Lent 03, Year A

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
They drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ (1 Cor. 10:4)

The Israelites of the exodus, we are told in the first reading, “quarreled there [that is, in a place called Massah and Meribah] and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” Not unlike not a few believers today, I suppose, they saw hardship and adversity to mean absence of God.

Yet there are many believers today as well who exhibit the resignation, patience and religiousness of Job in times of difficulties. I know so because I have met them. Many of them are my relatives and friends. Their suffering, I have noticed, does not lead them to blaspheme God to his face (cf. Job 1:11; 2:4). Rather, it makes them more deeply aware of God’s presence, power and providence, prompting them to confess humbly (Job 42:2-6):

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.
I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me,
which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.
Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.

These believers are the poor among whom, according to St. Vincent de Paul in the repetition of prayer of July 24, 1655, the true religion, the true faith, is kept. The poor do not forget God’s deeds nor do they refuse to wait upon his will (cf. Pss. 78 and 106). The poor recall instead the former things, those long ago, and remember that the Lord is God and there is no other, there is none like him; they realize that their strength lies in quiet and in trust, for they readily believe that the Lord is a God of justice and that all those who wait for him are blessed (Is. 30:15, 18).

These believers, who form the congregation of the poor, may not display any kind of philosophical or theological sophistication that enables one to identify the ultimate question that a human being’s relative question points to. They may well be in the company of the Samaritan woman and the disciples, in the gospel reading, who failed to understand because while Jesus was dealing with matters spiritual, their thinking remained on the level of the bodily or material. But these poor believers have enough sense of faith to know that there is more to blessing than just bodily or earthly well-being and that misfortunes do not necessarily constitute a curse.

Moreover, because of their faith — to which alone they can appeal for justification of their conviction, but which affluent believers in developed countries may characterize as foolhardy (I cannot help wonder how Satan would fare. Should he wager with God that affluent believers would blaspheme the Lord to his face? Should he suddenly put forth his hand and touch anything that they have? Better maybe than he did in Job’s case?)— these poor believers know that there is more to life than clinging to it at all cost. For there is life—their faith assures them — in dying even for those who are the most undeserving.

Such an assurance of faith is undoubtedly a hard teaching. But poor believers do not leave the one who has the words of eternal life, the one who also says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn. 6:35). Everywhere they are with him. Their own familiarity with suffering convinces them of his presence. They do not ask, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” They sense he is there, the servant who “was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and … held in no esteem” (Is. 53:3). He is beside the abandoned, even despised, poor believers, asking them for a drink of water, all the while intending to offer them living water. He is in their midst, allowing himself to be seen and heard, so every poor believer may see and hear for himself or herself.