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Water From the Rock: Reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent

“When I prove my holiness among you, I will gather you from all the foreign lands; and I will pour clean water upon you and cleanse you from all your impurities, and I will give you a new spirit, says the Lord.” This is the alternative entrance antiphon for our Mass this Sunday; the third Sunday of Lent.

I have emphasised the words “water” and “spirit” in the entrance antiphon above because the Bible is packed with imagery of water and spirit that often go hand in hand. Beginning in the very first chapter of the Bible, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters before the creation began. A few chapters later, Noah sent forth a dove over the waters to see if the land had appeared after the flood. Millenia later, the Spirit would descend upon Jesus in the form of a dove after being baptised with water in the River Jordan; and there are many more examples too. This is the theme of the Readings this Sunday.

In our First Reading, we are told of the faithless Israelites who, yet again, are grumbling at their temporal necessities: Hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. Moses gets worried because the people seem to be blaming him for being obedient to God and leading the Israelites out of Egypt — out of slavery — at God’s hand. God, understanding the needs of His people yet desiring them to have more faith in His goodness, commands Moses saying, “Take with you some of the elders of Israel and move on to the forefront of the people; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the river (Red Sea), and go. I shall be standing before you there on the rock, at Horeb (Mt Sinai). You must strike the rock, and water will flow from it for the people to drink.”

This event, just like thousands in the Old Testament, looks forward to its true fulfilment in the New Testament. The rock in the story is representing somebody, and our Psalm this Sunday tells us who it is: “Come, ring out our joy to the Lord; hail the Rock who saves us.” If we apply this to the New Testament, then we see that the “Rock” is Jesus Himself. And this Rock, Jesus, was also “struck” by the Israelites and out poured water from His side (see John 19:34).

St Augustine says about this:

The Evangelist has expressed himself cautiously; not “struck,” or “wounded,” but “opened His side:” whereby was opened the gate of life, from where the Sacraments of the Church flowed, without which we cannot enter into that Life which is the true Life: And there flowed blood and water… This was prefigured when Noah was commanded to make a door in the side of the ark, by which the animals that were not to perish by the flood entered; these animals prefigured the [members of the] Church (who escape the flood of Sin). To foreshadow this, the woman was made out of the side of the sleeping man (Adam); for this second Adam (Jesus) bowed His head, and slept on the cross, that out of that which came therefrom, there might be formed a wife for Him (The Church, the Bride of Christ).

St Ambrose, St Augustine’s teacher in the faith, said, “Why water? why blood? Water to cleanse, blood to redeem. Why from his side? Because where the guilt came from (Through Eve who came from Adam’s side), there the grace came from; guilt through the ‘woman,’ grace through the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The water that comes from the side of Christ is also a foreshadowing itself of the Holy Spirit coming to us at Pentecost fifty-three days after Jesus’ death. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, comes to us through the Sacraments of the Church and brings us grace, God’s own divine life, and this is what “cleanses” us as our Entrance Antiphon said above (quoting the prophet Ezekiel) and as St Ambrose said a moment ago. (This is also one of the reasons that Father puts a drop of water into the chalice of wine in Mass.)

In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman who is out gathering water from the well of Jacob at the sixth hour, which is about noon and was very unusual for a woman to do at this hour (see Genesis 24:11). This tells us that she has something to hide as she avoids the other women who come in the evening. Jesus asks her for a drink of water, trying to engage her in conversation. She is surprised that Jesus, a Jew, would talk to her since Jews would not associate themselves with Samaritans. And Jesus replies, “If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and He would have given you living water.”

“Living water,” in Scripture, refers to running water, but under Jesus’ use it refers to the Holy Spirit. The woman responds to Him: “You have no bucket, sir, .. and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you a greater man than our father Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it himself with his sons and his cattle?” and Jesus goes on to make the point clearer: “Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.” Of course, Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit who comes forth from the “side of Christ,” so to speak, and comes to us in the Sacraments that calm our thirst and bring us eternal life where we shall never hunger, thirst, or even suffer again. The woman responds the way we all should: “Sir,… give me some of that water…”

The Holy Spirit is our comforter (Con-fortis in Latin: “Bringing strength”). He it is that cleanses us from original sin at Baptism by giving us grace (Himself); He it is that comes to us at Confirmation giving us the ability and confidence to defend and proclaim the faith; He it is that our beloved priests call down when they are about to consecrate the Body and Blood of Jesus to nourish our souls through our body that we might never thirst or hunger for worldly things again.

Harden not your hearts as at Meribah and Massah (see First Reading) and beg the Lord continually with the words of a well-known song in Gibraltar:

“Sumérgeme, en el Río de tu Espíritu!”

Remember, it is the reception of the Holy Spirit at the Sacrament of Baptism that makes us true Sons of God. He is the Spirit of Christ and when we participate in Christ through the Spirit, we become Sons of God just as He is.

See you next week on Seeking the Word!


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