Do you sometimes find it hard to match your expectations with reality?
We can embark out in life with all kinds of dreams and ideals, but the reality of life can seem very different. We can be crushed by the difficulties that come our way, and it is easy to look back in nostalgia to a time when life was simpler and easier.
The ancient Israelites had plenty of experience of shattered hopes. Their ancestors had migrated from a famine-stricken country to Egypt, with the promise of a better life.
Within a generation, they found themselves enslaved and forced into hard labor to build the very grain stores that had previously symbolized their hope. Now, Moses had persuaded them to escape from Egypt, and they found themselves free from slavery but struggling for the basics of life.
In Exodus 16, we read that God sends both manna and quail for the Israelites to eat. Despite these miracles, we read in chapter 17 that, when they find themselves without water, they become angry.
How easy is it to falter in our trust in the Lord when things don’t turn out the way we expect? God was gracious to the Israelites, despite their lack of faith, and provided water from the rock. God will also be gracious to us – our challenge is to recognize it.
The Gospel reading for this week (John 4:5-42) is the story of the woman at the well. It is another story of dashed hopes. Five marriages that ended in death or failure, and she is now dependent on an informal relationship that would have left her vulnerable.
The Samaritan woman is typically presented as an outcast in this society, yet her engagement with her neighbors in the later part of the story is evidence that she may have been more valued in her own community. A tragic widow perhaps, but one who did not give up and kept going whatever the circumstances.
The opening scene is again one of seeking water, but this encounter led to so much more. Jesus promises living water and leads the woman to see that he might be the Messiah and the fulfilment of all her hopes.
If thirst is quenched with water, the tragedy of death can finally be defeated through the gift of eternal life. What a promise this would have been for her.
If we look globally, we can see many situations of drought and famine that lead to huge suffering and early death. Drought is also a cause of migration, which in turn causes tensions and potential conflict. So many hopes are dashed so very often.
The 10 hottest years on record have all happened this century, and the prediction is that temperatures will continue to rise. This will cause increasing suffering, especially to the poorest in the world.
How can we respond to this changing world? How can we bring the hope of Christ to those in these desperate situations?
Psalm 95 sets forth the truth that the Earth is the Lord’s. All of nature belongs to God because God made it. This means that when we damage nature for our own ends, we damage something belonging to God.
The psalm encourages us not to harden our hearts and refers to Exodus 17. We also need to have open hearts and trusting lives. We need open hearts to be generous to those who are vulnerable, whether they are bereaved, refugees or those caught in famine disasters.
But we need to trust God, because this is God’s world and if we honor God in all our ways, God will lead us to a place of hope. We remember that God has a special care for those who are vulnerable and on the margins.
Our final reading is Romans 5:1-11. In this letter, Paul encourages us that “suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4, NIV).
The Israelites emerged from the desert as a people focused on and trusting in God. The Samaritan woman finally found hope after long years of suffering and perseverance. We, too, can take heart with these words.
This is not an easy century, and there are more challenges that we can fully understand. Yet, we can know a hope that is resilient to all of life’s difficulties and failures because it is dependent on God, who is faithful and, in Jesus, offers us living water that wells up to eternal life.
Like Moses bringing water from the rock, we are called to share the hope that Jesus offers with those whose hopes have been crushed.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a “Lenten Lectionary” series for Lent 2023. Each week, an article will be published reflecting on one or more of the lectionary texts for the forthcoming Sunday. The previous articles in the series are:
Lenten Lectionary| Good News for Those Who Have Trouble Sleeping by Junia Joplin
Lenten Lectionary | Through the Wastelands by Christopher B. Harbin
Lenten Lectionary | Set Your Plow Deeper: An Ash Wednesday Meditation by Ken Sehested
Director of Theology and Education at The John Ray Initiative, an educational charity seeking to connect science, environment and the Christian faith for sustainability and action. She is a church minister and author of several books.