suffering. He has not promised that this life will be free from trouble. On the contrary, he has said, “In this world you will have trouble.” He has promised us persecutions. We will have sorrows in this life, but God loves us and he will always love us. He will not abandon us, and he will bring us to heaven if we want to go there. This is our hope, and this hope cannot disappoint.