Know Your Thirst

Third Sunday of Lent (Year A)


I am always in awe of creative marketing, the patience and skill of some people who try to convince me what I need even before I recognize it myself. Most of us are aware of our basic human needs (in no specific order) air, food, drink, sleep, shelter, clothing, comfort, validation, security, friendship, intimacy, finding a mate, parenting, self-actualization, using our talents, attaining our goals, and leaving a lasting legacy. Some of these needs are easier to address than others. That’s why we have a greater variety to choose from when considering snack foods, entertainment, and travel, than when choosing our destination for eternity in the life to come. I should probably be paying attention to their perspectives and methods. Why reinvent the wheel?

In my role as priest and pastor, I have formed some specific ideas and opinions about the Gospel message, and the practice of our Catholic faith. Most of it crystalized gradually over 26 years of experience in ministry, and the years of schooling before that. And all this collected wisdom has definitely guided my outlook and vision for how to live my Christian faith, as well as how I should be a priest and pastor to those entrusted to my care. But priests and pastors do differ widely in their outlook and practice, and if we work well together, we can potentially reach everybody, in theory. But even Jesus wasn’t universally respected and embraced by everyone he crossed paths with. And he was fine with that. Besides, who of us can realistically expect to do better than him?

Now in his short time among us, Jesus focused on what he believed was essential to our practice of faith and our life together as God’s people. Being the Master teacher that he was, he devised some truly brilliant and effective ways of getting his message across, lessons that continue to draw us deeper into the wonders of God’s life and divine purpose. So when Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the blazing noonday sun, he desired to share with her something truly amazing that she didn’t even know she needed. He wanted to give her living water! In record time, they went from small talk about physical thirst to our fundamental human longing for God, to the nature of true worship, to his unmistakable admission that he was the Messiah sent by God. I would have taken over a week to do all that. I’m just saying Jesus was a genius. He convinced a woman drawing water to beg him for living water, by asking her to give him a drink. Some people have told me they still wonder what I’m saying after listening to me for five minutes. Let me assure you I’m going somewhere with this.

Jesus met the Samaritan woman at a well. It was the perfect place to quench her thirst. But Jesus was more interested in quenching her deeper spiritual thirst. He offered her living water. She recognized her spiritual thirst, and left her water jar behind. Jesus meets us here in church every week. You would think it was the perfect place to quench our deeper spiritual thirst, our fundamental longing for God. Yet many of us leave still unsatisfied and thirsting, and that deeper longing for God completely ignored. Why do we keep coming back? Is it just to fulfill an obligation, or to not disappoint our parents? Is it only a physical thirst we seek to quench? Jesus offers us living water to satisfy our fundamental longing for God. But do we even recognize that deeper longing within?

Water is necessary for human survival. According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the average adult body is about 60% water. And we typically lose about 1¼ quarts of water each day. The most common way of replenishing our water loss is by drinking water. But dehydration still happens when we forget to drink water. So we know to drink periodically throughout the day, whether we feel physical thirst or not.

The living water Jesus wants to give us is meant to quench a deeper spiritual thirst, that fundamental longing for God within us. Those who recognize such a longing will at least intentionally find ways to quench their spiritual thirst. But spiritual dehydration can still happen because we don’t recognize our spiritual thirst.

Signs of physical dehydration can initially include dryness of mouth, bad breath, difficulty swallowing, dry skin, sunken eyes. And as dehydration becomes more severe, fever, increased heart rate, and kidney failure as the body exhibits greater distress. Now there is no officially recognized list of the signs of spiritual dehydration, not even in the Bible. I did find a few lists claiming such authority. I offer you their findings. You be the judge. Or you can keep going home thirsty.

One list includes bad language, a quick temper, a lack of service, a lack of self-control, and unwise choices. Another list includes an aversion toward spiritual things, increased self-centeredness, and a loss of trust in God. And another list includes a mechanical religious practice lacking self-reflection, prayer used as a last resort, and a disconnect from people who would challenge and nurture one’s faith. I am no expert, but I could have guessed some of these signs easily: increased self-centeredness and selfish obsession, resentment, the inability to forgive, a quickness to criticize, a lack of empathy toward the weak and vulnerable, a lack of willingness to serve, and quickly dismissing anything that reminds one of their relationship with God.

The living water Jesus offers is not a physical water. But just as physical water is present in many things we consume, living water is present in many things that can quench our spiritual thirst. When God’s Word invites us to put our trust in God, to call on him for forgiveness and mercy, to extend compassion to our neighbor, to go out of our way to heal and nurture and serve our neighbor, Jesus is offering us living water. When we renounce our selfishness and sin, when we humbly seek spiritual guidance, when we support others with kindness and prayer, our spiritual thirst is quenched.

And if we desire to remain spiritually hydrated, we will need to keep returning to Jesus for living water. He did say also that the water he gives can become a spring welling up to eternal life. No one but Jesus gives living water. My job as priest and pastor is not to point you in the direction of the latest pop culture craze, or the latest technology, or the latest religious trend. My job is to point you in the direction of Jesus. If we possess a spring within us, it is only because we don’t need anyone else to remind us of our thirst. If we have Jesus, we will know our thirst well. And we will know to go to him to quench it.

Rolo B Castillo © 2019