24 February 2008

Christ, Our Well-Water

3rd Sunday of Lent: Ex 17.3-7; Rom 5.1-8; John 4.5-42
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ. of Dallas

[NB. This is a revision of the homily immediately below this post...]

Is the Lord in our midst or not?

Jesus went into the desert after his baptism “to be tempted by the Devil.” For this reason alone did he step into the arid wasteland of temptation. He did not go to fast or pray or to do penance. He went so that he might be tempted. Though we sometimes embrace temptation as a welcomed break from the apparent tedium of holiness, I doubt that many of us work up a sweat running into the Devil’s theater to beg the dark angel to entice us to act deliberately against our Father’s will for us. Most of us prefer to skirt the edges of temptation, only peeking through the doors and catching glimpses of perdition as our more foolish brothers and sisters push past us and on into their spiritual demise. This is indeed foolish, reckless even, considering the long-term effects of disobedience on one’s soul. However, if the folks who braved the desert with Moses are any sign to us of our own frustration with the hiddeness of God, we too can find ourselves at Massah and Meribah, crying out to heaven, “Is the Lord in our midst or not!” How you answer that question will determine whether you arrive at the Cross in Jerusalem on Good Friday as a living sacrifice or a cheering spectator.

What’s the difference between these two? Answering a question with a question: how pliable is your heart and head? A hard heart and a harder head make for useless spiritual tools. Neither will seek out water to kill a thirst. Neither will seek food to kill a hunger. Neither will ask for help to relieve distress. However, both will faithfully rely on a dull will, a lazy intellect, and a careless concern for little beyond the moment. Moses’ people cannot look beyond their discomfort and so they cannot see their desert trek as anything other than a mistake, or an unmerited punishment. And so they whine incessantly, “Why did you make us leave [our slavery] in Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst…?” In answer to Moses’ worried prayer, the Lord gives them water, but He names the place of their infidelity, Massah and Meribah, that is, “testing” and “quarreling”—the two things a hard heart and harder head do best.

So, here we are. . .in the desert of Lent, slowly winding our way to Jerusalem and the Cross. Are you thirsty yet? Hungry? Are you tired of the journey? Lent is noon-high, half-way finished but the most difficult leg of our trip is still ahead. The betrayal. The Garden. The trial. The beatings and the Way of Sorrow. We’re not there yet, but we’ve been there before. Will you arrive to ride on the donkey? Or, will you cheer the riders on? Will you stand before the crowd for its judgment? Or, will you join the crowd to judge? Between now and then, hold firmly in your heart and mind the Well of Living Water. Not the flow of Massah and Meribah where the infidelity of the ungrateful poisons even the rocks. But the Well of Christ Jesus and remember, remember the water changed to wine; the water poured over Jesus’ head; the water that held him up as we walked the sea to save his friends. Let that water soften your heart and open your head! See and hear the waters of this gospel. . .

This gospel teaches us that: the Good News of God’s mercy is to be preached to everyone, excluding no one not even those with whom we have significant religious differences. The Living Water of God’s grace is immeasurably deep and sunrise to sunset wide. We receive this Water as a gift, given to us without a price or a debt, liberally handed-over in for no other reason than love, and this Water is dipped from the well of Christ Jesus himself.

The Living Water of God’s saving grace flows easily and freely over the dirtiest feet, into the foulest mouths, through the most unclean hands, and it washes away any and all afflictions.

The Living Water of God’s grace waters the cruelest heart, softens the hardest head, and tames the most passionate stomach. No dam or pipe or bucket or cloud is high enough, long enough, deep enough or empty enough to hold the gifts that our Father has to give us.

The Living Water of God’s grace is the Bridge between blood enemies; the Way across all anger and pride; the Means of health and beauty; the only Gate to truth and goodness. Built on the confession of Peter and guarded against Hell itself, the Church floats on its ocean, unsinkable, unshakable, His Ark.

The Living Water of God’s grace wets everything it touches, stains anything it falls upon, and indelibly marks for eternal life anyone who will say with the Samaritan woman, “Lord! Give me this water.”

We learn from this gospel reading that we cannot worship I AM THAT I AM on any single mountain; in one church and not another; nor can we pray in Jerusalem only, Rome only, or Dallas only. We learn that we are to worship the LORD in Spirit and in Truth, not with spirits and lies, but in His Spirit and His Truth; alone with Him and all together, we pray where we are, when we are, and we ask for one gift: voices eager to praise His glory, voice set afire to preach the Word of God’s mercy.

Jesus says to the woman, “I am [the Christ], the one who is speaking with you.” When she tells her neighbors this truth, they come to Christ and listen to the Word. For two days they listen. When the time for him to leave comes, the Samaritans say to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” If she had held her tongue, quieted her voice and failed to speak the Truth, they would not have heard. Where then would they find hope?

Paul writes to the Romans: “…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” If we are not disappointed in the grace we have received, how much more passionate are we then about speaking a simple truth, just one word to our neighbors about the gift of life we have received. There is no hope on the dry land promises of secular religion or science; no hope in the dry mouths of politicians or professors; there is no hope in the small spaces of test tubes or books. No hope that lasts. Our hope, our one hope is the depth, the breadth, the width of our Father’s immeasurable mercy—the sky-wide and valley-deep well of His free flowing and ever-living Water.

Walking this desert of Lent to the Cross, let Paul remind you: “…only with difficulty [do you] die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person [you] might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners [still sinners!] Christ died for us.” Our Lord gave Moses’ people the water they needed to quench their thirsty tongues. But their infidelity, their testing and quarreling, poisoned even the rocks. Now, Christ comes as the Living Water of our Father’s final grace, and all we need to do to gulp our fill is shout out like the Samaritan woman, “Lord! Give me this water!”

Is the Lord in our midst or not? Bring your biggest bucket and taste for yourself!


  1. I think it is a wonderful homily. I often come here to "replace" the so-called homily given at my parish. It is quite refreshing to have the homily based on the Gospel! I think the imagery you use is very understandable and inspiring. I will try to think of God's mercy every time I see water today (and for as many days as I can remember to do so). I also appreciate the challenge to speak to others, regardless of differences, about this mercy. I have a neighbor (literally) whom I need to have the courage to speak to. When God next brings us together, I will talk to him.
    God bless your faithfulness to Holy Mother Church!!!


    ~ I would like to buy you a book as a thank you for your orthodoxy. However, I gave up Amazon for Lent (I spend too much time looking for and buying books there!), so it will have to wait a few weeks.

  2. Amy,

    I am very happy that the homily spoke to you!

    I'd be happy as well to receive a book from you...after Lent, of course.. ;-)

    Fr. Philip, OP