Sunday Sermon for March 15, 2020, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year A

Readings: Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42

In the first reading we hear about the people of Israel grumbling, quarreling, and testing the Lord, saying: “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”  This is a question many people are asking today as they witness the problems in the Church and in the world.  Just like the people of Israel wondered why God would lead them into the desert where they were dying of thirst, many people today wonder how, if God loves us, can these horrible things be happening? 

God was testing the people of Israel, having shown Himself all powerful and truly present in many ways.  Now the people were being tested to see whether or not they had faith and trust in God.  At the same time, we are told, the people were testing the Lord.  Rather than act in faith and trust that God would provide for them as He had done so many times previously on their journey, they doubted the Lord and tested Him.  When we look at what the Israelites did in the desert, we need to ask ourselves, how often do we test the Lord? How often do we grumble against the Lord and quarrel with Him? 

It is easy to point to the Israelites and consider all the miraculous things God did for them in Egypt, at the Red Sea, at Mount Sinai, and in the desert.  When we do this, we realize how obtuse the people were and how quickly they forgot and turned away from God.  But then we need to look at ourselves.  God died for us when we were still dead in our sins, when we were still His enemies.  He took our humanity to Himself, He lived our human life, He suffered rejection and the agony of His Passion, He died and rose, He ascended in order to open Heaven for us.  And do we doubt?  Do we complain?  Do we test the Lord and quarrel with Him?  When we look at what He has done for us compared to what He did for the Israelites in the desert, we have to wonder about how obtuse we can be and how quickly we can turn away from the Lord.

If everything we have said already is not enough, look at what we see in the Gospel.  Our Lord goes into a Samaritan town, which is remarkable in itself, and then He speaks to a woman who comes to draw water at midday because she was shunned by the townspeople due to her living situation.  Rather than going into a Jewish town and speaking with an observant Jew, Jesus goes to a place the Jews abhorred and speaks with a woman who had been married five times and was now living with someone.  Similar to the situation of St. Mary Magdalen, in St. Photina (the Samaritan woman at the well), the Lord chose someone who was considered the epitome of sin.  We are all sinners, but most of us cannot suggest our circumstances are worse than either of these women. 

Jesus does the same thing in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  He paints a portrait that is among the worst a Jewish person could imagine.  In each situation we see the great mercy of God extended to people who were not only undeserving of His mercy, but they were not even seeking it!  God found them even before they found God.  This is important for us to remember because we frequently find ourselves unworthy of our call.  Even worse, we think God could never want us or He could never love us.  When we see the sinfulness of the people He chooses for His own, then we can accept that He does have mercy on us, He does call us, He does love us.

Of course, many of us will be quick to point out the exceptions to the rule.  We consider our Lady and St. Joseph, St. John the Baptist, or people like St. Therese or St. Bernadette or so many great Saints who never committed a mortal in in their lives.  Yes, God can and does raise up some people for Himself in special ways, but we also need to acknowledge that this is the exception, not the rule.  Most often He has called sinners, even big sinners, to become great Saints. 

The Apostles were not the holiest and most virtuous of people when they were called.  For most of us, neither were we.  However, like the Apostles and most of the other Saints, once we can accept our calling, we need to cooperate with God’s grace and allow Him to make us Saints.  We need to stop doubting, grumbling, and quarreling with God; instead, let us accept God’s mercy, grow in holiness, and become the Saints God calls us to be!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit