The Word in Peace, Third Sunday of Lent: For what do I thirst?

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

In a post on the CTA 20/30 site last week, Justin Sengstock, a blogger-colleague (blogleague?) of mine, reflected on Lent in high school days of yore, when he treated the penitential season as a “competitive sport.” He told of going without food between meals every day, complete with pounding headaches and an ill-placed sense of accomplishment.

Justin is not alone. I’ve tried various innovations of Lenten piety. One year, fresh off of three earned Middle Eastern history credits, I did a Ramadan-esque fast of waiting until sundown to eat (at which point I ended up making up for lost time). Even as recently as this past Ash Wednesday, I elected to limit myself to bread and water for the day. It turns out that it’s hard to adequately perform a high-stress teaching job when my own body is yelling at me to stop starving myself.

I kind of missed the point. And that’s why the readings this week appear during the season of Lent, because a lot of us miss the point. Mortification of the body for mortification’s sake is not really fasting. It becomes either an obsessive-compulsive Christianity that frets over a self-imposed process or the hypocritical “look at me!” Christianity that Jesus warns us about in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:16-18).

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