I'm giving a shot at something new in regard to my Lenten discipline: I've read the lectionary for the Third Sunday in Lent and I'm going to give my reactions before Sunday. How preacher-ish of me, no?
So if you didn't already click on the link above, let me sum up the readings:
Old Testament from Exodus: The Israelites are wandering in the desert, they get discouraged and they start yelling at Moses. Moses implores God to give him something to work with, so God tells him to go strike a rock with his staff in the presence of all the elders of Israel. Water flows from the rock and they rename the place that it happens (I particularly like the Brick Testament's rendition of this story).
Psalm 95: ... I don't like summarizing psalms. Go read it.
Epistle, Paul's letter to the Romans: Paul restates that we are justified by faith. There is a lot of philosophical description of the sacrifice Jesus made for complete love of us.
The Gospel, according to John: First off, this reading is 37 verses long. It requires a lot of attention to follow. It is the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and the conversation that she and Jesus have. But after that exchange of words, the disciples come back, asking Jesus questions, and then there is an account of the Samaritan woman telling about what happened and what the Samaritans then do.
Let me now go on record admitting that this is the first Lenten season that I've really paid attention to the readings from week to week. I almost wish that I hadn't, because, thus far, they have made almost no sense. First was Jesus going out into the wilderness (which I understand having first in Lent), but then I heard a new take on what the temptations meant. Then we had the story of Nicodemus, which is difficult to relate to the lessons learned in the wilderness. Now we have the Samaritan woman. And this is to say nothing of the other Epistles, Old Testament stories or psalms.
The best I've been able to do is look at it through the lens of catechesis. I remember that Lent, historically, has been a time of fasting and study for those individuals wanting to be baptized at the Easter Vigil or Easter Sunday morning. I could understand that the readings of Lent 1 might be inteded to show the catechumens the why of the Lenten preparatory season and Lent 2 and 3 have started to show the who that the Easter sacrifice is offered for.
But all the same, I still kinda wish for the surety and hominess of Advent; all those nativity stories, justifying Jesus' chosenness as a member of the house of David and the prophesied nature of the baby and how his cousin John was some kind of forerunner... I wouldn't mind going back to that and trade in this disjointed series of stories that challenge me to question why I hold the values that I do.
Another lens that I've used, trying to understand the Lent 3 lectionary, is how the Samaritan woman serves to help justify Jesus as the Christ. He knows things about her, things he can't possibly know. He claims that he is the Christ and he says that soon no one will worship in temples and that everyone will worship in spirit.
The problem inherent in that one, however, is that it sets up a dyad between the spirit and the material. If you're not careful, that seeming opposition could be the basis for claiming that the spirit is way better than the physical because Jesus said that's how we'll worship!
That doesn't sit well with me. Because all I think Jesus was pointing out with the comment about temples was to point out the ridiculousness of the Jews and the Samaritans fighting over which mountaintop was supposed to be the chosen mountaintop, fit for worship of God. I think that Jesus was trying to point out the way that that kind of attitude binds people to one material thing or another, which really has little to no relationship to the presence of God. You can worship God just fine in a temple; just as easily as you can worship God singing camp songs at sunset. It's not so much the trappings of it as much as you presenting yourself to God, trusting in the magnificent goodness, and always allowing God's grace to turn us from our old ways and to make everything new.
Now here, I want to give credit for the seed of that idea. The warning to be wary of setting up that spiritual/material opposition came from the guys at Pulpit Fiction. I've been listening to their podcast for a few weeks now and I've been finding value in the things they point out, regarding the Revised Common Lectionary each Sunday. Another thing that they do which I also appreciate is that they don't just look at the Gospel reading, they also look at at least one other reading for the day. So this week, they read through the psalm and chatted with a fellow who had set it to music, but me, I'm taking a page out of their book and looking at the Exodus story.
First thing I notice is that Moses is pretty BA with his water-from-the-rock demonstration. But, of course, it is not for his own fame, but to show something to the Israelites. I think of the awe that was inspired in them, seeing this impossible thing happen, just because their God had chosen to protect them. I wonder whether this water from the rock was intended to be called living water, or whether it was supposed to be a thing that would quench their thirst for knowing what God had planned for them. I don't know how literal the parallel between Moses' water and Jesus' water was meant to be. Maybe there wasn't meant to be any parallel and it was just the lectionary writers who decided to highlight a coincidental theme.
But this I'll say with a little more certainty: I find the narrative in this Exodus story and the narrative of the Samaritan people in John's Gospel to be fascinating. Just think about where they may have been before these stories. Think of where they may have ended up afterward. But also think about how God's action in their lives completely, radically changed things.
So I guess I just found my pretty ribbon bow to tie this up with. Catechumens, by stepping up and saying that they'll undergo these forty days of Lent, are accepting the transformative force of God in their lives. The Samaritans, by nature of one of their group meeting Jesus, found many of them changing what they believed and what they did (because remember, at the end of this reading, this group of Jews led by Jesus were welcomed by the Samaritans; that wouldn't have happened often under other circumstances). And the ancient Israelites, wandering in the desert, encountered a transformative God who could even transform the physical laws they thought they knew.
So where is God coming into your life to transform you?