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Sunday 3 of Lent, Year A: The Well of Living Water

“He told me all I have ever done.” These are the words the Samaritan woman spoke to her fellow villagers. She had had five husbands and Jesus surprised, astonished and possibly shocked her by telling her that he knew. Yet, that knowledge of his drew her, not to a fit of pique or to shrink back, but to believe in him as the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus knows us inside out. That’s not something which should frighten us, because he also loves us inside out. Our sins destroy not his love for us, but our love for him. And he knows how ill it goes for us without his love. He knows we cannot survive without it. He does not love us because we are great and good or holy and heroic. He does not love us because we are sinners. He loves us because he loves us. And when he sees us being destroyed by sin, by refusing his love, he is compelled by that same love to save us. St. Paul says it beautifully in the second reading: as if to prove how well he loves us, Christ died for us while we were still sinners. I repeat: our sin destroys not his love for us, but our love for him. And what is love? Pope St. John Paul II gives a beautiful definition. It is to give yourself, sincerely and faithfully, to another for their true and lasting good. It is to give without demanding return, simply because you want the good of the other. It is not a giving to get, but a giving to give. Its aim is not just any good of the other, but the true and lasting good of the other. And since the true and lasting good of any human being is to live in the love and knowledge of God, then true love in the end seeks only one thing: to promote, to defend and to protect the other’s giving of himself to God, i.e. the other’s love of God. Of course, in the meantime, there are many lesser goods to give and to hope for, for the other. But the measure of any truly good thing is whether it leads to God or away from him. No-one who truly loves another will say it’s alright for the other to sin, or even less, lead the other into sin. Sin is the only thing that, in the end, harms the true and lasting good of the other. That’s why we say, hate the sin and love the sinner. So, when Christ meets the Samaritan woman and asks for a drink, he gives us a master lesson in loving the other, taking her where she is but leading her to where she is truly destined to be. The woman is thirsty and Christ is thirsty in the normal way we understand thirst, and so they are both at the well. But Christ immediately takes the thirst to a higher plane. He tells her that her thirst is really for living water, a water which quenches but is not itself quenched. In fact, a water which becomes a well deeper than Jacob’s well where they had met. He also declares his own thirst. He thirsts for her to ask him to give her that living water. He thirsts for her faith. You can sense the poignancy in Christ’s voice as he says, “if you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you, give me a drink.” With great gentleness and respect for the woman, he gradually leads her to the point where he reveals his true identity. After talking about her intimate life to her astonishment, and after conversing with her about what it means to worship God, she speaks of the Messiah the Samaritans await. Then Jesus says with such simplicity and ease, “I who am speaking to you, I am he.” It is faith in Christ which opens for us the floodgates of the living water of God. To use St. Paul’s words, it is by our faith in Jesus that we enter the state of grace. What is the state of grace? It is to be in communion with the life and love of the Trinity and to live our lives in a way that lets that communion shine forth. The state of grace becomes ours when we are baptised in the faith of the Church. In this earthly life, the state of grace is only a foretaste of the fullness of eternal life for which we hope. And our hope is not deceptive because, like an everlasting fountain, the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. Our hearts were made to be filled and overflow with that love. What Jesus wants for the Samaritan woman is freedom from the sin which prevented her from loving him, faith in him as the Messiah and thus the outpouring of the Spirit into the depths of her being. What he wanted was to give himself to her sincerely and lastingly for her own true and greatest good. In other words, he loved her. And by her reaction to him, she knew it. Christ thirsts for my thirst. He strongly desires that I strongly desire him, the merits of his Cross, the living water of the Spirit. Christ desires that I be thirsty, that I discover true thirst so that I may have true, living water, and not the perpetual disappointment and betrayal of waters which only leave me dried up if not fatally poisoned. Jesus meets us at the wells we go to in our lives to draw water that will leave us thirsty again. He knows, and perhaps if we are honest we ourselves suspect, that those wells will eventually run dry. We cannot quench our own real thirsts. Our real thirsts are for eternal life, for freedom from death, for deliverance from fear, for liberation from sin and deception, for fullness of joy and endless peace, for everlasting union with those we have loved – and for so many other such beautiful things. Christ sits at the wells of distraction and counterfeit loves and joys to which, as if mad, we so easily and readily run. You can just hear him say in that poignant tone, “my friend, if only you knew what God is offering, and who it is that is sitting waiting on you here, you would be the one to ask me for a drink.” I have put the baptismal font in the centre today to bring before your eyes the well, the font of living water in which you were submerged sometime in the past. What I would ask you to do now for a few moments is to go back in your memory, even although you may have only been a baby at the time, to the church in which you were baptized. Try to see not only those who were there as you were baptized, but also the humble, unassuming and loving Jesus, sitting by the font. You know that he knows and loves your soul inside out. Go to him as a child would to a loving father. Speak to him of the thirsts that life has brought you. Let him pour once more on your head the living waters of the Spirit, letting them enter into your head and down throughout your whole being, body and soul. If ever you have doubted, doubt no longer that he loves you more truly than any other love you have known and will ever know. Surrender to him and quench your thirsty soul.