Third Sunday of Lent

We all surely have a personal grasp of what it is to thirst. But there’s thirst, and then there’s “thirst.” I’m thinking that at this moment, we all could have just imagined something other than water. And we could all have something different in mind. Maybe somebody thought of their favorite beverage, alcoholic or non-alcoholic. But the word “thirst” also pertains to things that have nothing to do with beverages. Rather, this kind of “thirst” is described as a passionate craving, a fervent yearning, a burning desire for something largely non-material, like attention, applause, friendship, knowledge, information, adventure, suspense, drama, vengeance, or holiness. If we can crave it passionately or yearn for it fervently or burn with desire for it, I’m quite sure we can relate to this on some level, then it can be called a thirst.

When a physical thirst is adequately addressed or satisfied, we can say it is “slaked” or “quenched.” I took 8 years of Latin in high school and college. I find word origins fascinating. So I had to look this up. “Slake” has origins in old English and means “to make slack, to delay, to diminish in force, to extinguish.” “Quench” comes from old English with old Germanic roots and means “to put out, to extinguish” as it pertains to fire or light. The sense common to both is of “extinguishing,” and whenever something needs extinguishing, there is often a certain urgency. Perhaps that’s why thirst sometimes feels like a burning sensation that requires extinguishing. And when we have quenched our thirst we can finally experience relief. Aaah!

The Samaritan woman came to Jacob’s well to draw water for use in her home. There was no emergency. It was simply a task associated with daily living. She says if Jesus could give her this living water he spoke of, she would have no further need to return for water. But clearly she would need water for other things, cooking, bathing, washing clothes, cleaning around the house, watering indoor plants. So she must have grasped that Jesus didn’t specifically mean a physical water to quench a physical thirst. And slowly the conversation took a deeper, more spiritual turn. Soon they were talking about true worship and the coming of a Messiah who “will tell us everything.”

In the course of human history, the practice of religion has always had an active human component. The divine component was definitely essential to religious practice, but it wasn’t subject to human control. The human component in contrast, the things we said and did, being also essential, was happily something we could expand and develop and embellish. So we have. But we are assured God is completely independent of anything we do or do not do. And still, most of religious practice seems to focus on what we do, not often on what God does.

Jesus’ offer of living water requires nothing of us beyond minds and hearts ready to welcome the extinguishing of that thirst within us for God, that passionate craving, that fervent yearning, that burning desire for God. The water he offers us would give us the very life of God, if only we welcome it. Perhaps we need to pause and reflect on that thought a little more. Jesus offers us the very life of God. All we need to do is welcome it. It’s challenging sometimes to think we need do nothing else. No prayers to say, no good works to do, no precepts to observe, no theology to argue. Just be still and ponder the mystery. “It is God alone who justifies us,” St. Paul reminds us, “and that the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts.”

And perhaps while we grapple with the coronavirus outbreak, as much as we naturally worry about having enough food and household supplies to last us the duration—two weeks, two months, whatever it takes, and we agonize about staying healthy and keeping busy and meeting our obligations, what we like the least about how we survive this predicament is the absurd suggestion that we stay home and do a lot of nothing. We would much rather get out in the world and do something, anything. But in this case, staying home and doing nothing might better help us save our own lives and the lives of others around us. Incidentally, there is a lot we can do at home more than nothing. Read. Pray. Get to know the people you live with.

Jesus wants to quench our thirst for God. He offers us the very life of God. All we need to do is welcome his word, his mercy, and his Spirit. And when we truly possess his word, his mercy, and his Spirit, God’s life will flourish within us, finding expression in the way we think, the way we speak, and the way we live, transforming us into joyful bearers of good news, and transforming those we encounter.

Somewhere in farm country not too long ago, a parish priest at a small church was getting ready for Sunday mass. But only one old farmer showed up. He came late and sat in the very last pew. Having worked hard on his homily all week, the priest decided to go ahead and just deliver it as he had planned, whether he had an audience of two or two hundred. He finished mass and walked down the aisle out the front door. The old farmer eventually walked out. He shook his hand, hat in hand, and looked the priest straight in the eye and said, “You know Father, I’m a farmer. I feed my cows in the fields twice a day. But if only one shows up, I don’t dump the whole load.” You can thank me later. Go home and ponder. And stay safe.

Rolo B Castillo © 2020