Thirsting for Jesus, the Living Water, Third Sunday of Lent (A), March 27, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Third Sunday of Lent
March 27, 2011
Ex 17:3-7, Ps 95:1-2 6-9, Rom 5:1-2 5-8, Jn 4:5-42

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

 

 THIRSTING FOR JESUS, THE LIVING WATER

  • 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 her 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.
  • 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. In his Lenten message to the Catholics of the world, Pope Benedict said that Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman, “Give me a drink” “expresses the passion of God for every man and woman.” 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.
  • 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:
  1. 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.” Pope Benedict points this out when he says that living water “is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into ‘true worshippers,’ capable of praying to the Father ‘in spirit and in truth.’”
  2. 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. Pope Benedict said at the beginning of Lent, “Like Israel in the Exodus, so we in baptism have received the water that saves: Jesus.” But this saving water continues in every sacramental encounter, most particularly in the Eucharist, when we receive the source of life giving water within our bodies and souls.
  • 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; he won’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. This is why the Church gives us this reading. Pope Benedict tells us that Jesus “wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of a ‘spring of water within, welling up for eternal life,” for the water given by the Son that alone “can irrigate the deserts of our restless and unsatisfied soul until it ‘finds rest in God.’” It alone is the water than “extinguishes every thirst.”
  • In one of the most beautiful psalms, which the Church prays in breviary 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 each of us needs to ask as we pray this psalm, however, is “Do I really mean what I’m saying?” Each of us is meant to say, “in spirit and in truth,” “Give me that water!” “My soul pines for you!” If we mean those words, if we thirst for God, certain behaviors would follow. 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 and receive him in the Eucharist as often as we possibly can. If we thirst for God, we will seek to quench his thirst in those who are needy.
  • Many of us will readily 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 to 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.
  • Lent is a 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 fellow citizens here in greater New Bedford and bring them to the one who wants to give us this life-giving, salvific water.
  • 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!”
  • 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 where 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!”

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 EX 17:3-7

In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD,
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people,
along with some of the elders of Israel,
holding in your hand, as you go,
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah,
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

Responsorial Psalm PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R/ (8) If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship;
let us kneel before the LORD who made us.
For he is our God,
and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice:
“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your fathers tempted me;
they tested me though they had seen my works.”
R/ If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2 ROM 5:1-2, 5-8

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

And hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person,
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Gospel JN 4:5-42

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep;
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her,
“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
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands,
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain;
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand;
we worship what we understand,
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here,
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth;
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ;
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”

At that moment his disciples returned,
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman,
but still no one said, “What are you looking for?”
or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar
and went into the town and said to the people,
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him.
Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
But he said to them,
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another,
“Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment
and gathering crops for eternal life,
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for;
others have done the work,
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.”

Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified,
“He told me everything I have done.”
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them;
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word,
and they said to the woman,
“We no longer believe because of your word;
for we have heard for ourselves,
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

Or