Testing and quarreling. Those two words describe how many of the participants in our global politics keep busy. They’re also the words used to both name and define the places through which God inspired Moses to drive his people’s exodus out of slavery: Massah and Meribah. The Israelites proved they were slaves to both testing and quarreling. These words also describe the symptoms of a larger force at work in their lives—the same human nature that makes Massah and Meribah the capitals of every region on earth today. And Fear is their native language, as we see in Sunday’s first reading (Ex 17:3-7).
In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” … The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD in our midst or not?”
Once freed from Egypt, the Israelites continued living in slavery to their geographic and spiritual boundaries. Centuries later, Christ was born into a world even more captivated by those arid places in many hearts. Sunday’s gospel reading (Jn 4:5-42) introduces us to a woman who shows us what it was like to thirst for the kind of refreshment Jesus offered. It starts with Jesus asking her for a drink.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” —For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Then Jesus taught her that freedom is lived outside the bounds of culture, geography and politics, and that his insights into her way of life proved he knew the way to escape those limitations. It involved a new way to pray.
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. … 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.”
Spirit and truth are still foreign languages to modern cultures, but by mastering them, we can use them to seek freedom from slavery to our worst traits. Paul tells us that Christ and all the martyrs who died teaching the languages of Spirit and truth found strength in knowing they were not reaching deaf ears (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8).
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
Let’s live for him—guided by his Spirit and Truth.