Anyone who has ever been really thirsty at one time or another – that’s probably most of us – knows how you become fixated on getting something to drink. For example, when you got the stomach flu and couldn’t have anything to eat or drink for a while until your stomach was settled, and all you could think about was just having a few drops of water. Hydration is one of the most fundamental human needs. Apparently, a human being can live for about twenty days without food, but only about five to seven days without water. And, like food, no matter how much water we’ve had, it’s not long before we need to have more. We always need more water.
We often take something like water for granted – we just turn on the faucet and out it comes in abundance. It is cheap, clean, and plentiful. Of course, everywhere in the world only a few generations ago, and in much of the world even today, it was none of these things. In ancient Israel at the time of Christ, getting water could be a rather time-consuming task. Every village had a well to which women – it was usually considered a woman’s job – would go with their water jugs usually early in the morning or later in the evening when it was cooler. Then they would haul the water back home to their families. That was the water that they had for the day, so they had to conserve.
In our Gospel today, we find ourselves in a town in Samaria, a region between Judea in the south where Jerusalem is located and Galilee in the north where Jesus came from. Jesus is on his way back to Galilee from Judea, a two-and-a-half-day journey on foot. He is tired and thirsty from his journey and stops at a well in this Samaritan town to rest. And there he meets a woman of the village who has come to draw water.
Little did this woman know before she set out for the well, a routine task that she she did every day, that on this particular day she would have an encounter that would change her life forever. Little did she know that she was going to encounter God himself, sitting at the well, waiting for her to draw some water for him. And so, the woman went to the well, and the Gospel tells us that she went at midday.
We should pay close attention to the little details in the Gospel, for often they reveal something to us. The woman came alone to the well at midday. Women would usually go in groups to the well to get their water during the cooler parts of the day. The Samaritan woman of our Gospel reading, however, goes by herself at the hottest part of the day. She is alone, and she does not want to run into anyone; that’s why she goes at that time of day.
In his conversation with her, we learn why: Jesus says that she has had five husbands. For this she was considered a woman of ill repute. No doubt people avoided her because of this and she avoided them out of shame. And yet Jesus speaks to her, and even more than that, asks her to give him something to drink – Jesus is so humble that is not ashamed to ask for help from this woman who is shunned by others.
Just as Jesus waited for this woman to come to meet him at the well, so too does he wait patiently for each one of us. In his humility, he waits for us. He thirsts for us and waits for us to come and alleviate this thirst. No matter who we are or what we may have done in our lives, Jesus waits for us for us to come alleviate his thirst for us. He loves us no matter who we are or what we have done, but as with the Samaritan woman, he doesn’t want us to stay the same; he wants to transform us.; he wants us to become more and more the person he created us to be. And if we have a true encounter with him, he will transform us.
And, just as he told the Samaritan woman that he would give her living water which would make her never thirst again, so too does he desire to give us that same living water. When we have a drink, we know that it won’t be long before we’re thirsty again. But what Jesus offers us is living water that will quench our thirst forever. We will have no need of anything else because he will completely satisfy us. What else can this be but heaven? This is what Jesus desires to give us; he loves us so much that he thirsts for us to come to him so that he can give us the living water that will quench our thirst and satisfy us forever.
And Jesus is already trying to give us that living water. Last week we had lots of rain. Because the ground was still frozen, not much of the rain actually soaked into the ground; most of it just ran off into the streams and rivers. When we are far away from the Lord, when we fail to follow Jesus, or listen to him, and when we don’t pray, our souls are like that frozen ground: very little if any of the living water that Jesus wants to give us actually penetrates into our soul; it just runs off. But when we pray, when we seek to listen to Jesus and follow his will for us, when we open our hearts to let Jesus in and let him love us, our souls soften and that living water can begin to soak in.
We become transformed by our encounter with Jesus. And that encounter truly changes lives, as it did the life of the Samaritan woman. And then, again like her, we become evangelists: we want to tell others about what Jesus has done for us, and how he has changed us.