“In the wilderness the people thirsted for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children…?’ The children of Israel quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” (Ex 17:3,7).
When is complaining a sin? Here are three ways.
1) Complaining is a sin when we don’t see any good and only talk about the negative. The Israelites only saw their hardships and forgot that God had just rescued them from years of brutal slavery. Now they suffer. But suffering is part of the human condition, and how we grow. So, we sin when we talk to people and just spew out anger about what’s wrong in life.
2) Complaining is a sin when we blame God. ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ Of course, He is! Furthermore, none of our problems are God’s fault; He never does anything wrong. As we talked about two weeks ago, world hunger is not God’s fault. The World Food Program says there’s enough food for everyone; it’s human corruption that prevents food from getting to people. Therefore, we should never say, ‘Where is God?’ He’s close to us; it’s just that the human heart is far from Him.
3) Complaining is a sin when we don’t take responsibility for our lives. For example, if we share our problems with someone, then, at some point, we should tell them how we’re going to change, or we should indicate how we’re seeking help (as during a tragedy, when we need comfort); if we don’t, we’re just complaining. Remember what Fr. Jacques Philippe said: “Ultimately, God gives us what we desire, neither more nor less.” If we’re not receiving His peace, faith, and strength, ultimately, it’s our fault.
Look at today’s Gospel. The first truth to realize is that the Samaritan woman has many reasons to complain; she has had a very sad life. She goes out to get water alone, and at noon, the hottest part of the day, because that’s when no one would be there. She’s had five husbands, and we can only speculate that she’s been abused, treated like an object, perhaps she’s made many mistakes herself. And she represents all of us.
The second truth is that Jesus is looking for her. The Gospel says, “He left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar… Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well” (Jn 4:3-6). The text says ‘He had to go through Samaria’—no, He didn’t, because Jewish travelers like Jesus would always go around Samaritan territory, for Jews and Samaritans were enemies. If we look at this map:
Jesus is heading north and, instead of going the normal long route around, He intentionally goes to Jacob’s well, in Samaria, because He’s looking for this woman.
Why? Because Jesus is looking to be close to us. Three times in the Bible a foreign man goes to a well and there meets his future wife: Moses and Zipporah, Isaac (whose servant asks for a drink, just as Jesus does) and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel (who meet at midday, just like Jesus). These stories are so famous that a first century Jewish person would think: ‘Whoa! Jesus is meeting a woman from another people at a well—that’s a betrothal/engagement!’ Jesus wants to have a spiritual marriage with her, which represents Jesus’ wanting to marry us!
We know this because two times in the Old Testament a prophet has to marry a woman who symbolizes the whole people. Jesus today is called a prophet and so now starts a spiritual marriage with all of humanity.
If we know that God is looking for us, wants to meet us at a specific time, and loves us personally, then we wouldn’t complain, at least as much. Many people today believe in a higher power, but this power doesn’t love them.
The third truth is that Jesus wants to give this woman, and us, spiritual freedom: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (4:10). Living water not only means natural running water (as from a spring), but also water to cleanse people for worship, and water for a bride before her wedding. Jesus wants to give the woman the engagement gift of forgiveness of her sins (Brant Pitre, Jesus the Bridegroom, 71-75).
Notice that she takes responsibility! When Jesus asks her to call her husband, she says, “‘I have no husband.’ [No excuses, no complaining.] Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’” (4:17-18). She’s accepting that He wants to give her forgiveness.
Back in September, one of our sisters, Gail, shared in her testimony how she had lived for years in a lesbian relationship, and a number of people commented on that, because her experience gives her credibility. Like the woman at the well, Gail had lived with someone who was not her husband, and had had a hard life. When she wandered through Musqueam Park looking for a place to hang herself, the first thought that came to her mind was—do you remember? ‘You can’t do this. It’s a sin.’ That was Jesus. He had always been much closer to her than she knew, but she had resisted Him. Gail’s given permission to share: She now talks joyfully about how Jesus is the only person in her life, the spouse of her soul. When He spoke to her in the park, she says that “I felt with my whole being in that instance, He guided me to a truth of understanding I had never experienced before. He was mine and I was His. I’ve never felt such a tranquil calm peacefulness. He ‘is everything’ I need.” Amazingly, this experience also happened around noontime. Now she regularly sees snapshots of her past life, how Jesus had always been there. And His wedding gifts to her were spiritual: the grace to forgive people who hurt her so badly, and the grace not to be proud.
There are two ideas to keep in mind when we feel like complaining: 1) Can we see the positive in our lives? Because Jesus is with us. 2) Are we taking responsibility for our lives? Because Jesus wants to bless us.
Ultimately, the life we are living today is the life we have chosen. If we complain about it, we’re complaining about what we’ve chosen. Jesus is among us, looking for us at every moment, and offering us gifts! Our job is to receive Him.