Third Sunday of Lent
I’ve been watching a lot of TV these last few months, mostly syndicated programming, a lot of dark comedy and crime drama, stuff I can’t believe I missed at the time they were actually on the air. I can’t say why I missed them. Maybe I was too busy watching something else. I don’t deny I’ve watched a lot of TV in my lifetime, maybe because all my friends were following the same programs so we had something to talk about when we got together, maybe because there was much more excitement in the lives of make-believe characters on TV, maybe because my life didn’t have a laugh track and people on TV could be doing the same boring things as me, but because there was a laugh track it was often funnier. Whatever my reasons, I realize I turn to TV after a long busy day because it takes my mind off my troubles. I don’t much like taking on other people’s troubles, so I mostly watched fictional programming. Ok, I watch the news and the weather at breakfast so I can find out what’s going on in the world, whether or not I need an umbrella. And again I watch the news and weather at dinner so I can catch up with all that was going on in the world while I was returning phone calls and going to meetings all day, and whether or not I need an umbrella tomorrow. The rest of the TV I watch challenges my perceptions of life’s great lessons, it pokes fun at life’s absurdities and inconsistencies, and it reinforces my belief that good triumphs over evil every single time, although it might take more than a half hour in real life. So television has been a healthy escape for me. Along with prayer and leisure reading and light recreation, it makes up what I need to refresh my mind and heart so I could maintain a healthy balance in work and life. If I did not refresh myself, I know my morale and possibly my productivity might suffer. It’s very critical that we maintain a healthy balance in our lives between reality and fantasy, between the burdens that weigh us down and the powers that lift us up. It is just as critical as the balance between gravity and inertia, the forces that keep the planets in their orbits instead of colliding into each other.
The need to be inwardly refreshed and renewed is a concern that is familiar to people who desire balance in their lives. You can only spend so much of yourself on others and their cares. At some point, you will need to replenish your energy or your troubles will consume you alive. All caregivers and parents are aware they need to take care of themselves, so they can take care of others. And if our care of those who rely on us begins to suffer, we need either to attend immediately to our own well-being or hand over their care to those who will do a better job.
The woman who encountered Jesus at Jacob’s well in the middle of the day was going about her business, attending to her life’s basic needs and concerns the best way she knew how. Scripture scholars will point out that the practice of fetching water for the household in this part of the world is more commonly accomplished early in the day when temperatures are cooler. The Samaritan woman came later in the day to avoid the stares, the gossip and contempt of the other women, perhaps because the man she was with was not her husband. Although she needed water for drinking, cooking and washing, she didn’t need the ridicule and animosity from her neighbors. The best solution was finding another time despite the inconvenience. And it was exactly on this trip to the well when Jesus encountered her and showed her a thirst she just never attended to seriously before.
We spend much of our lives attending to things that are important to us, caring for our loved ones, enjoying the fruits of our labor, celebrating our freedoms, making sure to arrange our day according to what best suits our convenience, avoiding conflict and planning for the immediate future. Repeatedly, we go to the well to quench some kind of physical thirst. Every once in a while someone will upset our balance by introducing a need we never knew we had. It is the basis of our consumer economy. If I want to make a profit, I have to convince you I have something you want, something you might be willing to part with your money for in order to have. It is the principle that is the basis for TV programming in the wee hours of the morning … which is probably not the best time to be watching TV.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, she merely came to fetch some water, but he wanted to point out to her a thirst for God’s life and for spiritual balance. The physical water she came for would only satisfy a physical thirst. But there was a deeper thirst and longing in her heart for meaning and purpose, which only God can quench and satisfy. This Lenten season, we come to many wells to satisfy some passing thirst. We make time to come to church when it is most convenient, we observe the disciplines of Lent as the church prescribes, we even give up something or other that we really like to express a desire to die to our selfishness and pride. Yet Jesus awaits us on these occasions to offer us something more, something to satisfy a deeper thirst, a deeper longing. He offers us living water to quench our thirst and fuel our witness of the gospel. Like the woman at the well, we will first need to acknowledge that which is messy in our lives and perhaps rethink how better to live our baptismal commitment. All our pursuits and concerns seem only to serve a passing purpose. When that purpose is satisfied, we will thirst again. Do you desire to quench a deeper thirst this Lenten season, a thirst that reaches beyond your sense of duty, your expectations of yourself, the image you project? Do you thirst for living water that only Jesus gives?
Jesus meets us often this Lent exactly where we seek merely to quench a physical thirst, and he wants to speak to us of a deeper thirst within our hearts. Will we put our water jar down long enough to hear what he has to say, or are we content with the water we came for, and nothing more?