'God has shown us how much he loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!' Romans 5:8

Every biblical author has unique characteristics - traits that surface even when their compositions are intermingled with other writings. Sunday's Exodus (17:3-7) passage is one example.

Though the Torah (the Bible's first five books) are made up of at least four distinct sources, even an "amateur" can pick out the Yahwistic author's work when reading about the Israelites' 40-year wilderness experience.

Whenever we hear those freed Hebrew slaves griping about their predicament, we know the narrative is from the Yahwistic source. The author often addressed a problem with which many of us can identify: Given a choice, we'd prefer living during a more significant period of history than the one we experience today.

We'd like to have participated in the Exodus or sat at Jesus' Last Supper table. Our faith would be stronger and more committed if we'd actually experienced such "saving" events and people.

This desire seems to be behind the Yahwistic author's frequent mention of Israelite complaints during the Exodus. He or she tried to show that it took just as much - if not more - faith to notice God present and working in the lives of the Exodus community as it does to surface God in our present lives.

God is here
When anyone in the Yahwistic author's community began to excuse their lack of faith on time and place, the author would reply, "Let me tell you about some things that happened during the Exodus."

In this passage, it's significant that what people are griping about - water - is actually as close as the rocks that are all around them. The very thing hiding the water contained the water.

Yahweh is just as much in the midst of 10th-century BCE Jews as in the midst of the complaining 13th-century Jews. In both situations, God's presence could only be surfaced by people of faith.

John's Jesus (John 4:5-42) is working on the same level as the Yahwistic theologian. The very thing the Samaritan woman is willing to spend time and effort to acquire, Jesus offers for free: "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 and her a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

No wonder the confused woman responds, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

Oblivious Christians
The evangelist is teaching his community that what we most desire - life, symbolized by water - Jesus freely offers us. Only a few are willing to commit themselves to imitate Jesus' dying and rising - the very thing that opens up the source of life.

It's right in front of us, but we never notice it - just like Moses' water from the rock.

As usual, Paul provides some of the best insights on the subject (Romans 5:1-2,5-8). We not only find it difficult to notice God around us; we don't even notice God in us.

"God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." Obviously, Jesus saw something in us that we rarely see in ourselves: God's presence. Even in our sinful selves, that presence makes us more than worthy to be "died for."

If more of us priests could be convinced to proclaim, "God is with you!" during the Eucharist, instead of the biblically incorrect, "God be with you!" maybe there'd be a lot less griping.