Homily for the
3d Sunday of Lent
I was camping with Troop 40 on the March 25-27 weekend. To them I preached (without text) on the Samaritan woman at the well. For you, dear reader, I offer an "oldie" on the 2d reading.
March 10, 1996
Ex 17: 3-7
Ursulines, Willow Dr., N.R.
“In their thirst, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “‘Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?’” (Ex 17:3).
The story of Moses and the rock is an important one, recalled a number of times in the OT as a symbol of both Israel’s rebelliousness and God’s providence. In the NT, St. Paul uses the image too, telling the Corinthians, “The rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4).
The Fathers of the Church see in the water that flowed from the rock a sacramental symbol. Some see a prefigurement of the blood of Christ poured out abundantly for our salvation; together with the manna of the previous chapter, we have 2 Eucharistic signs. Others see in the water a prefigurement of the saving waters of Baptism, which the gospel of the woman at the well favors in today’s liturgy.
Regardless of which sacramental symbol one prefers to see in the water flowing from the rock, we have here a narrative of a people desperately in need of salvation. They are in danger of dying of thirst in the desert. In this they are a figure of God’s people at any time.
As the 2d millennium draws toward its close, we thirst for God to deliver us. We are afraid of or horrified by genocide in the Balkans and Central Africa, by saber-rattling in the Taiwan Strait, by terrorist bombs in London and Israel and Oklahoma City, by slave labor in Chinese prison camps and American sweatshops, by the uncertainties of the market, of banking, and of employment, by crime rates and abortion rates and domestic abuse and child pornography. And the Church, which ought to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, is fractured by dissension.
Football coach Woody Hays used to defend his reliance on a ground game by observing that when a quarterback throws the ball only 3 things can happen, and 2 of them are bad. (If any of you need an exegesis of that verse, see me later.) Likewise, we believers wandering thirsty in the wilderness can react in 3 ways to the dangers and uncertainties; and 2 of them are bad.
We may, like Israel, grumble against God and the Church, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” Many Catholics long for the security of “the good old days.” They’re not all Lefevrites, necessarily. But they like black and white, strict authority, minimal personal responsibility, few changes in rules or ritual or theological method. They’re the modern-day equivalent of the Hebrews moaning for the fleshpots and bread of Egypt (Ex 1:3). They question whether God can be with us in this place, in this time. For them God is a God of the past, not of the present.
A 2d type of Catholic thirsts not for a salvation based in some mostly imaginary past but for one based in the future, from “the Church of Vatican III” or some other phantasm. This Church will be pure and just, “without spot or wrinkle or any such thing” (Eph 5:2)—created in the post-modern Catholic’s image and likeness and transforming the world into the kingdom of God on this earth. This believer grumbles against Moses, or ignores him, and writes her or his own creed, moral code, and liturgy, and rewrites the canon of scripture. He or she, too, puts God to the test by questioning whether the Lord can be in our midst (Ex 17:7) in this present time and place.
The 3d type of Catholic seeks God not in the past or the future but in the present. God was in the past—when it was someone else’s present; we study Scripture and Church history for guidance but know that we cannot go back. God will be in the future—when we or others get there; we may try to see it coming and prepare for it.
But God is working our salvation here, now. “Oh, that today you would hear his voice” (Ps 95:8) and respond to it! God gave his people manna and water when they needed it, and he saves us in our own wilderness of the late 20th century. Moses, tho so close to God, was not perfect. We can’t expect our own leaders and prophets to be perfect either. But we can expect God to lead us and teach us thru them, to guide us on our journey to the promised land. In our thirst we must cry out to the Lord to saves us—but never to take us back to the past, never to bypass the present. We may pray only for our daily sustenance: Give us this day our daily bread—physical, spiritual, moral. Direct us and save us in the work we must do today.