A Thirst for Living Water – Homily for the Third Sunday in Lent

Jacob's Well

Today’s gospel is a story of baptism,
and what baptism does for each of us.
It’s a story of thirst and water, of longing and desire.
It’s part one of a baptismal trilogy that continues next week and the week after.
Three lessons about baptism, with three images:
this week water,
next week light,
and the following week rising from the dead.

But it all begins with being thirsty.

Within each one of us is a deep yearning,
what St. Augustine calls a restlessness,
what some spiritual writers call a “holy longing.”
Something eats at our hearts,
a feeling of something missing, of being incomplete,
a desire for something just beyond our vision.

A thirst.

The Samaritan woman in today’s gospel comes to the well thirsty.
Each day she picks up her water jar,
walks half a mile from her home in Sychar to Jacob’s well,
and returns home with the jar full of water.
Day after day.
No matter how often she comes to the well,
she is still thirsty the next day, and has to go to the well again.

But as is often the case in John’s gospel,
there are two levels of meaning here.

Not only is the Samaritan woman physically thirsty,
but she’s also spiritually thirsty.
We find out she’s been married five times,
and the man she is living with now is not her husband.
In other words, she can’t seem to stay settled down.
Her life is uneasy and unsettled.

She goes from husband to husband,
trying to ease her restlessness,
trying to satisfy her longings,
trying to quench her thirst.
But no matter how many relationships she’s been in,
she still feels the restlessness, the longing.
She is still thirsty.

And then one day she carries her jar to the well,
and Jesus is there.

Jesus knows she’s a Samaritan,
he knows all about her five husbands,
and still he offers her Living Water.
“Everyone who drinks this water will never be thirsty again.”
“The water I shall give will become in them a spring of water
welling up to eternal life.”

This is what she’s been longing for.
This is what we long for.
Her story is our story.

We spend our lives
trying to quench our thirst
by going after mirages in the desert—
money, success, pleasure—
but it is never enough.
Even when we throw ourselves into service,
helping those in need,
taking care of our families,
we still feel restless and unsettled.
Like the Samaritan woman,
we still thirst.

Why is that?
Theologian Karl Rahner puts it this way:
“God loves us so much, he creates in us a desire that only he can fill.”
Or in the words of St. Augustine,
“Our hearts are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.”

In other words, no single human experience can leave us fully satisfied.
Only the infinite mystery of God’s Love can satisfy the longing,
the restlessness, the thirst in our hearts.
This is the Living Water that Christ offers to the Samaritan woman,
the same water each of us received at our baptisms.

This is the Living Water that catechumens are preparing to receive
when they are baptized at the Easter Vigil.

This weekend, all over the world,
catechumens gather in their parishes for what is called the First Scrutiny.

The Scrutinies,
which take place on the Third, Fourth and Fifth Sundays of Lent,
are not tests for the catechumens to pass.
The catechumens here at St. Peter Parish
will not come forward and stand before the altar
so that we can scrutinize them,
but so that they can scrutinize themselves.
The Scrutinies are moments of self-searching and repentance
for the catechumens
as they draw closer to their baptism.

When they come forward at the 10:30 Mass
we will pray over them with the following words:
“Grant that these catechumens,
who, like the woman of Samaria, thirst for living water,
may turn to the Lord as they hear his word
and acknowledge the sins and weaknesses that weigh them down.”

We’re going to pray that in their thirst they turn to the Lord.

Like the Samaritan woman,
like us,
the catechumens have a holy longing, a sacred thirst.

That thirst has brought them here to receive the Living Water of baptism.
They have come to understand
that only God can satisfy the desire of their hearts.

And for those of us who have already been baptized,
the story of the Samaritan woman reminds us to scrutinize our lives too.
We, too, are to turn to the Lord in our thirst,
to acknowledge the sins and weaknesses that weigh us down.

The gospel story of the woman at the well
invites us to think about all the things we thirst for,
all the desires deep within us,
all the things we long for in life—
in our personal life, in our professional life, in our spiritual life—
and to think of the different ways
we have tried to satisfy the those thirsts.

The gospel invites to remember times we went after things
we thought would quench our thirst,
but turned out to be only mirages in the end,
illusions in the desert,
and to think of times when we have been deeply satisfied,
when we have felt the grace of God like a flowing river.

We, also, are to use this story of the woman at the well
for self-reflection and repentance.

But for the baptized, there is another side to this baptismal story,
because we are told that Jesus is also thirsty.
He asks the woman for a drink of water.
And just as there is another level to the woman’s thirst,
so there is another level to Jesus’ thirst.
Jesus thirsts for the woman to have faith.

Jesus yearns to give everyone the water that will become in them
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

We who have been baptized into Christ
are to have that same thirst, that same yearning,
to bring Living Water to a world that is dying of thirst.

We are the rock in Horeb that Moses struck with his staff.
From out of us, who have been struck in baptism,
water is to flow for the people around us to drink.
St. Paul tells us today that
“the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit
who has been given to us.”
It is that love that we are to pour out for others.

Just as Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well,
we encounter people each day
who are thirsty,
people who have been trying to calm their restlessness in all sorts of ways,
but who can only be satisfied by the Living Water of Jesus Christ.

It is our calling as Christians, as members of the Body of Christ,
to show others the same mercy Jesus showed to the woman at the well,
and to offer the gift of God’s love to all,
no matter who they are or what their life to this point has been like,
whether they’ve had five husbands or fifty.

For there is nothing that satisfies
like a drink of the cool, clear water of God’s love and mercy.
This is the water of baptism.
This is what the catechumens are preparing to receive.
This is what the world thirsts for,
and this is what satisfies our deepest longings
and quenches our eternal thirst.

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

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