Woman at the Well, Carl Heinrich Bloch, c. 1865 to 1879, Chapel at Frederiksborg Palace, Copenhagen.
Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Third Sunday of Lent (Scrutinies)
March 7, 2021
The Biblical readings for Sundays are divided into a 3-year cycle. This year we read from Cycle B which will be feature readings from the Gospel of St Mark. This year however we have the great good fortune of welcoming a new Christian, Makiko Habu Dixon, into the Church and our Parish though Baptism this Easter. As you will see in another section of this email or website, part of the preparation for this is a series of ceremonies called scrutinies. These use the readings from Cycle A which we read last year (the Old Testament reading for Cycle B will be read at the 9 AM Mass). This week however we will examine Exodus 17: 3-7 again as recent events may have given us all a new insight into it since we last discussed it on March 15, 2020.
Last month’s snowfall with resultant freezing temperatures and broken pipes in Texas deepened our understanding of water. We can better understand why ancient peoples were terrified by it. Note that the world was destroyed by water in the flood, but everyone needs it to survive. For desert people this could be very difficult, and it was important that they knew where it could be found. Remember the pictures we saw of Texans in modern cities waiting on long lines for potable water. Some people rose to the occasion and showed great generously, others did not; but certainly much was revealed about Texas. Even those of us thousands of miles away are now aware of much once below the surface of the Lone Star State.
This passage also reveals much and is one of the most referenced sections within the Old Testament.
We need first acknowledge the genuine distress of the people:
From the desert of Sin(Ex 17:1–2)
the whole Israelite community journeyed by stages,
as the LORD directed, and encamped at Rephidim.
Here there was no water for the people to drink.
They quarreled, therefore, with Moses and said,
“Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me?
Why do you put the LORD to a test?
The Israelites were sensible and timed and spaced their journey to allow for water stops. As a resting place, Rephidim would have been an oasis but there was no water. Either it had run out or other stronger tribes prevented them from getting it. The people were angry and panicked and attacked Moses. Moses however realized that this was but a symptom of something deeper. They were really asking: “is the Lord in our midst or not?” (Ex 17:7)
The final version of Exodus indeed most of the Old Testament was completed in Jerusalem around 400 BC. The final editors had the entire history of their people in front of them and have understood what is being truly revealed here.
Although the people were rebelling against him, the LORD showed his mercy to them by giving them precious water to drink. The LORD has Moses use the same rod that deprived the Egyptians of drinking water (7:17-24) to save them.
The Scriptures always put God first. Yet there is a human dimension. There are people who still yearned for Egypt. This concern and its repercussions are found throughout the Old Treatment. They understood that the Israelites were putting the LORD to the test. “Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.” (Dt 6:16).
They are far too many to quote so let us look at Psalm 78. Water was so precious that it was usually fought over, therefore the double naming of the location: Massah means strife and Meribah means contention.
He split rock in the desert,(Ps 78:15–20)
gave water to drink, abounding as the deep.
He made streams flow from crags,
drew out rivers of water.
But they went on sinning against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their hearts,
demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, and said,
“Can God spread a table in the desert?
True, when he struck the rock,
water gushed forth,
the wadis flooded.
But can he also provide bread,
give meat to his people?”
Yet they tested the Most High God,(Ps 78:56–57)
and rebelled against him.
They did not observe his decrees,
but turned away and were faithless
like their ancestors
There are many more examples, but they all lead to the understanding that the people were unable to accept the consequences of freedom. This is most clearly stated in the book of Deuteronomy.
The Lord fed you in the wilderness(Dt 8:16)
with manna that your ancestors did not know,
to humble you and to test you,
and in the end to do you good
The people needed to be educated in the ways of freedom. This is expressed in the wandering in the wilderness until all but two of those who left Egypt had died. It took a new generation of Israelites to enter the promised land. This included Moses himself:
Then Moses lifted up his hand and(Nu 20:11–13)
struck the rock twice with his staff;
water came out abundantly, and
the congregation and their livestock drank.
But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron,
“Because you did not trust in me,
to show my holiness before the eyes of the Israelites,
therefore you shall not bring this assembly
into the land that I have given them.
These are the waters of Meribah,
where the people of Israel quarreled with the LORD,
and by which he showed his holiness.
We need not take this literally, but we must take it seriously, Last year the economy of the country was booming, and the parish was blooming. Now we have been sorely tested. What has been revealed? We should not think that anything has been sent by God as a test. That knowledge is beyond anyone’s gift and is presumptuous to say the least. But whatever the origin, it is test for us has this year been a time that we recognized that God is always merciful and that in “the end he does us good?”
Has these revealed areas for us to consider? As a country why did the universal threat of COVID-19 affect some people, the usual suspects, more negatively? As a parish, has this revealed the skills and talents we need for the future? Has this taught us the true meaning of community and the power of the Eucharist?
Let us hope and pray that we will come to know through this that the Lord is among us indeed.