At Meribah Moses was in the midst of an intense trial of faith; while he endured this trial successfully, the Israelites failed to trust in the Lord’s providence, as we hear: “the Israelites quarreled there and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” (Exo 17:7). This story is similar to another, later, incident—the occasion on which Moses himself failed to trust the Lord and struck the rock of Meribah to bring forth water, instead of merely commanding it to yield water, as the Lord had told him. Moses then found himself forbidden from leading the Israelites into the promised land: “the Lord said to Moses and Aaron: Because you did not have confidence in me…you shall not lead this assembly into the land I have given them” (Num 20:12).
The Bible makes it clear that Moses’ (and the Israelites’) fault in these incidents was failing to trust God at a moment of stress: “Because you did not have confidence in me…” We can all appreciate the difficult situation Moses was in, and perhaps sympathize with his momentary lack of trust in the Lord; to be honest, everyone has “been there” at least once. Still, as we consider this Sunday’s readings and call to mind our own failures to trust we find inspiration and hope in the figure of the Samaritan woman who is presented to us in the Gospel.
For brevity’s sake, the Samaritan woman, often called “the woman at the well,” is found by Jesus drawing water from a communal well at noon. The reason she was drawing water at such an inopportune time (when the sun was at its peak) was probably to avoid the stares of those who knew her. The Gospel relates that she has been married to no fewer than five husbands and was currently living with a sixth man; in sum, her life would have been a public scandal to her fellow townspeople.
While the Samaritan woman at first hardened herself against the probing words of Jesus—like Moses and the Israelites before her—she gradually opened her eyes to come to faith in Jesus as a person who not only knew her plight better than she herself understood it, but who brought her relief and redemption from the shame she had long endured. In him, she found the courage to turn away from her former way of life and become one of the earliest preachers of the Good News of Christ; as we read: “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me everything I have done’” (John 4:39).
The upshot of today’s readings is this: like Moses at Meribah, even when we are faced by the greatest of hardships we can endure them by faith as surely as we rejoice in the blessings that come to us through faith. Three saints whose feasts the Church celebrates this week might join with Moses and the Samaritan woman in helping to drive home this lesson. Saint Patrick, Saint Joseph, and Saint Benedict each faced trials of faith as we all eventually do; yet, not hardening their hearts, they found hope and peace in Christ. As we commemorate their feasts let us take confidence from their example and live in the same spirit of trust in the Lord, joining the townspeople of Sychar in saying: “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world” (John 4:42).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Artwork: Stefano Erardi, Maltese painter, 1630-1716