by Rev. James C. Hudgins
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.
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 who is 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.”
The poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is one of those literary classics you’ve heard quoted time and again without even knowing it. Its most famous line, “Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink. Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink,” images a sailor dying of thirst, surrounded only by saltwater. Saltwater, of course, cannot quench thirst. Drinking enough of it causes death by dehydration. Some refugees, adrift on an open sea and dying of thirst, have actually given into the maddening temptation, and drank seawater to their own death. Sometimes that which looks like sweet relief is, in cold reality, lethal.
To live in the modern world is to be adrift in an ocean of spiritual saltwater. Every soul in the world thirsts in infinite measure for love, truth and happiness. And in every direction, something in the secular world promises to quench that thirst. We all have our salty drink of choice. Some thirst for honors, awards, recognition and human praise. Some thirst for power. Others thirst for material wealth. But just like seawater, the more deeply we drink of these, the thirstier we become. “Career success should make me happy,” one person thinks to himself, “but I’m not happy. Therefore, I must not have achieved enough.” “Money should make me happy,” thinks another, “but I’m not happy, so I must need still more of it.” Fill in the blank with anything you wish, but the same truth always applies. It's never enough. The water of the world is powerless to quench the thirst of the soul.
The Gospel this week tells the story of Jesus speaking with the woman at the well. We don’t know her backstory, but whatever she sought in her past certainly did not leave her satisfied. She’s had five husbands, and is now engaging in what we politely call “cohabitation.” She and Jesus speak about water, about thirst, and about satisfaction. The utter dissatisfaction of her life comes to the fore, and she must reluctantly confess to it. Jesus then promises her something that sounds too good to be true — living water — a drink that will quench her soul’s thirst not just for the moment, but finally and forever. This “living water,” of course, is an expression of the fulfillment in God that each soul was created to know. This woman is savvy and shrewd, and if there’s one thing she’s heard before, it’s big promises from men. But something about Jesus is different, and leaves her utterly convinced. The Gospel lets us know, in beautiful detail, that she has cast aside her past when it tells us that she left her water bucket behind, and went to tell others that Jesus is the Christ of God.
Every soul thirsts for happiness. One of the first lessons a priest learns when he begins to hear confessions is that all of the misguided, sinful and stupid things people do are actually just a desperate effort to find happiness in a place where it can never be found. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, “God cannot give you a happiness and peace apart from himself, because there is no such thing.” It’s a fact we’ve been slow to learn since the day Adam and Eve reached out to eat the forbidden fruit. They didn’t trust that God’s will would quench their thirst. They looked elsewhere. They drank the saltwater, as we all still do. This week, Our Lord invites us to turn to him from our hearts, and to quench its aching thirst at long last.
It’s the simplest and deepest of all theological ideas. Jesus Christ satisfies, and nothing else does. He himself is the “living water, welling up to eternal life.” We can have the same experience the woman at the well had — the incommunicable experience of meeting him, of making an act of radical trust and of casting aside at last whatever old bucket has left us so thirsty for so long.
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