In this Season of Lent, we have gone into the “desert” with Jesus, leaving “Egypt,” which can symbolize our slavery to the ways of the world. Now that we have been journeying for two and a half weeks, we might begin to feel like the Israelites in the first reading. Our flesh grumbles against God, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” We can feel like we are dying, in a sense, as we thirst for the comforts and pleasures which our fallen nature craves. Especially if we are experiencing trials, we can begin to wonder, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

The reading reveals to us that the Lord is very much in the midst of his people. He tells Moses to go to the rock in Horeb, saying, “I will be standing there in front of you on the rock.” He tells Moses to strike the rock, and when Moses does so, water flows out from the rock to satisfy the people’s thirst.

Throughout the Scriptures, rock is used to signify something that is firm, sure, reliable. For example, Jesus tells his followers to build their houses on the “rock” of his words (cf. Mt 7:24-27). And he calls Peter the “rock” upon which he will securely build his Church (cf. Mt 16:18). We know that rock is hard; it is not easy to dig into. It is much easier to build on sand since it is easy to dig into sand and move it around. But as Jesus tells us, sand does not provide a firm foundation. It washes away when a storm comes.

During this season of Lent, God is calling us to dig into the “rock” of his word. This is where he is to be found; this is where he is “standing” in our midst. He is not found in the shifting sands of the world’s ways, as pleasant as those are to our comfort-loving, self-seeking nature. If we want to find the true “water” which will quench our thirst for eternal life, we need to “strike the rock.” That is, we need to do the hard work of turning away from the desires of our flesh and “dig into” God’s word.

Today’s Psalm gives us a practical first step: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” We will see this refrain repeated several times throughout this week, so we know that it is an important lesson which Mother Church means for us to learn. The word of God often challenges us and convicts us. It calls us out of our self-focus and leads us to sacrificial love for others. It sheds light on the disordered ways in which we often live and guides us toward repentance. Because we tend to resist this process, to reject God’s word rather than allow it to challenge us, we need this repeated exhortation not to harden our hearts against his word but to welcome it with humility and gratitude.

A wonderful example of how to welcome the word is given to us by the Samaritan woman. She must have found Jesus’ words very challenging. Even the fact that a Jewish rabbi was speaking to her at all would have surprised her. Then he tells her that she should be asking him for living water so that she would never thirst again. It would have been easy for her to dismiss him as a crazy person. But instead she listens to him with an open heart, asking questions so that she can better understand what he is saying, and then simply asking him to give her the water of which he speaks.

When Jesus tells her to go and call her husband, in all humility she admits that she has no husband – basically that she is living in a state of adultery. She does not try to hide her condition from Jesus, nor does she react with indignation. What a beautiful example she is of coming before the Lord in humility and truth, listening to his words and acting on them! Jesus’ next words apply to her first of all: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.” This very woman is someone to whom the Father has sent Jesus to seek out and save, so that she could worship in Spirit and truth!

If we, also, will humble ourselves like this woman, listening to the Lord’s word to us in all humility and openness of heart, then we too can be blessed. It is hard work to reject the grumbling and complaining of our fallen nature and to “dig into” the Lord’s word in prayer, spiritual reading, and the Sacraments. But this is where our hope is, as St. Paul teaches us in the reading from Romans. Only through faith in Jesus Christ do we have access to the “grace in which we stand.” When we rely on him, we have a sure hope that “does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out” – like living water – “into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Am I still longing for the comforts and pleasures that I gave up at the beginning of Lent? In what ways do I harden my heart against God’s word instead of welcoming it with humility and gratitude? How can I imitate the humility and truth of the Samaritan woman?

Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.