Jn 9:1-41, (3rd Sunday of Lent, Year A)
|Christ And The Samaritan Woman, Via Latina Catacomb, Rome, 340 – 350|
Have you ever been incredibly thirsty? Water is a basic necessity for human life. When in need of water we all feel thirst, which is one of the most intense and urgent sensations we can experience. In the gospel of today, which tells about the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman, water plays a central role. In His dialogue with the woman, Jesus uses the natural thirst for water to point out a deeper and more vital need of the heart that each of us has. When this need is unmet, we all experience a thirst that is more painful and critical than our bodily thirst for water.
Each of our hearts has a profound desire for love that is longing to be quenched. We all thirst for true, unconditional love that makes us feel accepted for who we are, without having to do anything to earn it. When we lack this in our life, our heart is always restless. The Samaritan woman came to draw water. For a moment, put yourself in the place of the Samaritan woman. You have just left your house at noon, the hottest part of the day. The sun is beating down overhead and the streets are dusty. Why have you have gone to draw water at this most inconvenient time? Because you know that the well will be deserted. You want to avoid people. You are rejected and an outcast. Everyone sees you as a sinner because you have been married five times. Your heart is fragile, wounded and restless. You have so many desires: for love, for compassion and for acceptance. Though your body is in need of water, within your soul you experience a thirst that is even more urgent. The heart of each one of us is not much different than that of the Samaritan woman because like her we thirst for unconditional love.
There are many ways that we try unsuccessfully to quench this burning desire for love. We are like someone dying of thirst who, finding no water, will try in vain to satisfy their thirst with any liquid. We do this in many different ways. The Samaritan woman has had five husbands and is on to her sixth - she is looking for love in all the wrong places. What are the different ways that we try to fill our thirst for love and acceptance? We can find many example, some may seem extreme and others more ordinary, yet the unfulfilled desire that underlies them is the same. Deep down, why do you think that people get involved in gangs? Why do people become throw themselves into their work as though it were more important than their family? Why do others get caught up in a cycle of broken relationships and promiscuity? Why do we become so dependent on social media that we constantly need recognition in the form of “likes” and “favorites”? Are not these behaviors attempts to fill an inner void that leaves us unsettled, a thirst for love and acceptance that goes unsatisfied. Such remedies are at best temporary. Jesus tells us, “whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again”. All of us try in different ways to quench our thirsting souls without success.
Jesus alone can give us the unconditional love that our heart is yearning for. The Living Waters, for which we truly long, can only come from Him. The Samaritan woman met Jesus at the well. In the Bible, meetings at the well have deep significance: meetings at the well are meetings of love. A bride was found for Isaac at the well. Jacob and Moses both met their future spouses at a well. On the natural level, marriage is one the fullest way that we can quench our thirsting soul. But, even with the perfect spouse and kids, it would not be enough to quiet our restless heart. Today, at the well, the Samaritan woman meets the true bridegroom of her soul. By cultural standards, Jesus should not have been having this encounter with a woman, and a Samaritan at that. But Jesus wants to meet the Samaritan woman’s need for love. Jesus extends an offer to her, and to each one of us: let Me quench your thirsting soul! Anyone who drinks the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. Jesus offers us the Living Water. Only Jesus, the bridegroom of our soul, can truly quench our thirst for true, unconditional love.
Once we have received the Living Water from Christ, we become a spring from which others can drink. Just as we cannot give what we don’t have, we cannot give the true water to those who need it until we first have received it from Jesus. After Jesus has encountered the Samaritan woman and has meet her need for love and acceptance, what does she do? She goes off to tell others about what Jesus has done for her. She has a natural desire to lead other people to come and find Jesus. This gospel reminds me of a particular image that Pope Francis has been using for the Church. He explained that the Church today often needs to operate like a field hospital. Such a hospital, which operates on a field of battle, concerns itself exclusively with trying to save people from life threatening wounds. For example, a field hospital will be more concerned with a gaping wound in a patient’s side, rather than the fact that they have high cholesterol. Though the cholesterol is a health risk, in comparison to the wound, it is nothing and can be dealt with later. In the gospel, Jesus takes this approach with the Samaritan woman. Jesus acknowledges that the woman has some problems in her life - her five marriages. Yet He does not dwell there. The issue of her marriages is the equivalent of cholesterol in comparison to the wound in the Samaritan’s woman’s heart caused by her need unconditional love that only Jesus can give. Jesus seeks to satisfy this need first. Each day, we meet many wounded people, those struggling in broken relationship, dealing with addictions and maybe deep into sinful behaviors. These difficulties are important, but are secondary to their greater need for Jesus. In order to bring wounded people the unconditional love of Jesus, we have to have received it first. If this has not happened, then we cannot function as good physicians in the field hospital. Once we have received the true love that only Jesus can give, then we can give it to others.
Blaise Pascal wrote that within every soul there is an empty space, a God-shaped vacuum. Like any vacuum, the soul tries to draw into itself anything that is close by until the space is filled. The human body has a need for water, there can be no substitute. The human soul needs the unconditional love that Jesus alone can give. Today, let us come before Jesus and acknowledge how we try to quench our thirst for love, compassion and acceptance in ways that do not satisfy, and repenting, let us ask Him to quench our thirst. During this Mass, in your heart make this prayer: Jesus I thirst for you. This is such a simple prayer and very dear to God’s heart. As St. Augustine wrote, God thirsts to be thirsted for.