Been Thirsty Lately?

Fr. Denis Lemieux

“Three minutes without air, three hours without shelter, three days without water, three weeks without food.”

Any outdoorsy survival type readers of Restoration will recognize the “rule of threes,” the outer limits within which one can survive in wilderness situations. (The shelter one applies to extreme conditions like blizzards and the like.)

Air and shelter are one thing, but my eyes are drawn to the sharp difference between water and food. We can live three weeks without eating (although the “experts” inform us solemnly that this will not be a pleasant experience, which I think most of us could figure out!), but only three days without water.

We think we need to eat to live, and of course it is so. But much more so—700% more so in fact—we need to drink.

So that brings us to the whole question of water and thirst, the problem of thirst and the need—urgent, vital, and immediate—to secure a source of water for ourselves always, as a matter of immediate life and death. It ain’t a question of mysticism or esoteric spiritual reflection here: it’s “you drink, or you die.”

And that brings us to Samaria and to the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (John 4: 5-42), which this year is March 19—the story of the Thirsty Man, and the thirsty woman.

There are so many Bible passages about hunger and food, about God who is the one who feeds his people in abundance. Here we have one of the less common passages about thirst.

We know the story, probably. Jesus traveling, it’s a hot day, he’s thirsty. The woman comes by and he asks her for a drink. He’s a Jew. She’s a Samaritan. This is odd. And from the oddness of that request begins an extended conversation that is among the most sublime exchanges between two human beings in the whole canon of Sacred Scripture.

The dialogue touches on many points—contentious historical claims and controversy between the two groups, the place and nature of true worship, the true identity of the Messiah, the woman’s own unseemly marital history and (by implication) the reason she is coming to haul water at the hottest part of the day, a job normally done by all the village women in the cooler hours of early morning or evening.

But at the heart of it all is the stunning claim by the Lord: The one who drinks of the water that I will give will never be thirsty again. The water I will give him will become in him a spring of water gushing up to eternal life (John 4: 14).

Three minutes, three hours, three days, three weeks. Or how about … forever?

Food is a biblical symbol of life, yes, but it also signifies abundance and richness of life—the wedding feast of heaven. But nobody feasts on water—water in this context is strictly and only a symbol of survival, of the barest of necessities to make it, to keep body and spirit together.

And Jesus promises us here that he can give us what we need so that our survival is assured forever. And that is the Holy Spirit, as he later makes clear in John 7: 37-39:

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

So … been thirsty, lately? The Lord makes some pretty big claims here, after all. Believe in me, come to me, and you will never be thirsty again!

So … thirsty, anyone? And is the Lord, you know, telling us … the Truth?

It would be silly (not to mention fatal) to take his words at the literal level, to think we should all stop drinking water and live on the pure hydrating power of the Holy Spirit. But what does it mean, then, if it means anything at all?

Well, aren’t we all thirsty for all sorts of things besides water? If water here signifies that which we simply must have, that which is utterly and wholly needed for survival, for life, then we can probably all think of a few things we “thirst” for that don’t come in carafes or out of wells in the ground.

We don’t really know the whole story of the life and loves of the Samaritan woman, and it is best not to read too much into her story of having five husbands and currently living with a man not her husband.

But surely her situation resonates at least a bit with so much of our poor world today?

So many people are so hungry for love, for connection, for intimacy, for they-don’t-know-even-what that they jump from relationship to relationship, person to person—the whole tragedy of post-modern human sexuality with its trail of dead and broken bodies left behind it, leaving all involved more lonely, more thirsty yet at the end of the day.

And money … so many people so thirsty for that big payday, that big payoff leading to the big life they see reflected to them from every screen. From that thirst for riches, so much evil flows: envy, corruption, moral compromise, miserliness, just to name a few.

And on and on it goes: obvious addictions like alcohol and drugs, not so obvious ones like compulsive internet use or ceaseless distraction. And other things we wouldn’t call addictions, but which we are so sure we need, we must have in order to be happy: approval, control, the last word, to be right all the time.

We need, we need, we need. We thirst.

Well, Jesus thirsts too: Sitio – I thirst, he says from the cross (John 19:28).

And here we are: it is Lent, and time for us to move away from our illusory thirsts; after all, he is indeed telling us the Truth in John 4, and truly we do not need any of the things I have mentioned in this article.

We have the Holy Spirit in us by baptism, and having the Holy Spirit we have all we need, truly. The Lord tells us so.

It is Lent, and time to move away from our own compulsive thirsts, our constant searching for water that cannot satisfy us in the heat of the world’s day. Time to contemplate rather the thirst of God, to consider what it is that God wants so badly from us and of us, and to begin to slake the thirst of Christ.

What is it he thirsts for? He tells it to us in this very same Gospel: The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship Him (John 4: 23).

We worship the Father in spirit and in truth by entering into the worship of Jesus Christ, and that worship is his making himself an oblation of love to the Father for the world.

In him, may we make our lives that same oblation, and in so doing, ourselves become wells of living water that will slake the thirst of many.

If we do so, our survival will be certain, not by the rule of threes of wilderness training, but by the Rule of the Three—the Kingdom of the Triune God where we will live forever.