We are beginning the third week of Lent. Lent is a spiritually rich time if we choose to participate. Through the discipline of Lent we are to renew our efforts to grow spiritually and increase our control over temptation. Fasting, prayer, alms and other penance help us to increase our self-control over the desires of the flesh. I had a priest spiritual director in the seminary who gave the community instruction on Lenten penance and our dietary restrictions. His lesson was “Do penance. It’s spiritually healthy.” But he said, “You watch your plate. I’ll watch mine.”
A primary goal of Lent is to take the time to observe how we are addressing and controlling the hungers and desires of our lives so we can grow and mature spiritually. Jesus is bringing us salvation that we can only realize through the Spirit and Truth. The challenge will be to overcome our reliance upon material things so we can grow in the Spirit. If you are a prisoner of the material things you seek in your life, then you really need a good Lent to help you regain spiritual freedom. Spiritual freedom: You must struggle to attain it. I learned a new lesson about freedom in the seminary. After a life with many possessions, I had to learn how to live in a room 8 feet by 13 feet. It didn’t take long to realize that I didn’t really need very much. That was liberating.
The background theme of our readings is Baptism. We were set free initially by our Baptism. If death does not imprison you, you are free. In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a Jewish ruler challenged Jesus. Jesus told Nicodemus,
“Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?”
Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit.
Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’” (Jn 3:3-7)
This good Pharisee would only see things in a material way, and he chose to be a prisoner.
The Jews resisted Jesus’ teachings. It is remarkable that the Samaritan woman was more open to the teachings about spiritual life than Nicodemus the Jewish Pharisee.
Something was missing in the life of the Samaritan woman. Material things did not satisfy her. It is obvious that the woman had not been fulfilled with the men in her life, as she had had six husbands. She was apparently dealing with her loneliness on some physical level, but not her deep-seated need for the satisfaction only Jesus can bring.
Spiritual thirst is deep. We all have it. It is a thirst for eternal life. However, we often choose to spend our time and energy on more superficial, worldly things. Worldly things will never satisfy us. But we can be trapped by them. If we drink water, we will always be thirsty again. If we eat food, we will always want more and be hungry again. The more we seek worldly comfort, the more we find ourselves condemned to our mortal lives that are always coming to an end. We thirst for hope of escape, escape from material needs, want and death. This escape is only possible with eternal salvation. Eternal salvation is a spiritual gift from God.
Every one of us knows about worldly, material needs and goods. Those things keep us so busy that we often do not have the time or make the time to be spiritual or examine our spiritual lives. We make ourselves prisoners when we don’t even have time to pray. Lent is a gift of the Church to help us renew our spiritual journey to freedom. If the world and the flesh absorb all of our time and attention, then we are doomed by our dedication to temporary things that do not give life. We are doomed to die and disappear along with all the temporary, material things that we seek, but do not last.
Jesus is offering us eternal life, but he has a difficult time finding people to give it to. Nicodemus didn’t appear to be receptive. Few of his fellow Jews were interested. The Samaritan woman was. She came to the well thirsty for natural water, H2O. After learning from Jesus about spiritual water from the Messiah, she was no longer thirsty. The evangelist tells us that she left her water jar without even a drink of water and returned to the town to tell her neighbors about the Messiah. Her thirst was quenched by living water and faith in Jesus. She was converted into a missionary and she brought her entire village to faith in Jesus.
Jesus told her,
… 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.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”
This is not an intellectual understanding. It is spiritual. Nicodemus the intellectual didn’t want to understand. The woman at the well did. This is our Lenten challenge, to become more spiritually aware and receptive so we can grow in hope of eternal life.
This is the hope that St. Paul is speaking of. This hope does not disappoint. We boast of our hope for eternal life. That hope quenches all other thirsts.
Don’t die thirsty and in slavery. Live free, in hope. Your homework assignment is to live your Lent well.