The Third Sunday of Lent Ex 17:3-7; Ps 95; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42

Recently, I read an article about Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain in September 2010. You may recall the spiritual atmosphere on the streets of London, people dropping to their knees as his car passed by, and the awesome silence of the crowds in Hyde Park before the Holy Eucharist. Despite the negativity beforehand, he received an overwhelmingly positive welcome.

As Benedict himself said: “In the course of my visit, it’s become clear to me how deep a thirst there is among the British people for the Good News of Jesus Christ.” Later he added: “The hearts of the British are clearly open to the reality of God, as shown in the many expressions of religiosity my visit [evoked].”

This week, the third Sunday of our Lenten pilgrimage with Christ in the desert, the readings at Mass are all about thirst, water, drink and refreshment. These are symbols of faith and the Holy Spirit. We are given three wonderful passages of Scripture: from the Book of Exodus, the story of Israel in the desert tormented by thirst and how Moses struck the rock and water flowed for the people to drink; the Letter to the Romans, in which St Paul speaks of the love of God as like living water poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit lavished upon us; and finally, the magnificent account from John’s Gospel of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.

Let us dwell for a moment on the Gospel. Give me a drink, Jesus said to the woman. What Jesus was really thirsting for was her faith, and like a piece of theatre, he led her on bit by bit. When he first spoke to her, she was shocked: “You, a Jew, ask me for a drink?” If only she knew who was asking. He would give her living water. That caught her attention: a spring welling up to eternal life?

When he said he knew she had had five husbands, she was amazed. How did he know that? This man must be a prophet; perhaps he was the long-expected Messiah? Then Jesus revealed all: I am he! She ran off to tell the whole town.

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