As usual, I’m in complete agreement with the folks over at Sermon Brainwave on WorkingPreacher.org. I just don’t understand why, here in the midst of the year of Matthew, the vast majority of our lectionary readings for Lent come from John’s Gospel. I understand that without this little foray into the final Gospel we’d miss out on the story of Nicodemus, the healing of the man born blind, the raising of Lazarus, or Sunday’s lesson about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman, but I suppose I don’t understand why we need them all in the same year. That being said, thanks to the looooong and rambling lection from John’s Gospel, at least the lectionary folks gave us a solid theme for Lent 3, Year A.
Food and Water. Hunger and Thirst.
In the portion of the Exodus story that we’ll hear read on Sunday, we get the recapitulation of the complaints that the people of Israel had against God and Moses. It goes unmentioned, but the first struggle the people had after they crossed the Red Sea was thirst. In the wilderness of Shur, they found bitter water at Marah and “complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?'” (15:24). After the LORD turned the bitter water sweet, the Hebrews moved on to Elim and the wilderness of Sin where they became hungry and “the whole congregation complained against Moses and Aaron… ‘If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread…'” (16:2-3) The LORD provided manna from heaven, literally giving them their daily bread, as well as enough quail to keep their strength up and they continued to journey through the wilderness of Sin and came to Rephidim where there wasn’t enough water for everyone to rehydrate and again they complained against Moses saying, “Why did yo bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (17:3) Yet again, the LORD provided water for them to drink by having Moses strike a rock with his staff.
The story of God’s chosen people begins with three stories of hunger and thirst which come to define the human condition, we are hungry and thirsty for the bounty of the LORD’s provision. This theme replays itself in our rambling story from John. First, in the exchange between Jesus and the Woman at the Well who go back and forth over water: the water from Jacob’s well that Jesus seeks and the living water of the Spirit that the Woman desires though she doesn’t even know it exists yet. And again, in the encounter between Jesus and his disciples over Jesus’ hidden food supply. The disciples are perplexed over Jesus’ “food that they do not know about,” and Jesus explains that his sustenance comes from doing the will of the Father. Or, to mix gospels, he hungers and thirsts for righteousness.
Hunger and thirst are primal and universal parts of the human condition, and, as such, make perfect teaching elements for the life of faith. While many may not know it, each of us hungers and thirsts after the Kingdom of God, the restoration of the world as God created it to be. This week’s lessons remind us that God wants to and will provide living water and daily bread, even in the midst of the wilderness of Sin.