Happiness comes firstly from a healthy community, and only secondly from our personal actions: Lent draws us outside of ourselves to discover the needs of the community around us
We humans are often funny creatures. No wonder God is exasperated in the Bible several times. We generally keep looking for my happiness or my pleasure. Listening to the war in Ukraine, I was wondering what I would say to the soldiers if I was on duty there. Those heroic soldiers are not looking for “my happiness”, but rather the happiness for their community.
One of the key elements of Lent is to bring about a transformation in our thinking and acting towards the wider community. All our fasting and prayers are useless, and a waste, unless they move us to a greater awareness of what I should do to empower the community.
All our happiness, ultimately comes from the health of our community: my efforts are the secondary cause of my happiness. An unhealthy, violent and fearful community makes it difficult to find happiness, even if we personally do good.
I encourage each of us to be challenged this Lent to do an audit: How much do I take from the community, and how much do I give? Not talking about tax, here, although it’s also important: we need practical inputs to make a happy community.
Most people in Kenya love nyama choma. It’s like roasted or BBQ meat. The pleasure is in the eating. However, at home, we can’t have the pleasure until after the work of preparing.
In others words, we should stop searching for my pleasure or happiness and concentrate, rather, on the hard work we need to build our lives, and the lives of those around us: this is what I see in the courageous Ukrainian soldiers risking their lives, dying for their community.
Meanwhile, so many people in wealthy countries have almost everything and rarely feel deeply happy: perhaps because they receive so much without working for it: lack of appreciation.
The Biblical symbolism of water is: life giving, washing away sin, etc. However, in this week’s 1st reading and Gospel, the water is from UNDERGROUND. Scholars say this represents God’s (deepest) Wisdom.
The Israelites are complaining about a lack of water and complain about God to Moses. However, their thirst symbolises an emptiness inside of themselves: instead of appreciating their freedom, they complain about the struggles of being free= responsibility and sacrifice.
In response, with no complaint, God provides an answer to both forms of thirst: God could have caused rain to fall once a week and people would have received water. But God brought forth water that revealed and symbolised God’s deepest Wisdom.
- Because the water came from a particular rock, it meant the whole community became united around that that rock: meaning they couldn’t wander just anywhere nor move too far away. We, too, cannot find meaning in life if we are separated from family and community:
making space is OK, but we need real and regular connections.
- The ROCK was a place outside of the camp of the Israelites: the people had to “come out of themselves” in order to receive God’s deepest Wisdom (symbolised by the water).
We can learn so much when we come out of our comfort zones and go outside ourselves:
The woman came to the well outside the village, and discovered something new and good.
In the Gospel, the Jewish people thought the Samaritans were enemies and “traitors” to Judaism because of their behaviour during the great Babylonian Exile.
As Jesus asked the woman to draw him some water, we see Jesus drawing forth UNDERGROUND water “from” the well established by God for Jacob long ago. Jesus offered the woman Wisdom, but she could only receive it (recognise it) after she had been honest about her life: symbolising her confession, and giving us a model to follow.
Jesus responds to her confession with gentleness & patience; and then offers her the means to find joy for the rest of her life: Wisdom. Jesus did not condemn her.
So, the readings today are truly about God’s love for us, not about God getting angry with the Israelites, or the sinful woman at the well. In the 2nd reading, Paul says: but what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Hang on to that!
One thing is clear: if we want to give God a chance to tell to us how much we are loved, we need to move outside our normal comfort zone (home or ways of behaviour), and become somehow vulnerable and honest. I pray each one of us has that courage.
By Gerard Conlan, OMI