Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Third Sunday of Lent, Year A
February 27, 2005
Ex 17:3-7; Rom 5:1-2,5-8; Jn 4:5-42
1) Jesus, the Good Shepherd, promised that he would leave all of his other sheep behind and go in search of whatever sheep of his was lost. Today we see him putting that truth into action, in his encounter with the Samaritan Woman at the well. She was the Liz Taylor of her day, who had married five times already and was then living with a sixth man who was not her husband. Her behavior had led to his being ostracized from the community, as was evidenced by her going to draw water at the well all alone, at high noon, at the height of the piercing sun. Had she gone in the cooler times of the early morning or late afternoon, when everyone else would go, she likely would have been the butt of criticism from other women for her past and present. In Jesus’ conversation with her, not only did he break two social conventions — that Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans and that men didn’t speak to women alone in public places — but he taught her and through her us about the two essential realities about our spiritual life: GOD’S GRACE, symbolized by the “living water” he describes, and our “THIRST” or desire for it.
2) Upon the Cross, Jesus said “I thirst,” and his thirst was not principally for wine mixed with gall but for us, for souls, so that he might FILL US with himself, with his love, with his divine life. His whole life was an insatiable quest to give us that spring of living water gushing up within us to eternal life. Just like our body cannot exist without water — the human body is in fact 60% water — neither can our soul survive without this living water. Jesus, through whom both our body and soul were created, knows both realities, and came as the divine physician to give us the latter remedy.
3) Jesus describes what this “living water” is in two places in St. John’s Gospel. It is nothing short of God’s divine life — what we call in theology the Indwelling of the Blessed Trinity. In one place, he identifies the living water as the presence of the Holy Spirit; in the other, he identifies it as his own presence through the Eucharist. But whenever one of the divine persons is present in a soul, the other two persons in the one God are likewise present. The two references also show how that living water quenches our deepest thirst:
a. In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus said: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” St. John tells us: “He said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn 7:37-39). This presence of the Holy Spirit within us is what St. Paul is describing in the beautiful passage from today’s second reading: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
b. Elsewhere in St. John’s Gospel, when Jesus prophesied how the “bread” that he would give would far surpass the Manna of the desert given to the Jews, he stated: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.… for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (Jn 6:35; 55-56). The indwelling of the Blessed Trinity occurs through the Sacraments, when people who are thirsty come to Jesus who fills their hearts with this living water. This reality begins with the living and life-giving waters of baptism, but continues in every sacramental encounter, most particularly in the Eucharist, when we receive the source of life giving water within our bodies and souls.
4) Jesus wants to give us this living water, this life-giving flesh and blood, but his will is not enough. He placed a condition on his own omnipotence, that he wouldn’t force us to drink of that water. Paraphrasing the old cowboy aphorism, we can say, “Jesus will lead us stubborn horses to water, but he won’t make us drink.” He wants us freely to ask for it, to DESIRE it. We see this very clearly in his invitation to the woman at the well: “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.” And the woman used her freedom to say, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty!” In the same way, we need to have a desire for God, for his life inside. We need to thirst for him. And we need freely to ask him to give us that water to quench our thirst.
5) In one of the most beautiful psalms, which priests in their breviary pray on the first Sunday of the month and on every major feast day, this thirst for God is highlighted: “O God, you are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water” (Ps 63:1). The question every priests needs to ask himself as he prays this psalm, however, is “Do I really mean what I’m saying?” “Do I honestly thirst for God, like someone in the desert hunting for a true oasis?” On particular days when I’ve prayed those words half-heartedly or in a rush, I can almost hear Jesus whispering to me, “You’re lying… You’re not honestly thirsting for me. You just want to get prayer over with, because right now you’re thirsting to get the rest of your work done today.” But it’s not just priests who are supposed to pray and mean those words. It’s every true believer. Each of us is meant to say, “in spirit and in truth,” “Give me that water!” “My soul pines for you!” But if we were to pray those words, would Jesus think that we were being truthful? Practically speaking, if we thirst for God, certain behaviors would follow. Our actions will show that we desire him above everyone else and everything else. If we thirst for God, we will pray literally as much and as well as we can. If we thirst for God, we will get to know him much better in Sacred Scripture. If we thirst for God, we will make the sacrifices to cross the deserts of human life to adore Him in the Eucharist. If we thirst for God, it will show on our faces and in our comportment as we come with reverential awe to receive in Holy Communion. If we thirst for God, we would never do what a handful of people do here, which is to receive God in Holy Communion and then head straight out the door to our cars; if we’re doing that regularly, then clearly we are thirsting for something other than time with Jesus, the source of life giving water. And finally, if we thirst for God, we will do whatever it takes to attend daily Mass to receive Him, the world’s great gift, within us each day.
6) If we’re honest, most of us will admit that we don’t really thirst for God like we ought to, like a man in the desert would. Rather than having hearts out of which “flow rivers of living water,” our hearts are hardened, stubborn, and lifeless. But the same God who had Moses strike the rock and bring forth water in the desert can strike our stony hearts and bring forth living water. But we need to ask him do it. Our spiritual life is like a family that gets a company to come drill a well in their yard. Often they need to burrow through layers of rock and various geological formations to tap that underground stream or aquifer. But that’s only the beginning. They then need to keep that well free of leaves, free of debris, free of various contaminants. Then they need to pipe that water into their house, then they need to use the water to give life to their daily activities. It’s the same way with our souls. We need to ask God to drill the well. He’ll need to get below the surface or superficial layers of our life, to burrow through the various rocky strata, to go DEEP, to tap that source of living water. Once it’s drilled, in baptism, we need to keep that well clean of the toxins of sin and free of the various debris that can clutter it up — all those daily activities that we think we “have to do,” when the only thing we really have to do is to love God. The next step is that we need to have that living water pumped into the various rooms of our life, turn the faucets on, and put the water to use. We need to drink that water and have it fill our souls. We need to use it to clean ourselves of whatever dirt we can into. We need to bathe in it. And we need to use it to water the various gardens of activity that characterize our life. Some of us haven’t cleaned the well in years. Some of us have pipes full of rust. Some of us have allowed it to become contaminated and hence, we’re receiving poison when we think we’re receiving only life giving water. Some of us have pure water, but turn on the faucets so little, like an hour on Sundays or a few minutes before we go to bed.
7) Lent is time for us to examine that water system and help us to take advantage of that gift! Lent is the time to help us allow the water to flow unimpeded. We’re called to increase the quality and the quantity of our prayer time, going to the source of life-giving water and begging him to give us a drink. We’re called to fast, which is a means by which we “clean the pipes” of all types of spiritual rust. We’re called to sacrifice ourselves and what we have, sharing that life-giving water with others in need. The greatest almsgiving of all is when we give others the greatest gift of all — who is Jesus. Just like the Samaritan woman, who left her bucket at the well and ran to spread news about Jesus to all her townspeople, such that they themselves recognized that Jesus is indeed “the Savior of the world,” so we, too, this Lent, are called to go to all our townspeople here in Barnstable and Hyannis and bring them to the one who wants to give us this life-giving, salvific water.
8 ) Jesus said that the living water he wishes to give us will form a stream — I like to think of it as a geyser — within us flowing up to eternal life. This desire, this thirst, is supposed to lead us to heaven. In the last book of the Bible, in which Jesus speaks to us from within the heavenly Jerusalem, he reiterates what he said to the Samaritan woman and builds on it. He states: “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6). Then he gives us an incredible invitation; he is not forcing anything on us, but as with any invitation, we have to respond. “The Spirit and the bride (the Church) say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift” (Rev. 22:17). Jesus is inviting us to the eternal wedding banquet, where he will quench our thirst forever. He gives us the means to give our RSVP in the sacraments and in the moral life that flows from faith. But he also wants to help us to anticipate that heaven by quenching our deepest desires here on earth, by saying to us about our forestaste in that heavenly banquet — the Mass — “Come!”
9) In the beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness.” To hunger and thirst for holiness, for righteousness, is to hunger and thirst for God. Jesus promised that those who so hunger and thirst “shall be satisfied,” and he’s faithful to his promises. If we are hungering and thirsting for him — and not for something or someone else — the Eucharist will be the greatest earthly satisfaction and joy we could possibly receive, because here we receive Him for whom we thirst “like a dry-weary land without water.” We consume Him “for whom our soul pines.” And we enter more fully into that life giving stream that brings us back to its Source, God himself, in that kingdom were we will drink of that life-giving stream to the dregs forever. The Holy Spirit and the Church say, “Come! Take the water of life as a gift!” May we respond to that invitation with an ever greater thirst, and say “in spirit and truth” to Jesus now, “Give us that life giving water always!”