“Tormented by thirst, the people complained against Moses: ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Was it so that I should die of thirst, my children too and my cattle?’ ”
Hunger and thirst express a fundamental drive for life. It is not surprising, therefore, that such fundamental instincts came to express our relationship with God. Do we, in the language of the psalms, hunger and thirst for the Lord or, like the Israelites at Massah and Meribah, do we seek satisfaction elsewhere?
Lent calls us to repentance, to examine the hidden longings that drive our choices. Thirst brought the tribes of Israel to complaint and open rebellion: “Is the Lord with us or not?” In less dramatic ways the indulgence of self-centred longing leads us away from God.
When Moses struck the rock at Horeb, providing water for the people, he demonstrated that God alone satisfies our deepest thirst. The same imagery inspired the Prophet Ezekiel in his vision (Ezekiel 47) of the future temple. From the side of the restored temple a stream would flow forth, a stream that would embrace the whole earth with its life-giving water. Ezekiel’s intention was quite clear. God alone brings life to parched souls.
Jesus took up the same imagery in his encounter with the Samaritan woman. The narrative begins with the graciousness of God’s call. Jesus did not, like others, treat the Samaritan woman as an outsider. “What? You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?”
Jesus, while he met the woman on the level of the shared thirst that brought them to the well, took thirst far beyond its physical satisfaction: “If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you ‘give me a drink’, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.”
Jesus was inviting the woman to see in him the only satisfaction to all her longing. “Whoever drinks this water will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.”
During Lent we challenge ourselves as the Samaritan woman was challenged. In the openness of prayer we examine the many wells that sustain our present life. At which well do we choose to drink, for there are many: the well of selfishness, the well of arrogance, the well of sin, or the well that is Christ himself, the inner spring that wells up to eternal life?
Water, as the source of all life, came to express the abundant life entrusted to us at baptism. As we approach Easter and the renewal of our baptismal faith, we commit ourselves to Christ. As life-giving water flowed from the side of our crucified Lord, so are we brought to life as we journey towards our Easter Lord.
Jesus went on to explain to the Samaritan woman what was meant by describing himself as the living water springing to life within us. It is in prayer and worship that we are most aware of our relationship with God. Not uncommonly prayer can become a desert, a dryness of tormenting thirst. Jesus went on to explain to the woman that he alone could bring about the inner transformation that gives life to our prayer: “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. The hour will come when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
Christ, the living water springing from within, gives life to our prayer. In him we worship in spirit and in truth.