Third Sunday of Lent

Reflection: Thirsting for God


Today’s Liturgy of the Word starts us out with the Israelites and Moses in the desert. After accepting God’s invitation to abandon slavery for freedom, the people quickly started complaining: They missed the food the Egyptians let them have, they feared they would die of thirst … and on and on.

Acting as if God had made no plans and was incapable of providing for them, they groused so much that Moses expected a mutiny. See Numbers 11 where Moses accuses God of being a negligent mother and complains that his task is more than he can handle.) In response, and to show how shortsighted they were, the creator of snow and rain brought water from stone, demonstrating that for God, nothing is impossible. (See Job 38.)

The desert wanderers really did have legitimate cause for worry. Like so many people today, they had no idea where their next meal would come from, and clean water had become a luxury they could only remember. When we consider how little time they had spent in freedom, we can appreciate that they were like dependent children, frightened because the situation was entirely out of their control.

Israel’s thirst sets up John’s account of the woman at the well. Although we rarely note it, a key aspect of this story is that Jesus was the one who was thirsty. This gives us a pretty iconoclastic image of God! We, who usually turn to God for help, are faced with Jesus, the Christ, sitting thirsty by a well without a bucket. Then, along comes a feisty Samaritan woman. The Savior of the world makes a request: “Give me a drink.”

Water is a precious commodity in the desert. Sharing water symbolizes hospitality, openness to the stranger and respect for life. In an inside out image of the God who draws water from stone, the vulnerable Jesus must ask for life-giving water and acceptance, and he does it at the well that symbolizes her heritage of faith in the God of Abraham. Once they have begun their conversation, the tables turn again and Jesus reveals that the divine thirst is not for water, but for a life-giving relationship with humanity.

What happened in the interchange between Jesus and Photina (the name the Orthodox give the Samaritan) should have been more threatening to the guardians of Jewish and Samaritan religion than anything else Jesus preached. When Photina tried to pit the Jewish and Samaritan approaches to God against one another, Jesus led her beyond every expression of denominationalism and dependence on ritual. All that mattered to Jesus was that Photina (and by extension all people) would know God as he did; he thirsted for her to be moved by God’s own Spirit and to abide in the truth-generating relationships that flow from that.

This is exactly what happened. As Photina began to comprehend what Jesus was saying, her feistiness turned to curiosity and then to faith. As the representative of a people who had sought God through a series of shallow affiliations (five husbands), she found a truth and love worthy of her and was impelled to share it.

Too often, we focus on Photina’s “five husbands,” as if this story were about the conversion of a loose woman. That overlooks the astounding theology and universality of this Gospel message. Theologically, this Gospel story reminds us that our creator invites humanity into relationship, but never imposes. This paints a picture of God as both vulnerable and thirsty, ever waiting near some well to offer life to those who can listen, wonder and respond. The universality of today’s message comes through Jesus’ proclamation that real worship and relationship with God does not depend on place or ritual, but on how the people become vulnerable to the Spirit’s action in their lives.

Paul preaches this very same message in the Letter to the Romans when he assures us that our “justification” is based on faith. If we were to put Paul’s idea in the context of the interaction between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we would say that salvation springs from relationship with God; it is never bound by any particular deed, creed or ritual. Salvation happens when we attend to God’s thirst and respond with personal hospitality. Once we have been affected by a relationship with God, it automatically begins to flow into all our other relationships, making us not just believers, but almost irresistible evangelizers.

Today, Photina may appear to us in many guises. We will recognize her not by her name, geography or appearance, but rather by her enthusiastic love and the way she invites us to respond to God’s thirst and enjoy living water forever. Like her, all we need do is respond. As a result, the world’s thirst will begin to be quenched.

Reading I

(Exodus 17: 3-7)

In those days, in their thirst for water,
the people grumbled against Moses,
saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?
Was it just to have us die here of thirst 
with our children and our livestock?”
So Moses cried out to the LORD, 
“What shall I do with this people?
a little more and they will stone me!”
The LORD answered Moses,
“Go over there in front of the people, 
along with some of the elders of Israel, 
holding in your hand, as you go, 
the staff with which you struck the river.
I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb.
Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it 
for the people to drink.”
This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel.
The place was called Massah and Meribah, 
because the Israelites quarreled there
and tested the LORD, saying,
“Is the LORD in our midst or not?”

Responsorial psalm

(Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9)

Reading II

(Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8)

Brothers and sisters:
Since we have been justified by faith, 
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
through whom we have gained access by faith 
to this grace in which we stand, 
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.

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.
For Christ, while we were still helpless, 
died at the appointed time for the ungodly.
Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, 
though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.


(John 4: 5 – 42)

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, 
near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Jacob’s well was there.
Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well.
It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
Jesus said to her,
“Give me a drink.”
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to him,
“How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?”
—For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.—
Jesus answered and said to her,
“If you knew the gift of God
and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘
you would have asked him 
and he would have given you living water.”
The woman said to him, 
“Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; 
where then can you get this living water?
Are you greater than our father Jacob, 
who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself 
with his children and his flocks?”
Jesus answered and said to her, 
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 
but 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 woman said to him,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty 
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her,
“Go call your husband and come back.”
The woman answered and said to him,
“I do not have a husband.”
Jesus answered her,
“You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’
For you have had five husbands, 
and the one you have now is not your husband.
What you have said is true.”
The woman said to him,
“Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain; 
but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her,
“Believe me, woman, the hour is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You people worship what you do not understand; 
we worship what we understand, 
because salvation is from the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and is now here, 
when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; 
and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.
God is Spirit, and those who worship him
must worship in Spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; 
when he comes, he will tell us everything.”
Jesus said to her,
“I am he, the one speaking with you.”
At that moment his disciples returned, 
and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, 
but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” 
or “Why are you talking with her?”
The woman left her water jar 
and went into the town and said to the people, 
“Come see a man who told me everything I have done.
Could he possibly be the Christ?”
They went out of the town and came to him.
Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.”
But he said to them,
“I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
So the disciples said to one another, 
“Could someone have brought him something to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me
and to finish his work.
Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’?
I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest.
The reaper is already receiving payment 
and gathering crops for eternal life, 
so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together.
For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’
I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; 
others have done the work, 
and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” 
Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him
because of the word of the woman who testified, 
“He told me everything I have done.”
When the Samaritans came to him,
they invited him to stay with them; 
and he stayed there two days.
Many more began to believe in him because of his word, 
and they said to the woman, 
“We no longer believe because of your word; 
for we have heard for ourselves, 
and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”