What a very human picture Saint John paints of the encounter between Our Lord and the Samaritan woman at the well. Exhausted from a long walk in the hot sun, Our Lord sat down and dismissed Jewish tradition by asking this woman for a drink of water to quench his thirst. For almost 400 years Jews and Samaritans didn’t speak to one another because of a feud kept alive by each generation, a feud which had embittered relationships between the two peoples. Thirst knows no boundaries and so Our Lord strikes up a conversation with the woman. And the woman, taking Our Lord literally, was astonished to hear that he could provide her with water that would last forever. She had always wanted to be spared the embarrassment of being snubbed at the well by her neighbours who despised her because of her chequered lifestyle. As the conversation deepened the woman came to realise that her problem was not so much the lack of water but rather an inner thirst that no earthly water could satisfy: a thirst caused by the absence of God in her life. The Samaritan woman had quite a story to tell because five husbands had failed to bring her happiness. Our Lord leads her to look at her deeply troubled life and helped her to unburden her soul. And without a single note of condemnation Our Lord accepted her, and coming to terms with everything she ever did wrong, she was released from her guilt. Our Lord gave her hope and offered her nothing less than the living waters of friendship and the Spirit of God which leads to eternal life.
Today’s readings focus on water and thirst, but what exactly do water and thirst mean in the context of the Gospel message? Well, it’s not just water as we know it that Our Lord is talking about, but rather the saving love of Almighty God poured out into our hearts enabling us to find life and peace. Thirst symbolises the absence of God in our lives; that unsatisfied longing within every human heart. Saint Augustine talks about “our hearts being restless until they find their rest in God.” Since the pleasures of life fail to satisfy the thirsting human spirit, the only remedy is a relationship with God who provides a mysterious type of water producing a wellspring of life within us.
What it took five husbands to teach the Samaritan woman, we learn from the mistakes of our own lives. Her conversion gives us great hope because in human terms a worthwhile life was quite beyond her. And yet her past didn’t hinder her from coming close to God. Our Lord won her over by gently leading her out of herself and raising her mind and heart to higher things. He restored her dignity and changed her life.
When we were baptised we received this saving water of life for the first time. It was a beginning which planted us like seeds in God’s garden. As life goes on we need to be constantly in touch with the fountain of living water which Our Lord gives us, otherwise we wither and the miracle of growth in holiness doesn’t take place.
Today, Our Lord asks us to take another look at how we are living out our baptismal promises. If we are suffering from thirst his Spirit is always at hand to refresh us and lead us in our search for the unending, the unchanging and the eternal.