Saturday, March 26, 2011

3rd Sunday of Lent

    Thirst is a common human condition. We have all been thirsty. Thirst is even more dramatic than hunger. We can live weeks without food, but mere days without water. Today's gospel story hinges on the idea of thirst.

But, I find it fascinating that the first person to thirst in this passage is not the woman at the well, but Jesus. Give me something to drink, but we quickly realize Jesus is not interested in H2O, he is looking for something else from this woman. The preface in today's Mass puts it in a beautiful way when it says that Christ was thirsting to receive this woman's faith.

Even more, Christ longs for the faith of each and every one of us. In many ways, this desire, this longing on the part of Christ describes for us the reason the Word became flesh in the first place. God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son. God loves the world. He longs for communion with us. Jesus comes to each of us and says the same thing he said to that woman of Samaria: give me something to drink.

This is not the last time Jesus will thirst in the Gospel. The next time Jesus thirsts is on the cross. Just before he dies Jesus cries out "I thirst." The thirst Christ has for our salvation is present here at the well and only finds its completion on the cross.

Yet, Christ is not the only one to thirst in this story. When Jesus makes the offer of living water the woman responds: sir, give me this water so that I may not be thirsty. Now, it seems as though the woman means thirst on a basic bodily level. But, the water that Christ promises satisfies at a deeper level, the level of the heart. If we are all honest we would recognize that there is a deep yearning, a thirst, in each one of us. We all have hopes and desires. As Christians we believe that this longing, this thirst can only be satisfied by God. We have a longing for the infinite. St. Augustine said it best: you have made us for yourself O Lord, and our hearts are restless until the rest in thee. Only in Christ do we find this living water capable of quenching the deepest longings of the human heart.

But, our story takes an interesting turn. First, Jesus is thirsting for the faith of the woman at the well. Next, the woman becomes interested in this living water that takes away the thirsting of the human heart. So, we expect Jesus to tell her about this water. Instead, Jesus tells her to go get her husband. Why does he do this?

Notice that the woman is not named. St. John does this quite often when he wants us to be able to see ourselves in the characters in the gospel. There are many reasons for us to believe that this woman represents all of Samaria. Remember that the Samaritans were related to the Jewish people. The Samaritans stayed in the Holy Land during the Babylonian exile. Only, in addition to worshiping the Lord, they also worshiped the gods of the pagans. Would it surprise you to find out that there were 5 pagan gods worshiped by the Samaritans?

So, when Jesus asks the woman to call her husband, he is asking her about her faith. One of the most commonly used images for the relationship between God and his people in the Old Testament is marriage. If you notice the woman is not taken aback by the question at all. As soon as Jesus asks about the husbands, she asks about worship.

Fast forward to the next time Jesus talks about thirst, we hear: I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. In the Holy Eucharist we find what truly satisfies us. In this act of worship, the Holy Mass, we are again in the presence of Christ on the cross, thirsting for our salvation, and at the same moment Christ pours out for us his body and blood, to fill our hunger and satisfy our thirst. When we come here in this Church to worship, we meet the thirsting Christ who longs for our faith, and at the same time we meet the one who says to us: come to me and I will give you living water.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful blog. I just found out about this and really enjoyed it. I will be back; I have already book-marked it.
    Another thought on the woman. She had 5 husbands which could not fill her needs, she was living with a 6th, and Jesus would be the 7th (that number 7 for perfection), that would satisfy her needs and fill her spiritually.