Readings: Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1- 8; John 4:5-42
A precious commodity anywhere, and certainly in New Mexico, is water, something many of us perhaps take for granted. For the gift of water, we are always grateful. Saint Francis of Assisi went so far as to call it, “Sister Water, so useful, lowly, precious and pure.”
The readings for this Third Sunday of Lent speak about water and the words of Jesus to the woman at the well spring forth as a fountain of living water for all peoples everywhere. The place, called Jacob’s well, provided the springboard for the wonderful discourse on God’s living water perfectly expressed in the person and mission of Jesus Christ.
This Sunday’s Book of Exodus reading recounts the water flowing from the rock in the desert as a symbol of salvation for the children of the Hebrews. We believe this rock is the Lord Jesus Christ, from whom we receive our salvation. So it is in our Christian dispensation, water and salvation are especially connected to the sacrament of Baptism, where we experience our incorporation into the Mystical Body of Christ. The love of God is also compared to living water “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” as Saint Paul beautifully says in the second reading for this Sunday.
At Jacob’s well Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, describing the thirst which ordinary water cannot quench. The God who loves us without measure is the only one capable of quenching our thirst for eternal life, for true life. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that, “Whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty…the water I give shall become a fountain within, leaping up to provide eternal life.”
Christ found in water an appropriate image for speaking about himself and his gift of salvation for the human race. In a land where water means life or death, and really that is everywhere, Jesus speaks of the necessity of salvation, of going to him as one goes to a source of living water in the desert. “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come,” the prophet Isaiah (chapter 55.1) foretold in ancient times, predicting the fulfillment to be realized in Jesus Christ.
For us today the reality is no different than in the time of the first followers of Christ. We need the same salvation that they sought and found. We are broken, like them, but loved into being by God and called to eternal life in Jesus Christ. Only Christ can slake our thirst, the same one who awakes our thirst. All the other things our culture highly values, such as health, wealth, beauty and youth, are passing away. God alone abides forever.
We are called to leave behind the old ways, what could be called the stagnant waters, where perhaps for too long we have drawn our security or identity, be it our bank account, our possessions, our looks or youth. These things are not what really matter in life, of course, nor do they bring us into the next life. If Christ is not in our life, we are lacking what is really needed to live, for we do not possess the plenitude of life, the essential companion in our journey, God’s love embodied in Jesus Christ.
Especially in this season of Lent, Christ is calling us to the renounce self, to a conversion of life. Jesus left us a supreme example of this in coming to serve rather than to be served. He gave his life without counting the cost or running in fear. We are called to do likewise.
The woman at the well had a life of unquenched thirst. She did not even want to speak of her life to Jesus, yet he knew she had sought life in many places but remained unsatisfied. Jesus offers her what she really wants and needs for life.
“I see you are a prophet,” the woman at the well tells Jesus. She seems to want to change the subject rather than dwell on what Jesus has to offer in the form of living water. But Jesus presses on to tell her where in fact the Messiah is to be found. He tells her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Perhaps like the woman at the well we are often on the verge of giving ourselves completely to God, but something holds us back, the stagnant waters that we hope will give life but really do not. May the marvelous words of Christ about life-giving water encourage us to plunge deeply into the well of life that is to be found in Christ.
Having been baptized means being transformed in the fountain of living water. Baptism offers new life, but not a life that is to remain untouched, but rather, communicated, offered to others, so that the life within may grow and increase our faith, hope and love as well as give life to others. No one is an island, in other words. We have an effect on one another, for good or bad.
Jesus tells his disciples that they are fountains of living water, light to the nations and salt of the earth. All of these are beautiful images of the important role we have in carrying out God’s work on earth, being signs of God’s merciful love to all we meet.
The Gospel today is good news, like a living stream or a well in the midst of the desert. Christ has the water of eternal life. He is the Word of God that, like rain falling on the good and bad alike, does not fall in vain.
Let us draw near to the table of the Eucharist in order to tell the Lord: thank you for being the fountain of living water springing up to eternal life and thank you, Lord, for being the Bread of Life.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB