Deeper Thirst & Deeper Wells

Photo by Jimmy Chang on Unsplash

Third Sunday of Lent

It’s the Third Sunday of Lent, and we’re back in church. Do we still ask ourselves why we’re here? Many of us were here last weekend and the weekend before. We will probably be back next weekend as well unless a nor’easter gets in the way. Some among us come to church so faithfully they don’t ask why anymore. “We’re Catholic. That’s what we do. End of discussion.” Young people are turning to their parents. “Yeah, why do we come to church?” Parents are glaring at their kids because they’re not supposed to be discussing it right this moment. People without kids are thinking about possible lunch options. And I’m hoping you got enough sleep last night so I can tell you.

The people leaving Egypt were a ragtag bunch of tribes. It soon became painfully clear to Moses that it would take a whole lot more for this people to gel into a nation. So, when they arrived at Canaan after wandering the desert for forty years, they would be a well-tested fighting force sowing fear in the hearts of tribes and nations along the way. And Moses struggled alongside them on their journey, enduring their complaints, how everything was better in Egypt, and “why did we ever have to leave Egypt? So, we could die in the desert?” And Moses would turn to God filled with grief. “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me.” The big crisis then was a physical thirst. So, God instructed Moses to give them water. Not long after, they would be crying for bread, then meat. And when Moses took too long with God on the mountain, they made a calf out of gold and worshiped it. Their thirst for water would take other forms. But by the time they crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, they would be a people sealed by blood in a covenant with God.

The Samaritan woman came to Jacob’s well to draw water for use at home. The previous day’s supply had run out. So, it was partly out of necessity and partly out of habit that she came to the well. She probably stopped asking herself why a long time ago. But this time, Jesus was waiting for her. Since God’s plan is far from random, Jesus asked the woman for a drink. He was treading dangerously over some well-established social conventions. He was a Jew and a man; she a Samaritan and a woman. Big red flag. He spoke to her first, and she was unaccompanied by a male relative. Another red flag. He asked her for a drink but didn’t have anything to drink from which suggested he would drink from her bucket. Their people were historical enemies, and this was a clear violation of established inter-tribal protocol. And he seemed completely clueless. “How can you … ask me for a drink?” Seriously?

Was Jesus really thirsty to begin with? When his disciples returned with food from the village, the conversation was driven by 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 or have to keep coming here to draw water.” In this one conversation a deep transformation was beginning to take place.

From Paul’s letter to the Romans, his insistence that the Christian believer is justified by faith soon became the rallying cry of the reformation in the 16th century. We should remember that Paul lived in the first century and was discussing the views of his day, where religious teachers taught that justification came from the exact observance of the Law of Moses. As he pondered the workings of God’s grace, Paul became convinced justification or righteousness or right relationship with God did not result automatically from a person’s unthinking and blind obedience to rules and habits that governed the details of daily life. He was not debating the preeminence of faith over works. He was defending his conviction that justification is God’s work and God’s work alone. We might stumble and struggle to catch up with the God’s grace. But salvation is above all what God does and what only God does. Nothing about it depends on us. Nothing.

So why are we here? That’s the question we still need to answer. Just like the woman at the well, we may come to church to quench a physical thirst. For example, there are those who come to church primarily to fulfill an obligation, nothing more. Their thirst in the simplest of terms is to escape the fires of hell. And if the obligation is fulfilled as long as they are physically in or around this building, then technically being mentally elsewhere, or wandering to the bathroom and back during mass should still be acceptable. As long as the obligation is fulfilled, the fires of hell can cool their jets.

Some come to church thirsting for a warm fuzzy spiritual high, perhaps evoked by passionate fire-and-brimstone preaching or an emotionally stirring personal witness. Warm fuzzy spiritual highs might satisfy for a moment. But like the thirst of obligation, this thirst is never truly satisfied either. So, they will keep seeking even warmer fuzzier spiritual highs in religious novelties and rituals and media. They pick up the language, the secret handshakes, the passwords. But are they equipped for the spiritual struggle?

Some come to church thirsting for socialization. They mostly see friends at church 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. They could focus more on relating the message of sacred scripture to their lives or participating more actively in Mass, but no thanks. And they will need to keep coming back because they will always be thirsting for interesting information. But satisfying their thirst is not about being nourished in the spirit or becoming a better Christian or a better disciple. That stuff is boring.

Whatever draws us here is a thirst of some kind. But Jesus wants to quench an even deeper thirst within us, perhaps one we haven’t recognized yet. The wells at which we seek to quench our thirst only go so deep. Jesus offers us a deeper well to quench a much deeper thirst. What is it we really thirst for? Do we thirst for what gives meaning to our lives? Or are we just here for the spiritual junk food and sugar drinks?

Last week, I suggested the journey of Lent is not really about getting somewhere, that it is about being transformed instead. Today, God wants to quench a deeper thirst within us, and not necessarily the one we came with. If we leave today still thirsty, maybe we haven’t found it yet.

Rolo B Castillo © 2023

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