I’ll Drink to That

Third Sunday of Lent

“Give me a drink.[1]” The next time you order at a bar or restaurant, you can quote scripture. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. John, chapter 4, verse 7. People like to joke about drinking. Maybe you’ve heard a few good ones on St. Patrick’s day. Here’s one.

A cop stopped this Irish priest driving down the street. (He has to be Irish. And better still, try to hear it in an Irish accent. I don’t have one though.)

“Good evening, Father.”

“Good evening, officer.”

“You know why I stopped you, Father?”

“No, sir. Nothing bad I pray.”

“Have you had anything to drink this evening, Father?”

“No, officer. Just a little water.”

“I’m afraid that’s alcohol I smell on your breath.”

“Oh no! He did it again!”

The jokes never get old. And they’re all over the internet. People who joke about drinking consider it a legitimate luxury, even a necessity, a symbol of class and civility with a minor potential for misuse or abuse, and all the unfortunate havoc it may cause. But they are not necessarily shielding themselves from ridicule. So it’s either harmless fun (and they’re in on the joke) or it’s an obvious cry for help (at which point professional services may be necessary) depending on the audience. People who imbibe know best case / worst case scenario how it resolves even before it starts. And it can be funny and not funny at the same time. When it’s funny, there’s a trace of truth in the joke, sometimes a ton of truth. In vino veritas. But what do I know? I don’t drink. Well, I drink some, but not the kind that’s funny, not the kind most people joke about when they joke about drinking. And when it’s not funny, the reality can be painful and embarrassing and grim, and the problem is usually much bigger than the symptom. But this is a homily you’re listening to, not some public service reminder to drink responsibly. In my line of work, all I ever do is try and make you think. Just so it’s clear. What you choose to do when you leave from here is still entirely your own responsibility.

When most people talk about drinking, they clearly mean the consumption of alcohol—moonshine, liquor, spirits, distilled beverages containing ethanol produced by means of fermenting grains, fruit, or vegetables; as well as the undistilled variety of fermented beverages like wine, beer, and cider—essentially, anything that delivers a buzz. Now that wasn’t funny. But when some people drink, they think they’re smarter, better-looking, or funnier than when they’re sober … which can be very entertaining.

So clearly Jesus was not talking about alcohol. He wasn’t at a bar when he said to a woman, “Give me a drink.” And I just spent the last 3½ minutes on a tangent. But we can clearly establish that Jesus did not need a drink, not wine, not water. That was just his opener. He was after something else entirely. He got the woman at the well to think and discover her own thirst. Eventually the woman asked him for a drink. “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty, or have to keep coming here to draw water.[2]” Clearly she needed a drink. But she would discover a deeper thirst she never knew she had. If you were that woman, what deeper thirst would Jesus show you?

Some believe this deeper thirst is a longing for purpose, meaning, and answers. If you’re not actively looking for a purpose, meaning, or answers, there’s a good chance there are other more pressing concerns occupying your mind at the moment, and other more immediate responsibilities filling your schedule. Bodily thirst, like bodily hunger, is a selfish unruly child in us that will not rest until we attend to it right now, until it is satisfied. Our deeper thirst for purpose, meaning, and answers is that less aggressive younger sibling that we will only hear when all the other selfish unruly children in us are napping. My theory. We are rarely driven to act on a spiritual need for as long as our bodily needs are screaming for attention. That is likely why Jesus saw the need to feed the crowds before teaching them. And many of them probably came back because their stomachs were satisfied. They may not know he was trying to feed their souls. But when their deeper hunger and thirst kick in, they might remember something he said.

Many of us come to church out of sheer habit, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s as good a reason why we send our young people to school. But at some point, we hope they do it out of a deeper hunger and thirst for knowledge and truth. Until then, sheer habit is a good enough reason. Still the hope is that we eventually come to church to feed a deeper hunger and quench a deeper thirst. Until then, sheer habit will have to do. The sad thing is that many never transition to that better reason. And worse, we allow our young people to skip church, but we will never allow them to skip school. Are we truly willing to deprive them of the deeper purpose, meaning, and answers we have found? But if we haven’t found any, then it absolutely makes sense.

We know that church attendance for young people in high school and college continues to decline. That’s not news. And we shouldn’t beat ourselves up if the young people we know and love don’t go. But we still have to try. And we have to remember that Jesus came to the well with a plan. So like the Samaritan woman, we come to the well because we thirst. We may not understand at first that deeper thirst Jesus wants to quench, but some other thirst is a start. And Jesus meets us where we are. He might ask us for a drink. But he doesn’t really need one. Instead he desires to know what we thirst for deeply. And he wants to satisfy that deeper thirst. God doesn’t have to check with us, but he has a plan to meet each of us at a well of some kind. Some of us will grasp our deeper thirst and come looking for him. The rest of us who don’t, he will have to find. And with Jesus’ help alone will we determine what we thirst for deeply. So watch out for those who would tell you what you thirst for. They can be quite persuasive. But they’re driven by profit more than the goodness of their heart. St. Paul tells us that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.[3]” That tells us God has already made the first move. And if God finds us, we will lead others to him. The Samaritan woman met Jesus, then told everyone in the village about him. So they all had to meet Jesus. Only he can quench that deeper thirst.

So what is it you long for deeply? Why are you here? Where are you headed? And what does it all mean? I’m not really the one supposed to give you answers. As the woman at the well led the village to Jesus, so my job is to lead you to Jesus, too. If I truly love what he has done for me, I can only say you will love what he can do for you. So I’m glad you’re here, whether or not you’re also glad. Could you still use a drink?

Rolo B Castillo © 2017

[1] John 4: 7.

[2] John 4: 15.

[3] Romans 5: 5.