The Samaritan woman in today’s gospel represents each one of us. Jesus’ long personal conversation with her shows us that he has come to meet us where we are, to give us the spiritual refreshment that we – often without realizing it – are deeply thirsting for. Jesus has come for sinners, for the spiritually thirsty, for the lowly and disenfranchised.
The woman comes to the well alone, in the heat of the day, with no one to help her in a task that is absolutely necessary to sustain life. If she wants to live, she must have water. To her great surprise, at the well she encounters a man whom she does not know who awakens in her a thirst for “living water.” How often this is true for us. Like this woman, it is often in a difficult moment, a moment of discomfort and thirst and hard, thankless labor, that we encounter Jesus. Maybe we are alone, left to do all the work without help. Or we find ourselves ostracized by others. Maybe our sins have caught up with us. Nothing in our life is working, but we continue along, not knowing what else to do. And maybe we have resigned ourselves to the idea that this is just how it is for us. Deep down, we are thirsting for happiness, for relief, for answers to our questions.
Like the Samaritan woman, at first we may be rather taken aback by Jesus’ presence in our lives. We may pester him with questions. This does not offend him. No matter what we say, he does not withdraw his interest in our welfare. He is most willing to engage us in personal conversation, even though we are often quite deeply rooted in a worldly view of things. The woman shows us the value of being open to listen to Jesus, and of being honest and humble. Gradually she comes to know who this man really is, and she learns that he knows who she really is. Jesus is more than a prophet; he is the very Messiah for whom every soul thirsts.
An essential part of the journey of conversion is the gentle but firm confrontation with sin. As Lent reminds us often, we can make no progress if we keep compromising with sin. Once Jesus has won the woman’s trust, he probes her conscience, raising the issue of her five husbands and her current live-in partner. No doubt it was difficult for her to be confronted with the truth of her shameful sin pattern, but Jesus knows that the truth is what sets us free. Without judgment or condemnation, he shines his light of truth into the dark corners of our lives in order to free us from the grip of sin. Our misguided efforts to relieve our thirst by means of sin have only left us thirstier than ever. If we have the humility to listen to Jesus, as this woman did, we can receive the living water of his mercy. This transforms us.
When we encounter Jesus in our hour of need, a great opportunity opens before us. If we are not too proud to learn something new and not too ashamed of our many sins, we can be filled with a whole new source of spiritual life. Beyond all our expectations, Jesus shares with us his own life and love, an interior fountain, “leaping up to provide eternal life.” St. Paul refers to this gift when he says that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” With this gift overflowing in our hearts, we can abandon our “water jar,” that is, whatever earthly desire we were seeking to satisfy, and go out to tell others about Jesus. We cannot help but proclaim what has happened to us. Every one of us who has encountered Jesus Christ is now charged with spreading the good news that he has come for us sinners. From sinner to evangelist – this is the salvation process!
In the reading from Exodus, the Israelites, like the Samaritan woman, find themselves in a place of great difficulty and discouragement. Their physical thirst is actually a manifestation of their spiritual thirst. Though they think they are following the Lord in the desert, interiorly they have drifted away from him and have begun to dream about Egypt. We cannot survive in the desert of this world without God! Even with all our best efforts, things go dreadfully wrong. We may cry out angrily to God, ‘Do you want me to die here of thirst?’ The Israelites asked, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?” Moses knows that the Lord is in their midst, but the people are not with the Lord. He knows that this problem is beyond him. He too cries out to God, imploring him to intervene. God reveals that he is indeed in their midst, giving them the miraculous sign of water flowing from a rock.
This story does not mean that we should expect dramatic, miraculous signs. We do not need Moses to prove to us that the Lord is in our midst. We need to open the eyes of our hearts to see what the Lord is doing today. Whether we are crying out to him in our thirst, seeking him in a dry period of our spiritual journey, or simply wondering where he is in our lives, the key is to persevere in faith. Even if we feel that we are not being heard, and cannot see any solution, and do not understand why we must endure hardships, we can trust that the Lord does indeed hear us, and that he is pouring – not sprinkling or trickling but pouring – his love into our hearts, to wash us clean and give us new life. We get all the living water we need from the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ.
Like the woman, am I willing to humbly listen to Jesus? What are the desires that I seek to satisfy? Am I willing to persevere in faith so I may encounter the Lord each day?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.