Deeper Thirsts & Deeper Wells
So, it’s the Third Sunday of Lent, and we’re back in church. Have you asked yourself why? Why are you here? Many of us were probably here last weekend, and the weekend before. And we will probably be back next weekend … unless a nor’easter gets in the way. Some people come to church so faithfully they’ve stopped asking why. “We’re Catholic. That’s what we do. End of discussion.” Some young people are turning to their parents. “Yeah, why do we come to church?” And parents are glaring at me because they don’t have an answer. And people without kids are smiling because they don’t have to have an answer. I guess I’ve just opened a can of worms.
The people who left Egypt were a ragtag bunch of tribes. The best reason uniting them was that they left Egypt together. But it became painfully clear to Moses that it would take a lot more time and energy for this people to gel into a nation. And Moses had to struggle alongside them on that journey, putting up with their complaints—about how everything was better in Egypt, and why did we ever have to leave Egypt? Nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah … And Moses would turn to God with grief. “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me.” At that very moment, it was a physical thirst that brought them to the edge. So Moses had to give them water. Soon after, they were crying for bread, then meat. Then at Mt. Sinai they would mold a golden calf and worship it as god. That initial thirst for water had transformed into other kinds of thirst. By the time they entered the promised land, they would be one people sealed by blood in a covenant with God. But their journey changed them.
The Samaritan woman came to Jacob’s well to draw water. So it was partly out of necessity and partly out of habit that brought her to the well. She probably stopped asking herself why a long time ago. But this time, Jesus was waiting. He asked the woman for a drink. He knew he was treading dangerously over some well-established social conventions. But it seemed he was completely clueless. “How can you … ask me for a drink?” Seriously? It seemed this was all about Jesus being physically thirsty. But not before long, what was driving the conversation was her thirst for meaning and God and living water. “How can you … ask me for a drink?” had turned into “Sir, give me this water that I may not be thirsty.” Do you see the change that happened, and all in that one conversation?
From his letter to the Romans, Paul insisted that the Christian believer’s justification came by faith. It then turned into the rallying cry of the reformation in the 16th century. But Paul lived in the first century, and was dealing with the perspective prevalent in his day, that justification came from the observance of the Mosaic Law. This was what the scribes and Pharisees taught. Paul was convinced justification or righteousness or right relationship with God did not come automatically from one’s unreflective, unthinking, and blind obedience to prescriptions that dictated the minutiae of daily life. He was not contrasting the preeminence of faith over good works. He was putting forward his conviction that justification is God’s work, not ours. We would have to stumble and struggle to catch up with God’s grace. But our salvation is first and foremost something that God brings about. It is not at all our doing. None of it is.
So why are you here? Was that the question you were hoping I would help you answer? Like the woman at the well, we first come here seeking to quench a physical thirst. For instance, there are some who come to church primarily to fulfill an obligation, nothing more. Their thirst, simply put, is avoiding the fires of hell, or the wrath of mom or dad, or grandma’s even if she is long gone. She will rise from the dead to make sure they get to church.. Since the obligation is fulfilled by their being physically in or around this building, they have no problem being somewhere else mentally, or wandering to the bathroom and back during mass. They’re here, are they not? Obligation fulfilled, end of discussion. And those who habitually arrive late or leave early are just trying to make it to the “important parts” of mass. But it’s really more about obligation. Nothing more.
Some come to church thirsting for a warm fuzzy spiritual high, the kind we imagine churchgoers are experiencing at services as they sing with their eyes closed, their hands raised, while they sway to the rhythms of catchy gospel tunes. They trust the warm fuzzies will quench their thirst. They love going on retreats and conventions. They learn the lingo, the secret handshakes, the passwords. But are they equipped for the struggle? When the experience is no longer “fun,” they just go in search of another church.
Some come to church thirsting for social interaction. They only see their friends at church once a week, and there’s a lot of catching up to do: other people’s lives to talk about, celebrity gossip, what’s wrong with the world in general. And if you suggest they put more focus and energy on things like relating the message of scripture to their lives or participating more actively in the liturgy, they’re not interested. This has nothing to do with God. It’s all about what you know about everything else outside this place.
Initially, whatever draws us here is a kind of thirst. But Jesus wants to quench an even deeper thirst within us, perhaps one we haven’t recognized yet. The wells we seek to quench our thirst only go so deep. The well Jesus offers us goes deeper because the thirst he seeks to quench is much deeper too. What are you really thirsting for? Do you thirst for what gives meaning to your life? Or are you just here for the snacks?
Last week, I suggested the journey of Lent is not about getting somewhere, but that it was about being transformed. The people of Israel changed between the time they left Egypt to the time they entered the Promised Land. The Samaritan woman changed from when she arrived at the well to when she was asking Jesus for living water. Today, God seeks to quench a deeper thirst within us, not the one we came with. If you leave today still thirsty, you haven’t found it yet. Keep Looking.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014