Like many teenagers in high school, there were days when I didn’t want to go to school. It was painful at worst, boring at best – until I met teachers who did not just teach the subject matter. Instead they were convinced they had to show us what it meant to be alive. And we could not possibly be learning anything important unless we began to truly live. But I didn’t figure that out then. Like many teenagers, I imagined school was invented to keep us off the streets, since we weren’t yet ready to have a life. Grown-ups don’t always trust teenagers to take things seriously. You knew you goofed up when a grown-up begins the conversation with “Life is not a game. You can’t be playing around all the time.” So they made up things to keep us busy in school, like World History and English Literature and Analytic Geometry.
When I was in high school, Brother Nic taught Algebra. Better yet, he taught me to love Algebra. Later on, I had to teach Freshman Algebra; and my students loved learning Algebra. That’s what I told myself anyway. To this day, no one has ever come back to tell me my Algebra class changed their life. A few students did talk to me then about their family life, their joys, their struggles, and their hopes – maybe because I taught a subject they enjoyed. It was in those moments that I was able to share with them my reasons for living and loving and believing. Algebra was just the door.
Jacob’s well was Jesus’ door to touch the woman’s heart – to show her her thirst, so that he could give her water to quench it. We are at church each Sunday because we also thirst. But like the woman at the well, Jesus is asking us to give him a drink.
There are different reasons people show up at church on Sunday. Some are here to get in their Sunday obligation, so they can check off that little box on their to-do list, so they don’t end up in hell. You can tell because they don’t connect with the life of the parish community. They don’t like it when things happen at mass they don’t think belongs at mass, not to them anyway, like baptisms and anything to do with the RCIA, or the commissioning of Parish Council and liturgical ministers. They don’t like long quiet pauses or announcements or second collections. They hate that we sing every verse or that we read the bishop’s letters. They have better things to do. And they continue to use the responses from the old missal. They think if they hold on long enough, we will eventually go back. Right now they don’t even think that’s funny.
Some come to mass to show their children that coming to mass is important, although they don’t get much from the experience themselves. You can tell because what goes on at church doesn’t affect the rest of their day, or the rest of their week, or the rest of their life. They don’t particularly resist having to come to church. They know they have to show their kids good example. But they are not enriched or refreshed or changed by the experience. They arrive thirsty; and they leave thirsty.
Some come to church because they like visiting with friends they only see in church. Church has nothing to do with hearing the Word of God, or learning about the faith, or giving up sin, or getting involved with helping the poor. You can tell because they love socializing before mass, and especially during mass. And don’t tell them they’re talking too loud, or that people can’t pray. They don’t get to see their friends but once a week. And you can pray anywhere and any time you want.
Some people still come to church against their will. Usually someone else (more persuasive than them) has determined they need to come, that it’s good for them, that it builds character, maybe that they’ll get involved in some church-y activity, maybe that they’ll meet someone, maybe that they’ll hear God calling them to become a priest or a nun, maybe that they’ll be scared into turning their life around, maybe that they’ll find new purpose, or greater joy, or a better reason for living.
And Jesus tells us, “Give me a drink.” What’s up with that, Jesus? Aren’t we here so Jesus can give us a drink? When Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink, it was because he was thirsting for her faith. He wanted to know what he was working with, so he could figure out how to quench her thirst.
Jesus wants to know what we thirst for, so he can figure out how to quench our thirst. Some of us don’t even know we thirst. We still come to church because we have to, because someone else is convinced we have to, because we don’t want to be left out, because we think we need it but don’t really know why. So we play along hoping to make sense of it someday. Tell Him what you believe, what gives meaning to your life, what gives you life. He definitely has living water to give. But do you want it?
Some of us are completely aware that we thirst, and we come to quench our thirst. We want to hear his Word that we might be better disciples; we want to be fed at his Holy Table, to celebrate God’s presence in ourselves and in his holy people, to receive strength from the Holy Spirit, to share friendship with the saints and those who have returned to the Father, and to nourish our hope for unending life.
We come to the well as the woman came to the well. And Jesus meets us there. We want what we want sometimes, like the woman who came to quench a physical thirst. But Jesus is able to tell we thirst for something more. We do not know who we worship. Jesus desires a deeper and more sincere relationship between us and the Father. We might be acquainted with the trappings of such a relationship, the external signs, the language, even a familiarity with religious things. But they are not the same as having a connection with God. Jesus desires that we experience true worship of the Father, not just in church, but in the way we live beyond these walls. You can tell because people who truly worship the Father worship in Spirit and truth. They are enthusiastic and motivated and passionate and full of joy. When they come upon a challenge that questions Jesus’ teachings, they are willing to embrace conversion and transformation.
When the woman realized she was speaking with the Anointed of God, the one she had prepared all her life to meet, she had to tell everyone, “Come and see. He has told me everything I have done.” When we are changed by our encounter with God, we find the need to tell others. We are changed when we experience reconciliation with God, when our relationship with God translates into action and passion for the values of God, when our action and passion invites others to come see for themselves. If we are not changed, we will not be motivated to tell anyone.
Jesus meets us at the well. “Give me a drink.” He thirsts for our faith. But he desires above all to give us living water that our thirst be quenched for eternal life. Do we want it?