The Wells of Salvation
Third Sunday of Lent. Fr John Farrell assures us that sacramental grace never runs dry.
Out of the heat haze in an arid landscape at noon figures emerge. Three or one. One or three. Abraham in the shelter of his tent, Sara his wife remains inside, listening, doubting, denying, scoffing: trying to reduce to the comic and the manageable the promise of a descendent who will fulfil the providence of God.
Out of the heat haze in an arid landscape at noon figures emerge. A Samaritan woman moves to the ancient well dug by Abraham’s grandson. A man is there. One who is Three and Three that is One. This same son of the promise. This One. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, sits at the well the patriarch dug.
This man will promise to dig not into the earth but into the sacred heart of God.
‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation’
‘In you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light’.
This fourth chapter of John’s gospel – about the Samaritan woman’s meeting with Jesus – is the beginning of a flow through the Gospel text which we follow on our Lenten journey to Calvary. There at Golgotha, on the Cross, the soldier will pierce Jesus’s side and blood and water will flow from it, just as life giving waters flowed from the side of Ezekiel’s Temple. Before that, in chapter seven, at the Feast of Tabernacles with its liturgical theme of poured out water, Jesus will cry out at the height of the celebration: ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.
As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’.
And here we are told explicitly what is only suggested in the dialogue with the Samaritan woman: ‘Now he said this about the Spirit which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit because Jesus was not yet glorified’ – not yet lifted up on the cross and exalted.
By this Holy Spirit – as St Paul tells us in today’s second reading – the flowing love from the heart of God has been poured into our hearts. Because God is love, in outpouring his love he gives us his own nature, his own self, his Holy Spirit. The Three who is One.
In baptism and confirmation we receive this Holy Spirit sacramentally. It is a gift which does not just fill us with grace but makes us also springs and fountains of divine life. As Jesus tells the Samaritan woman:’The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’
And yet examining ourselves this Lent, our spiritual life might be more like a stagnant pond, foul and festering than a graceful, gravity defying fountain, catching the light, cooling the air, delighting the ear. But the graces given to us, say, at Confirmation were not given only for that day. They have not dried up, though perhaps run deep underground in our daily Christian life and in seasons of aridity. These life giving waters still flow. As when the bishop prayed over us; ‘Send your Holy Spirit upon them to be their Helper and their Guide. Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence. Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.’
These flowing gifts of courage, wisdom and right judgment are open to us even in – no, especially in – times of dryness, lack of vision, lethargy and self-doubt. There is a permanent novelty about sacramental grace: a continuing presence yet freshly poured out as we turn to draw water from the wells of salvation abiding within us.