In the book of Exodus, the people of Israel find themselves in a place where there is no water to drink. They complain. They quarrel with Moses, accusing him of leading them away from a place of known resources out into a desert that will kill them with thirst. In his frustration, Moses turns to the Lord, asking what to do with these people. The Lord tells Moses to take elders with him and go ahead of the people to the rock at Horeb (Sinai), where God himself will be standing. Moses is to take his staff and strike the rock; water for the people to drink will flow from it. This aspect of their journey appeals to the deep mythic image of the cosmos mountain, the mountain where God dwells and the source of all water. The place is later called Massah because of the "test" made on God there and Meribah because of their quarreling. Their question, "Is the Lord among us or not?", is an expression alluding to God's powerful presence, providing food and water for them and protecting them. This reality of reliance becomes starkly apparent in the wilderness. The intimacy of their relationship is also revealed.
That intimacy is one of the striking features of the gospel account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman who meets him at the well. Jesus and his followers have gone out into Samaria after his struggles with the Pharisees. Located between Judea and Galilee, Samaria is home to people deriving from northern tribes of ancient Israel; they worshipped God and used the Pentateuch, but their observances were not recognized by the Jews. In going there, Jesus has left the confines of his "civilization" and gone out into a sort of "wilderness." Again, thirst is an issue. At noon, beside the well of Jacob, Jesus asks a Samaritan woman who comes there for a drink of water. Speaking to a woman in public this way would have been unthinkable for a Jewish religious teacher. And so, Jesus and the woman enter into a back-and-forth exchange about "living water" and who Jesus really is. Jesus substitutes himself for the water from the rock on the mountain of God, and he explains that his presence will supersede the mountain and the Temple in Jerusalem. The woman knows of and believes in the coming Messiah, and Jesus tells her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you." The disciples arrive; the woman departs and tells her experience at the well abroad. Many people there come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus tells his disciples that he is the food and the water in the wilderness. But do they understand him?
This Sunday as we reflect on these lessons and sing hymns that speak of the living water we are given through our faith, consider how your observance of a holy Lent is a source of nourishment and refreshment. This wilderness time is not only testing; it is also renewal of life.