(I am waiting in the Ottawa airport for my flight out West, and thought I would share this homily of mine from a few years back on the third Sunday of Lent, the Gospel of Jesus and the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman of John 4. Enjoy!)
This is a Gospel about thirst. In the Biblical culture, we can never forget that they live in the desert. The whole nomadic life we see in the Old Testament is driven by the need for water – you move because you need water to live.
So when we read in the Scriptures about thirst, we are reading about something on the basic level of survival here – we don’t get this too well because we are in a modern industrialized society – you want water, you turn on the tap, crack open the Dasani bottle – you got water. We are not very thirsty, often, really, and if we are it is no great dilemma or labor to quench our physical thirst.
But this Gospel about thirst is for us, too. We have thirst, too, we are a people on the move. What drives us? We are restless, we are nomadic in North America – a different kind of nomadism, but we are always moving on, to the next thing, the next job, the next relationship, the next well, the next water source, the next life source.
Why did this woman have five husbands and one boyfriend? That is, by the way, why she was going in the heat of the day – high noon – to lug a heavy water jar back and forth from the well. It’s a job you would do in the early morning hours, before the day got hot – she had to go at noon to avoid meeting the other women – her very presence there at noon indicates her status in the village.
She was thirsty – not for water, but for love, for connection, for acceptance – who knows what her story was. But she had moved from man to man to man – and as U2 would sing, “She still hadn’t found what she was looking for’. Thirst is driving her – it’s a matter of life and death – not physically, but humanly, spiritually, personally.
We are thirsty people, too. We need something – we can’t always say what, exactly, but we need something, and we go looking, here, there, this philosophy, that ideology, this fad, that fashion, this person, that job, maybe I’ll move to Chicago, maybe I’ll go back to grad school, maybe I’ll change this, maybe I’ll change that – restlessness. None of which is necessarily bad or wrong – but when we’re driven, then it’s thirst, never quenched, looking for life, for our deepest needs in what cannot meet it.
And so she meets Jesus. And he makes these crazy promises – water that will quench our thrist forever – water that will become a spring within unto eternity, forever, never running dry. All our needs, all our desires, all our thirst, all our hunger for life, for security, for love, for wholeness – come to me, and I’ll give to you, he says. Do we believe that? Jesus is all we need for our real life, our inner life which spills out into our outer life?
And he tells her everything she’s done. Not with condemnation, not with anger, not censorious – but simply saying, I know you’ve looked everywhere – you’ve broken the commandments, run after pleasure at the expense of righteousness, worshipped other gods (which is one of the whole problems of the Samaritans), but the Lord knows – he knows what you and I have done. He knows what other wells we’ve gone too. He knows that we have thirsted, and have not always looked to him, to the life that he can give us. He knows all that. And he bids us to come.
You see, God is thirsty, too. Not in the sense of neediness, not in the sense that he needs us to complete him or something – God is perfect and has no needs. But he is thirsty – Jesus thirsts in this Gospel, as he thirsts on the Cross – I thirst – not for water, but for us. Not because he needs us, but because he loves us very much, and he ‘seeks for people to worship him’ in spirit and in truth – in other words, people who will come to him, who will believe in him, who will make him the center of their lives. He is thirsty, and so he understands us, and has compassion on us.
I speak and write quite a bit about allowing Jesus to have absolute authority in our life, about entrusting our lives wholly and unreservedly to him, and about some of the hard moral choices this means for us – the things we cannot do, the profoundly counter-cultural decisions we have to make to be faithful to Jesus as Catholic Christians. This Sunday, the Lord shows us that we have nothing to fear by doing this. We have nothing to fear by bringing all our life, all our desires, all our thirst, to the Lord Jesus and to his Church where he gives us his spirit, and the food and drink for our life.
We have nothing to fear – he has promised us that he will give us life and water and peace and joy that is eternal. Every other well runs dry; every other stream fails; every other source of life is futile. Let us come to the Lord, believe in the Lord, follow the Lord, and above all know that the one who loves us beyond our imaging has come to fill our hearts’ desires and that he died for us so that these springs of living water could burst forth for us, for everyone who seeks them.