‘There were two wells and three water jugs…’ It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke yet this is the scenario St. John presents us with. The woman and her water jug both come to be filled at the well. There they meet Jesus who is both a water jug and a well; He thirsts and He satisfies. There are two different understandings of thirst at play here which Jesus gradually helps the woman to appreciate.
In the Scriptures Jesus speaks of thirst at a deeper level than that of simple bodily needs. For example He says, ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for uprightness’ (Matthew 5:6); or again while hanging on the cross, ‘I thirst’ (John 19:28). However, by asking the woman for a drink after the ardours of His missionary activity, He clearly recognises the importance of physical thirst too. On this, St. Augustine writes: ‘Jesus is strong and weak: strong, because in the beginning was the Word; weak, because the Word was made flesh.’ Just as in the parables, Jesus draws on everyday mundane examples familiar to His hearers in order to bring them to a deeper awareness of God’s love.
Who among us therefore, does not know what it means to thirst? We can identify with this because we know it and because we know it, we know the struggle involved to satiate it. There is something profound about the woman’s desire and her request of Jesus to give her some of that living water He offers ‘so that she may never thirst again’ (John 4:15). It is the story of our limited human nature that while striving for ultimate fulfilment, understands the disillusionment with temporal goods. ‘Into the sea go all the rivers and yet the sea is never filled and still to their goal the rivers go’ (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Though necessary for our physical well-being, material things are unable to satisfy our deepest longings and still we continually devour those externals in the hope of filling that internal, God-shaped void He alone can fill.
We consume food and drink, alcohol and drugs, fashions and trends, art and literature, music, sport and culture and so much more. To stay at that level though is a problem for Jesus. Consumers are good for business but to settle for being mere consumers is a poor substitute for any person, whom God has made in His own image and likeness. Jesus is our mirror and our compass, reminding us of our humanity and our relationship with God. Rather than remaining at the level of consuming externals, important as they are, Jesus promises a spring of living water internally, welling up to eternal life. It is an invitation to relationship with God. It shows itself as a disposition or state of existence in which a person is so convinced of God’s love for them that they become lovers in return. The spring of living water gives life perspective, meaning and hope. This is something the market cannot offer.
Of the two wells then, Jesus and the water well, which of them should we draw from to be well? This is the key question; where is life in its fullest sense to be found? We should reasonably draw from both since we have physical and spiritual needs alike but there is certainly an order of importance. We are more than the consumers the economy tells us we are. We are more than the posh apes coughed up by the universe that the human sciences would have us believe we are. Many centuries ago Pope Saint Leo the Great joyfully exclaimed ‘O Christian, be aware of your nobility’ as he pondered the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. By highlighting the inability of the water well to satisfy our deepest desires, Jesus points us to the source of that nobility – God; the source of all life.
The Third Sunday of Lent Year A (John 4:5-42)