In life, we have wilderness experiences, times in which we may experience a spiritual dryness. These are often times when our faith is tested. This was certainly true for the children of Israel. God rescued them from bondage in Egypt through great signs and wonders. Yet they wondered if God could provide for their needs in a wilderness environment. Reading from Exodus:
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7)
Wildernesses can test our faith and trust in God. Some might say that we should have enough faith to not ever experience a wilderness. I believe that God allows us to experience such times in our lives because they can help build our faith and character. Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness in preparation for his earthly ministry. He certainly did not lack faith in God, the Father.
Let us look at someone struggling with an apparent wilderness in her life. Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well. He was passing through Samaria and his disciples had gone ahead to buy food
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:7-15)
What was remarkable is that the woman responded to Jesus in the affirmative, without understanding all that Jesus was saying. She was willing to talk to him even though she was told not to do so.
What did Jesus mean by “living water?” The seventh chapter of John tells us:
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive, for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
Let us return to Moses. The Apostle Paul wrote:
I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)
Jesus was glorified on the cross. He was struck on the cross so that we might have living water. This is the gift of the Holy Spirit which he could not give us unless we were cleansed of all our sins. The Apostle Paul wrote:
When he ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people. (Ephesians 4:8)
Let us continue with the Gospel narrative. The Samaritan woman had a complicated life. In her heart, she must have been seeking answers to the turmoil she was apparently experiencing. She began to open her up:
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
Jesus’ statements shock her. She realizes that Jesus is no ordinary man. Notice how quickly she retreats to religion:
The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” (John 4:16-26)
Through his words, Jesus opens up the possibility of her receiving the promise of God that was offered to the Jews. The argument concerning the proper place to worship was no longer valid. What was really important was the worship itself. She becomes excited. In her heart and soul, she was thirsty for God. Jesus revealed that thirst to her. Could he be the long-expecting Messiah for whom even this Samaritan was hoping?
In this Season of Lent God wants to open our hearts to what may be going on inside of us. Will we take the time to examine ourselves? Are we thirsty for more of God? Are our religious exercises going to stand in the way of what God is doing? Will church doctrine keep us from seeking living water?
Do we want living water flowing from within us? What is required? Jesus said:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
We need to know Jesus. We need to spend some time with him. We need to know this gift. Is this gift for us. Are we thirsty for it? The Samaritan woman was thirsty.
Jesus is the giver. He has paid dearly so that we might receive this gift. Maybe we need to engage in conversation with him. Lent is a time to go deeper into prayer. The psalmist wrote:
Deep calls to deep
at the thunder of your torrents;
all your waves and your billows
have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life. (Psalm 42:7-8)