3rd Sunday of Lent
…whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him
a spring of water welling up to eternal life.The incident in today’s Gospel of the encounter between the Lord and this Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well was truly something divinely decreed from all eternity. For the woman, it was likely seen as a chance encounter with a Jewish man looking for a drink of water.
But for the Lord, it was a particular fulfillment of the Father’s eternal will decreed for the salvation of this one soul and for the enlightenment of countless others who would hear of it through the ages to follow. The encounter touches the woman’s heart and at the same time reveals in all its power the messianic mission, that Jesus is the Messiah and that He has come to transform the very way that mankind is to relate to the true God and how man is to worship the true God according to God’s own will.
One cannot really understand the significance of this encounter with the Samaritan woman, and why it was recounted in such length by John the Evangelist, unless one come to understand the way the Christian religion surpasses and fulfills every other form of religion in this world. It is indeed a sign of the times that we live in today that Christians are often made to feel uneasy, perhaps even embarrassed, by any such absolute claim that Christianity is the divinely established religion for all of mankind, or, to put it in another way, that Jesus Christ is the one, sole mediator of salvation to mankind, the sole source of salvation for the whole human race. Because we live in a world which tends to reduce religious truth to a purely subjective matter of opinion, any such absolute claim tends to strike many of our contemporaries, non-Christian and Christian, as offensive and divisive, undemocratic, and on that basis alone, unfounded.
Jesus, nonetheless, makes just such a series of claims in today’s Gospel, and one is forced therefore to either accept what he says, or reject Him along with his teaching. For instance, the “living water” that Jesus says he has come to give us makes a claim regarding the absolute superiority of His revelation and other gifts he brings to mankind over every other form of human religion and worship of God. It is precisely here that the significance of the woman’s nationality fits in to the picture. She is a Samaritan, and as such, to a Jew she represents all Samaritans and thus a kind of semi-pagan at best, for the Jews considered the Samaritans to be apostates and heretics, legally impure, semi-pagan, comparable to all the pagan nations and their religions. Thus for the Gospel of John she indeed at least partially represents here every other form of religion in this world.
Jesus speaks to this woman, already a breaking of custom for a Jew, and tells her of a living water that he can give her, something much purer and refreshing than the stagnant water she has come to draw from Jacob’s well. Jacob was the father of both the Jews and the Samaritans, and the stagnant water in Jacob’s well represents here for Jesus the condition not only of the apostate religion of the Samaritans, but even by extension the stagnation of the religion of many Jews. That is the significance of Jesus statement that the time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain in Samaria nor in Jerusalem. The water Jesus is bringing surpasses all the power of all the religions in this world, including the truly revealed religion of the Jews, from whom salvation indeed does come, as Jesus outrightly affirms here.
Now just as water in nature is necessary for man’s physical life, so the “living water” Jesus speaks of here represents the life-giving grace of the Messianic Kingdom and all its power to transform man from within. This water, this supernatural gift, is a living, flowing water that transforms the person into a worshiper of God in Spirit and in Truth, because it transforms the person into a child of the living God. Flowing water in nature is a water that is always being renewed, and likewise the grace that Jesus brings constantly renews the life of adoption and transforms so that man can worship God as God desires, that is, as a creature living in the Spirit, and guided by
the truth revealed by the Word of God who with the Father and the Spirit already lives, here and now, within them.
The absolute superiority of this new, living water of divine Grace is made clear when Jesus says that whoever drinks this water “will never be thirsty again.” Even the water of the Old Covenant, its revealed truth, could only begin to satisfy man’s religious aspirations, but it could never totally satisfy man’s deep thirst for God. Only with the truth and the grace that Jesus brings into the world, the living water of His Spirit, can man aspire to the final fulfillment of his desire for God.
As already stated, the Grace of the Spirit already makes us God’s children, here and now intimately sharing God’s own life. But one day, in heaven, our thirst for God will be totally, superabundantly fulfilled when we see God face to face and fully enter into His Life and Happiness forever. In heaven that living water will fulfill its inherent power and promise of Eternal happiness, and man’s thirst for God will be quenched forever. That is what St. Paul means when he says in our second reading today, “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. In the final analysis, the living water Jesus speaks about is the Holy Spirit, who dwells in our hearts as the living and ever-renewing fount of all graces which draw us closer and closer to God.
We learn all this from the Gospels, that our adoption by God as his children is effected by Jesus placing the very source, the fountain itself of this new, living water, Sanctifying Grace, within our human soul, so that this new life can be constantly renewed from within, and at last spring up to everlasting life in Heaven. It is the presence of the every source of life within man, the source being the Holy Spirit, that enables man to become an authentic worshiper of God, one who worships God, literally, in the Spirit, and according to the truth planted in our souls, like a fountain that springs up to worship God eternally.
Jesus has come to bring this Messianic water, to plant His Spirit and His truth within the human spirit, and he tells his disciples at the well in Samaria that day that the time is now ripe for the harvest. He plants the Spirit and, immediately, the fields become shining, ready for the Harvest. The sowing and reaping are almost simultaneous, as we see when the whole town comes out and many are immediately converted to faith in Jesus. Here too the superiority of the Messianic faith is manifested, in that the suddenness of the harvest is made possible only because the living water, planted by Jesus, the Spirit, has such powers to transform man from within.
What this all means for us and for our world should be clear. The fact that this living water is a permanent gift to the Church, and the fact that it has such power to transform mankind always gives hope to our world, that no matter how bad things may become, there is always the hope of a true renewal of the face of the earth – that is why we can pray Come Holy Spirit… renew the face of the earth. Because of this fount, planted in the midst of this world, in the Church and in individual human hearts, there is always hope for the human race, for the transformation of human hearts and thus for the renewal of the face of the earth.
It is this same Spirit who can renew each of this Lent, if we but allow Him to be the fount of living water springing up within us; to be the life-giving fount that enables us to be purified by our Lenten discipline; to be the fount who alone enables us to truly worship God in Spirit and Truth, as God’s true sons and daughters; the fount that will finally bring us home so that at last we will never thirst again.