Is the Lord in our midst or not?
There is anger, there is bewilderment, and there is also despair in this grieving question.
Is the Lord in our midst or not?
This is an ageless question asked by all believers in time of distress and anguish. It is the question that, unlike any other, indicates the presence of an existential thirst that plagues all mortals.
On the Third Sunday of Lent, we are helped in identifying such a thirst as thirst for God.
As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for God, the living God. When can I go and see the face of God? Psalm 42:1-2
As our Lenten journey continues, the Church assures us that God alone can quench that thirst.
So, simply put: just as water means life for all living creatures and lack of water means death, so God alone is the only fountain of Life for our being.
Any other fountain remains unable to quench our spiritual thirst and satisfy our inner longing.
Throughout the centuries and the millennia, people have tried military might, diplomacy, pursuit of excellence, of honor, glory, fame, feats of valor, trickery, hoarding wealth, adventures, lofty quests, probing of the whole universe, everything and anything and, at the end, nothing has proven capable of taking God’s place in the heart of people.
In our modest, small world, in our insignificant and unassuming history, we too have tried this and that, to no avail.
The achievements of science, technology and psychotherapy have all failed to give us lasting relief.
So, some of us might have stopped already trying to quench that thirst with a mixture of weekly closeness to God (on Sunday) and the pursuit of what the world recommends so persistently.
Yet, we would still be wondering: Is the Lord in our midst or not?
The Samaritan woman herself had tried to quench that thirst in many ways. She tried to find happiness with five different men; she was now on her sixth! All for nothing: she had even altered her routine and come to draw water in the most ungodly hour of the day to avoid open criticism and the judgmental stares of her fellow citizens of Sychar.
Once in a while, we priests, mere instruments in God’s hands, come across fellow believers who had wandered miles and miles away from the right path, away from the Church, away from the Sacraments, away from God’s law; and who have, at long last, returned to the only fountain of Life, to God, to quench their thirst.
Invariably, we rejoice with them and we encourage them to draw weekly, daily, from God’s fountain of Life. We remind them of His infinite mercy, of His boundless grace, of His limitless love.
Today though, I believe that there is a need for all of us, who make up the “righteous” majority, to choose God as our only and exclusive fountain of life. Most likely, we are those who have not strayed. We are those who are like the well-to-do villagers of Sychar. We know deep down that we are better than most people and, definitely, much closer to God than the real big sinners out there.
All of us, those who are returning home from afar and those who never left God’s home, need to be reminded of a hope-filled, trust-charged verse of an otherwise scary hymn (Dies Irae) from the old liturgy: the day of God’s wrath, the day of Judgment. Quarens me sedisti lassus: redimisti crucem passus. Tantus labor non sit cassus.
“Looking for me you sat tired (at the well). You saved me by your cross. May not so much labor be in vain.”
Today, all of us, together, with no self-righteous exception, remind ourselves that the assured way to choose God as our only and exclusive fountain of Life is to etch in the back of our minds what Jesus did for each one of us.
Wayward Samaritan women and Prodigal Sons of all ages have been and are obvious targets of Jesus’ search, but so are all those who have forgotten or have downplayed their mistakes; all those who have done their lukewarm service to God half –heartedly and have sinned so close to home, in ways that have gone mostly unnoticed.
Most likely this is our group.
St. Paul, who had no problem identifying with the Samaritan woman and the Prodigal Son, because of his former wayward life, puts it very bluntly: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
The image of Jesus so very tired, waiting for each one of us by the well, should move us deeply and fill our hearts with sincere gratitude, reassurance and trust.
He represents the Father’s greatest gamble.
Later on, by His cross on Calvary, God would make Himself totally vulnerable to our possible refusal to see Him as the only fountain of Life.
If we are not moved by the Father’s ultimate gamble, Jesus’ waiting by the well and also the shedding of His blood would be of no avail to us.
By looking with hope at the Crucifix, we cannot ask any longer: Is the Lord in our midst or not?
The only reaction that would indicate newly found wisdom and appreciation for His love would be: “Lord, give me your water so that I will not need to look for it anywhere else.”