A HOMILY DELIVERED AT ST PETER’S CHAPLAINCY, UNN
Otito diri Jesu!
Today’s gospel reading is really a very long one (Jn.4:5-42). I would prefer we dwell on the first reading (Ex.17:3-7) and conclude with the gospel. Everyone could feel disappointed with the Israelites for their complaint in spite of all that God has done for them through Moses. But only those who have been through what it means to be thirsty as they walk through the desert, maybe from Nigeria to Libya, could feel a glimpse of their pitiable situation at that moment. Howeveer, I do not intend to justify their approach because It was a gross lack of faith in God.
Actually they journey according to the commandments of the Lord, led by the pillar of cloud and fire and yet they came to a place where there was no water for them to drink. Note, we may be in the way of our duty, doing what is pleasing to God, yet may meet some troubles which providence brings us into, for the trial of our faith, and that God may be glorified in our relief. In such critical moments, let us not react like the Israelites.
What was their reaction?
The Israelites could not understand it just as we do today. Their passion sharpened their appetites and they were violent, and impatient in their desire. Now see the language of this inordinate desire.
They challenged Moses – Give us water that we may drink. They were demanding it as a debt which Moses owe them. Perhaps, because they were supplied with bread, they insisted upon water.
Secondly, they quarrelled with him for bringing them out of Egypt, as if instead of delivering them he designed to murder them. Many that meant well and done well have been misconstrued. One could imagine the glorious condition of Moses while in Egypt. He was comfortable as one of the princes of Pharaoh but could not bear the agonizing and excruciating moments of his people. And all his good works towards rescuing them were all forgotten as they attempted to stone him.
Worse still, they began to question God’s essential presence whether he governed the world, and his special promise. For them, Moses was an impostor, Aaron, a deceiver, the pillar of cloud and fire, a mere sham and illusion, and the promise of Canaan, a scam and banter upon them. Note, it is a great provocation to God for us to question his presence, providence or promise especially for his own people to do such.
The course that Moses took when insulted.
He reproved them mildly. Besides, it is folly to answer passion with passion. For those who are in the position of leading any group, let us learn from Moses’ extraordinary meekness. Including those whose wives rebuke uncontrollably. When the Israelites could not understand Moses, he made his complaint to God. When men unjustly censure us and quarrel with us, it will be a great relief to go to God, and by prayer present the case before him and leave it with him, if men will not hear us, God certainly will, and direct us on what to do.
God through Moses made a gracious appearance to their relief. He orders Moses to go on before the people, though they spoke of stoning him, He must take his rod with him, not to chastise them with snake as he did in Egypt but to fetch water for their supply. We could observe God’s wonderful patience towards sinners.
Moses obeyed and immediately water came out of rock in great abundance which ran throughout the camp in streams and rivers (Ps. 78:15. 16) and following them wherever they went in that wilderness. It is called a fountain of waters (Ps. 114:8). Due to the extreme thirst for it, the water was like honey and oil to them. Now, we could observe how spiritual maturity to Issues could bring about miraculous solution. If Moses had lost his temper, it would have been a different ball game.
Having been satisfied of their thirst, a new name upon this occasion should be given to the place, preserving the remembrance not of the mercy of their supply but of the sin of their murmuring – Massah meaning temptation because they tempted God, and Meribah meaning strife because they chid with Moses. Both for the disgrace of the sinners themselves and for warning to their seed or descendants.
It is this warning that Christ, the rock of living waters, through his interaction with the Samaritan woman in the Gospel patiently intends to clarify. It took some time for Jesus to arrive at a required stage of faith in his conservation with her. This conversation is a rich lesson on what relationship with Jesus, with God, with faith should do in every believer. As in the case of this woman, we do not arrive at this stage of faith in one moment. It takes a gradual development but every believer ought to reach there in order to attain a mature firmness in faith.
The Israelites could not reach there and so made a mess of their faith. In the same way, the Samaritan woman was more interested in her physical thirst for water and Jesus transformed it into a spiritual hunger and like this woman, we see our relationship with God from purely physical perspectives -material goods, employment, economic advancement, good health etc. But we need to arrive at a stage in our faith when we get dissolved in God and enjoy him for what He is, rather than the material things. This is the stage where we do away with all fears that make us believe that we are haunted by myriads of evil forces. MAY GOD STRENGHTEÑ OÙŔ FAITH TO THIS LEVEL THROUGH CHRIST OUR LORD!