LONGING AND THIRSTING FOR JESUS
I am afraid Jesus may be accused of empty promises by some critical readers. Today He promises to give living water to the Samaritan woman which supposedly would make one never to thirst again yet He was so thirsty that He begged for water on the cross. How can the person who has eternal water, how can the person who has this wellspring of water, how can He then say that ‘I am thirsty’ when he just told this woman at the well that anyone who drinks from this water (referring to Himself) will never be thirsty again. What then does Jesus mean to say by referring to Himself as the living water? John’s gospel is very different from the other gospels in what it does and the way it is written. One of the things that make it different is this enormous sense of symbolism in John’s gospel. One of the symbols that dominate his gospel is this idea of water. Water is a recurring feature in John’s Gospel- the story of the washing of the feet that is only present in John’s gospel, after Jesus dies, they throw the lance into his side, and water and blood pour out and today He calls our attention to the living water. What does the living water mean? In John’s gospel water is a symbol for God; water is a symbol for the presence of God; water is a symbol of what God means to us. Water is also a symbol of purity and cleansing. Little wonder at baptism we use water which thereof cleanses us of original sin. What Jesus is saying to the woman at the well, and what he is saying is that we need this presence of God. We need this overpowering nature of God. Our hearts ought to long and thirst for God like a deer yearning for running stream.
The Gospel Reading from St. John echoes the first reading from the Book of Exodus concerning the living water and tells us how God communicates His Divine life to believers. Jesus promised the Samaritan woman the living water that will become a well spring of water gushing up to eternal life and the grace to recognize who he really is. Wells were sources of water but they were also meeting places. It is a typical place of meeting for business, women go there for their gossip, braiding each other’s hair, and all the things women do when they get together like meeting future partners. Typically, women in Gospel times went to the well in the morning to get their water: the temperature was much friendly in the morning, so they would go as early as possible to avoid the heat. And the fact that this woman from the Gospel was going at noon meant she really must have wanted to avoid encountering others, because perhaps she must have been known as a very immoral woman; perhaps she has made serious mistakes in her quest for true love; perhaps she has been nicknamed a husband-snatcher. Therefore she decided to be a loner, to avoid everybody but the Lord knew her plight, and sought for her to heal her.
The long gospel of the woman at the well, in the fourth chapter of John read today is a wonderful drama of sin and forgiveness. The meeting of Jesus and the woman at the well started with a simple request from Jesus “Give me a drink.” It was noontime. Jesus was thirsty. He came to a well near a Samaritan town and stopped to rest. Then a woman of that Samaritan town came to the well. Now, the polite thing to do was to ignore each other. After all Jews and Samaritans weren’t supposed to mix and men were not supposed to address women in public. But Jesus spoke to the woman, in public. He was thirsty but had no means of reaching the water: neither bucket nor rope for drawing the water. She however had a bucket and a rope and could reach the water. So, he asked her for a drink of water. This was socially unacceptable and the Samaritan woman had to remind Jesus about this. But Jesus reached across the barriers of racial and religious prejudice. He reached across the barriers of sexism. He reached across the barriers of shame and guilt. He reached across the barriers between good and bad. And he asked her for a drink of water. It was a hot day and he and the disciples had been walking. Nevertheless, Jesus had a deeper thirst – his real thirst was for this woman’s faith and salvation which he achieved in due course.
Just as Jesus, the Samaritan woman was thirsty too. That’s why she came to draw water from the well. But in reality her thirst was more than water and Jesus could see that. She was thirsting for stability in her spiritual life and relationships. She needed forgiveness and release of the shame that she lived in. She needed the love that she so desperately sought but failed to find in her five times relationship/marriage attempts. She needed someone she could trust and believe in. She needed a Savior and a Messiah in her frustration. As they talked Jesus revealed that he knew her thirst and He was a perfect solution to all her problems. Their dialogue progressed from a simple request for a drink to discussion about living water. Living water ordinarily meant water that flows from a spring rather than stagnant water from a well. Remember no life survives in the Dead Sea because every other sea flows but the Dead Sea does not. However in their discussion, Jesus was not ordinarily referring to flowing water but the water of eternal life. The woman’s knowledge of Jesus also progressed, from a mere stranger who is a Jew, to a Prophet and a Savior.
The Israelites as in today’s first reading became thirsty in the desert. Quite unknown to them was that they were longing for a companionship with the Lord. They seemed not to trust God by complaining. They complained about why they were in the desert. Moses was afraid that they might even stone him. They loved God but their immediate need for water made them complain against the object of their love. We know what they earned for themselves by testing God instead of trusting in God; they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land, it was their children who entered Canaan. Remember that what happened to them in the desert is a warning to us (1 Cor 10:11). Here once again people exhibit spiritual weakness and grumble against God and Moses. This base need for water makes them question God’s hand at Massah, which means ‘a time of testing’ and Meribah, which means dissatisfaction. Sometimes we murmur because we focus on what we don’t have or what we think we should have (material things, bodily pleasures, power or status?), rather than focusing on what God has already done for us. The Hebrews in the desert forgot one fundamental point; God had a plan for them and would see that plan through. Though they loved God but their immediate need for water made them complain against the object of their love. Many a times we are caught up in the same web that our failures and temptations block us from appreciating God in our lives and live a life of complaint in our families, work places e.t.c.
Do we forget God has a plan for us and will provide for us? The first reading is not just about the Hebrews in the desert. The first reading is also about us. So when things are not as we think they should be, what do we do. God knows what we really need, not what we think we need, and God knows what will best prepare us for our future. God is to be first in our lives. God is the one who will make us happy. When things are not as we thought they would be, remember God has a plan for you.
Because God has a plan for us, Jesus went ahead to act in a socially unacceptable manner such that the Samaritan woman had to remind Jesus about this. But Jesus reached across the barriers of racial, sex, shame and guilt and religious prejudices. Do we who also share same privilege today still tie ourselves with these prejudices? This remains a big question calling for reflection on a day like today. Let us all who worship God today in spirit and in truth learn to yearn, long and thirst for Christ who is the object of our love.