The Exodus reading is difficult if we don’t take it deep enough. At the surface we have a narrative where God’s people whine and God seems to withhold basics, providing water only after a scene has been made. Beneath the water shortage is an accusation that God’s plan is to kill the people and a non-denial of that charge by God. Of course water is urgent in the wilderness, and anyone would complain when it runs short. So this reading deserves better than a superior disquisition about foolish faithlessness of the Israelites. What’s being negotiated is the gift of liberation and more fundamentally the gift of relationship: how Israel is to become distinctively God’s people. Their discourse efficiently suggests they are still wondering if Pharaoh is the better choice. There are quite a few of these "murmuring stories" sprinkled through Exodus and Numbers, and it’s worth reflecting on why this negative dynamic needs so much attention. A similar though less antagonistic discussion shows up in the gospel reading, helping us see, perhaps, that in both narratives the participants are "playing symbols": Water is life, God is life, relationship with God is life, humans are thirsty and water-dependent. Water is a deep and rich way to suggest what is on offer. God "isn’t" water, but we can see in the symbol how giver, gift and gifted meet "in the water," and why it needs lots of discussion. And in our warming world, with its uneven distribution of goods, there are plenty of other points to make too. Barbara Green, O.P.
3rd Sunday of Lent: Year A