March 19 is the Third Sunday of Lent (Year A). The Solemnity of St. Joseph is moved to March 20. Mass Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Psalms 95:1-2, 6-9; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42 or 4:5-15, 19-26, 39, 40-42
The first reading and Gospel this Sunday demonstrate the way Jesus Christ answers the deepest longings of the human heart.
Water is a very potent symbol in the ancient world, where much time, and therefore consolidation of power, was focused on securing water, controlling water sources and hoping for rain and fearing floods. Water came to symbolize life and death, cleansing and blessing.
So when the Woman at the Well talks to Jesus about “living water,” they are talking about quenching more than just a physical thirst. They are talking about quenching a fundamental longing that each human being has.
That is why Jesus’ conversation so easily moves from “Give me a drink” to geopolitical history (the origins of Jacob’s Well), eternal life and the woman’s personal relationships.
Jesus is pointing the woman to the deepest thirst she has and helping her see that her life isn't answering it.
- The Samaritan woman has had five husbands, which means she has failed to slake her thirst with love.
- She is getting water at noon, not at dawn with the other women, so she has failed to find fulfillment in her community.
- She speaks about her religion as something her ancestors did, not as something she does — so she doesn’t seem to have found solace in her faith.
But she does speak about a Messiah she is longing for: “The one called Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” When Jesus tells her, “I am he, the one speaking with you,” she leaves her water jar and rushes back to her village to tell others about him: She has found what she was looking for — at last.
We all have this longing for eternal Truth.
As C.S. Lewis put it: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. … If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The other readings today are a cautionary tale about how we go about satisfying these desires.
Moses, and his people, in their thirst for water, tempt the Lord. They force the fulfillment of their longing on their terms. They want God to be at their beck and call.
Don’t we often do the same thing? We want love, but we may look for cheap substitutes to it: in “likes” online, in pornography or in superficial relationships. We want beauty, so many fill their lives with television. We want truth, so we try to fill our minds with facts.
But the only way to be fulfilled is to allow God to be God. As the Psalm puts it, we must “bow down in worship and trust.”
The second reading assures us this longing will be answered, because “hope does not disappoint.”
We ache for more. And that ache has an answer: Jesus Christ, true God and true man, capable of becoming in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Tom Hoopes is writer in
residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
He is the author of What