Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

20 March 2022

The Rock and the Water: Of murmurs, massacres and the Messiah

If we were to speak about riots, bad water and corruption, you might think this was a current affairs report and not a homily. Our focus, though, is from the Gospel, which records the people coming to tell Our Lord about a rebellion in Galilee, itself not recorded in the Scripture. Jews were massacred by the order of Pontius Pilate, the same Procurator who would wash his hands of Our Lord’s death.

What happened?

The water in Jerusalem was of poor quality and so Pontius Pilate, as Procurator, ordered the building of a large aqueduct to supply the needs of the city. It was certainly not only a pragmatic solution to the water crisis: one could imagine the large inscription chiselled into the aqueduct walls: “Here stands the Great Aqueduct of Jerusalem, built by the mighty Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea”. Where would the great Procurator get the money for this enormous project? Given that it was Jerusalem that needed the water, he thought he would tap into the Holy City’s central money supply: the Temple. So he ordered that funds used for the Temple be syphoned off to pay for the aqueduct. But the zealous Jews, who were tired of taxes and who remained oppositional to imperial Roman rule, revolt. They would not allow the Temple funds to be spent on something as banal as an aqueduct, for which the Romans would be glorified. And so, at the place of the sacrifice, over the money stolen from the Temple, the Jews are murdered to secure the Pax Romana, the pretend-peace of the Empire being safeguarded.

This scramble for water, in this way, must make us think a little about another demand for water, this time by the Jews, not in Jerusalem, but in the desert, in a region of Meribah and Massah. Fulfilling His promise to set the Israelites free, as promised to Moses in the First Reading, God leads the Hebrews through the Sea, and the Desert: He guides them with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night, the Scriptures tell us. At some point in their wandering, the Jews take on a new pastime: grumbling, as Saint Paul names it in the Second Reading. “Why did you even bother to take us away from Egypt, where at least we had work and food and water?” Moses, exasperated, goes to the Lord, their Saviour, and asks Him to help. And so the Lord provides food – the mannah and quails. But then also, water – in the middle of a desert! God instructs Moses to take his staff, the one used in the presence of Pharaoh, and at the parting of the Red Sea, and to strike a rock in the desert: from this rock, God promises, a spring will emerge, and fresh waterwill flow. And Moses does this (albeit imperfectly); God gives the people the drink they need to survive.

Saint Paul reflects on this miracle in the Second Reading, giving it a fuller meaning. He shows how God had not only saved the people in the enormous act of the Exodus, but also saved them again and again with gifts of food, water and protection from marauding tribes and snakes. But then Saint Paul turns mystically to the rock that Moses strikes, at God’s command. With the blow of a stick, God makes saving water flow to save the people. But this foreshadows a greater Rock, a foundation stone, an Eternal Stone: Jesus. He’d be struck – first, by accusations, then with the smack of a kiss, then with the blows of whips. He’d be struck by Pilate’s political expediency, who had thought nothing of murdering meddling Jews. He is struck in meeting His Blessed Mother, whose own heart is pierced with Simeon’s sword of sorrow. In the end, He’d be struck with nails, He’d be struck by loneliness, and finally with the pain of death and the insertion of a spear into His Side. And from this Rock, Our Lord’s Own Body, would flow the real saving Drink: His Precious Blood, and the waters of Baptism.

Is Jesus not, then, and now, the Perfect Rock, the true fount of joy, the well of salvation, struck for love of us?

Christ is unlike the imperfect rock at Meribah and Massah, where the people grumbled at Moses and God for water. It offered the Jews a momentary spring, giving the comfort of temporary relief. Moses, the servant of God, has to beat the earth, to punish it, to produce salvation. Now, in Our Lord, the perfect source of grace, is struck for love of us. This Suffering Servant, the Christ, is punished for our sins, accepting a beating, a death, which is ours to bear. And the saving tide that flows from his pierced side endures for ever.

Is this the end of God’s love? How does the Lord allow us to receive this grace?

No human aqueduct could sufficiently carry this saving flow. Not even the great aqueduct of the mighty procurator could bear it. But Christ has created for us, in His love, a perfect aqueduct of grace in His Mystical Body, the Church. He wills that the fountain of grace and mercy that flows from the Cross be given to us in an unending stream until the end of time. And He transmits that grace through the Sacraments of His Church. Here, He makes the blood and water flow from this Temple: it streams from the confessional to cleanse us, and from the altar to feed us. We’re part of a real rebellion, caught up in grumbling against God and each other. We’re all in need of His cleansing, life-giving stream. No earthly power can offer us what the Lord wills to give us in this place.

So what should we do?

We’re the barren tree, desperately waiting for a drink, for nourishment and fertility from the Lord. We’re thirsty for His grace. If we think it’s not us, we can’t receive well what the Lord wants to give us. If we think Confession is for someone else, and that we don’t need it, we’re cutting ourselves off from what the Lord is providing. The Sacrament of Confession is given by the Lord for each of us.

Let’s not cut ourselves off from His stream of grace.

1. We need to let the Lord strike us, in our conscience, about our own sinfulness. We can let Him do this by making a daily examination of conscience, perhaps before we go to bed, when we say our night prayers.

2. And then we need to knock at the door of His mercy, coming often to confession. Here, we tap into the aqueduct of grace made by the Lord Himself.

3.Through the action of His priest, we are reminded to keep connected to the aqueduct of grace, not only being present to the Sacraments of the Church, but do our best to have a lively participation in the life of this parish – growing, serving, giving together, becoming a fruitful vine in the Lord’s vineyard.

If we can commit to doing this, when the Lord comes around to check the garden of our lives, perhaps at the end of our season, at the hour of death, He will be pleased to find us fruitful, satisfied, nourished… and His. By His grace, we can be transplanted to the glory of Heaven, with Our Lady and all the saints, Who drink eternally from the foun- tain of God’s grace.

Can we, for love of Him, strike down our egos so that he can raise us up? Could we endure the confessional for the sake of a kingdom? Are we able to partake worthily in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood now, as a pledge of our eternal salvation? May God so move strike our hearts, and draw them to His Own Sacred Heart, struck for love of us? Amen.