Quenching our deepest and truest thirst
Bishop Peter Muhich
Homily from the Televised Mass, NewsCenter1
Third Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2023
We know that this is truly the savior of the world.
Today’s readings for this Third Sunday of Lent are marked by people who do not understand, who are blinded, who grumble and have a hard time coming to recognize God’s presence and action in their midst.
First, in the first reading, we have the Israelites in the desert and in their thirst, the reading says, for water, the people grumbled. They doubted God, who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt by many mighty signs. Think of the parting of the waters of the Red Sea. But now they’re thirsty in the desert and they’re doubting, and they instead seem to prefer to slip back into their former slavery in Egypt where at least they felt some sort of security. They were used to it. This was more challenging.
And then we have the woman at the well in John’s Gospel. At first, when she encounters Christ, she’s kind of rude actually and certainly skeptical of Jesus.
Just a little review of Samaritans and Jews and their relationship. They did not get along. Samaritans were from a little further north than Jerusalem, in the area called Samaria. They were descendants of Jews that had intermarried with pagans when the Assyrians had settled on that part of what used to be the northern kingdom of Israel when they conquered that kingdom. So, the Assyrians were the regional power at the time and they conquered an area and like many, many regimes before and since, they will try to dilute the population by having them intermarry with another people. So, the Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the Jews. They did not get along and of course they had to worship in Samaria not in Jerusalem. That was another point of contention.
But notice Jesus goes out to meet her, and he’s actually sitting at the well when she comes to draw water. This is a great icon on the Gospels for the primacy of grace. Jesus is already there waiting for her because he knows she needs him. Like the Israelites in the desert, this woman is thirsty.
I know, we live in western South Dakota and a semi-arid climate, but this is nowhere near as arid as the southern kingdom of Judah. Except for the Dead Sea and the River Jordan, it’s a very dry place. Water was and is scarce there and thirst was and is a common experience which takes work to quench. They have cisterns to capture as much rainwater and spring water as possible. Jacob’s well, in the Gospel, is a cistern we hear, and people come there to find this precious commodity. The Israelites and the woman at the well not only know how scarce water is, they have to work hard to get it, every day. The woman has to walk a good distance to Jacob’s well and then carry her fill bucket home.
The Lord uses this powerful experience of thirst and powerful symbol of water to bring the Samaritan woman to faith. He begins by promising her living water and she can only think of a lifetime supply of water. Wouldn’t that be great not having to come to the well every day?
But he knows that that’s not truly what she’s thirsty for. Jesus recognizes in her a real thirst for God, but she’s blinded. Her vision is clouded. Why? Well, a big clue for us to answer that question is the time of day the woman is coming to the well. She’s coming there at noon when the day is the hottest and notice that nobody else is there except for Jesus. They’re all home in the shade. They’ve come to the well in the cool of the morning to fill their buckets.
This woman you see is an outcast and the Lord knows it. In the longer form of this reading, we hear Jesus say you’ve been married five times and now you’re living with a sixth man. He knows that her life is burdened with sin. She is blinded and weakened by sin. Her thirst for God is there, but she no longer recognizes it for what it is.
You and I are halfway through the season of Lent, and we might be tired of our Lenten practices of self-denial and good works. Maybe we’ve been tempted to give up. Maybe you haven’t started yet. Like the Israelites we may be grumbling, slipping back into our former slavery to sin because at least we were used to that.
Like the woman at the well, we may be weakened and blinded by our sins. Yet, we still have this deep thirst for God even if we can’t quite recognize what it is. Lent is held out to us by the church as an opportunity to become aware again of this deeper thirst and to connect it to God so that we can experience a kind of quenching of thirst that goes well beyond the physical.
So, this week’s assignment for all of us is to get back on track if we’re off track with our Lenten observance and to remember that Lent is about connecting this deepest thirst to God. In other words, it’s about conversion. Turning back to him. We know from the woman at the well, and the people there, that we have a testimony. That Christ is truly the savior of the world. The church proclaims that us anew this Lenten season so that we can find a quenching for our deepest and truest thirst.