Reflection on the Third Sunday of Lent
Our themes in the readings today focus on thirst and the importance of water in our lives. In the first reading from the book of Exodus, the people grumbled against Moses as they were forced to leave Egypt. As they crossed the desert, they became frantic because they did not have enough water for themselves, their children and their livestock. Understandable that they would panic. We need water in order to live. We can get along without food longer than we can get along without water. Moses was at a loss as to how to handle this situation and feared for his own safety as the anger of the Israelites intensified. In their thirst, they wondered if God was in their midst at all.
Moses cried out to God for help. God instructed Moses to take his staff and use it to strike the rock in Horeb. Then water will flow freely for the people to drink. Wow! Incredible! Water flowing from a rock! What if Moses had doubted and said, “You’ve got to be kidding. Water coming from a rock?” What would you have done? How do we respond when presented with impossible situations that cause us to doubt, that cause us to question or to resist? Think about times you found yourself doubting.
Who can forget the story in today’s Gospel of the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well? Jesus initiates the conversation with a simple request: “Give me a drink.” The woman is startled, perhaps because he is speaking to her, a woman; clearly because he, a Jew, is speaking to her, a Samaritan; obviously because he doesn’t even have a bucket to contain the water he is requesting. Who is this guy?
But then the conversation changes. Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come back.” The woman replies, “I don’t have a husband.” Jesus comments, “Right. You have had five husbands and the one you are with now is not your husband.” The woman is amazed. “How does this man know so much about me? I’ve never seen him before.”
She needs to take a second look at him. He had already said that the water he has to give is living water. Those who drink from Jacob’s well will be thirsty again and will have to return to the well frequently to draw water. The living water that Jesus is offering promises that people will never thirst. The water will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. The woman finds this prospect irresistible. She is weary from so many trips to Jacob’s well for water. She says, “Sir, give me this water.”
They continue to interact. Jesus tells her that God seeks people who worship in spirit and truth. The woman says that she knows the Messiah is coming and will tell us everything. What must it have been like for people to have waited for centuries for the Messiah to come? With each new prophet that appeared in their midst, questions would arise: “Is this the one who is to come or should we look for another?” Then Jesus reveals himself to her: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Well, this changes everything. Simply astonishing. The woman never knew that she, of all people, would be the one to whom Jesus would reveal himself. She must have wanted to throw her arms around him and hug him, or perhaps bow down and worship him. She may have felt chagrinned at how she had spoken to him earlier, chiding him for not even having a bucket to draw water from the well.
At this moment, the disciples of Jesus, who had gone into town to buy food, returned and were amazed to find him talking to a woman. She turned to go, leaving her water jar — a clear sign that she would be returning. She couldn’t wait to tell the rest of the Samaritans who had shunned her what she had experienced: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” They ran to check it out for themselves and invited Jesus to come and stay with them. Wouldn’t you love to have a movie of their interactions during the two full days he stayed with them? Many more began to believe in Jesus as they heard him speak. As they were thanking the woman for bringing them this good news and for introducing them to Jesus, they said to her, “We no longer believe just because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves his inspiring words. We know that this is truly the savior of the world.” There was great rejoicing throughout all of Samaria. The woman transformed her life and was welcomed back into the community. What an amazing story!
Our Gospel began today with Jesus saying to the woman at the well: “I thirst.” For what do you thirst for in your life: for your family and friends, for the sick and the elderly, for children, for our country, for the world? In addition to any number of things, perhaps we can be inspired by Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for running water, so we long for you, O God. We thirst for you, the living God.”