Sunday, March 19, 2017


   Third Sunday of Lent   A 

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.

As the snow was falling Tuesday evening (you remember that little dusting we got, right?), Fr. Scott and I settled in to watch a DVD—a documentary called, “The Hungry Heart.”  It’s about a small town like ours: St. Alban’s, Vermont, only about two hours east of here on the other side of Lake Champlain.  It tells the story of a doctor there and his efforts to help the many young people of his community who’ve fallen prey to an epidemic of prescription drug abuse.  (The DVD was lent to us by a local addictions counselor who said, “If you want to know what happening in Malone, watch this…”)

The most compelling part of the documentary for me was a string of clips of these young addicts talking about why they became addicted to drugs—not the specific details of how it came about, but what was going on inside of them.  Now, these are not “bad” kids, but most of them grew up in pretty tough situations: broken families; in and out of foster homes; deep poverty; unable to find work; parents who were themselves abusing drugs.  This difficult start to life left them feeling a great emptiness inside.  There was a hole, a hunger, a thirst, a deep longing, a gnawing ache, right in the middle of their being that left them feeling incomplete, and led them to question their self-worth and their reason for being alive.  When someone offered them drugs for the first time, those drugs did precisely for their spirits and souls what they are prescribed to do for our bodies: they didn’t actually eliminate the problem, but they did take away all of the pain.  Unfortunately, these young people didn’t realize they were only adding to their troubles as they hid from the hurt.

While I listened to them, one after the other, saying almost exactly the same thing, my eyes started to tear up.  I wanted to jump right through the TV screen and say, “That emptiness you’re feeling?  I know exactly where it comes from…and I know what will fill it up!”

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.

Do you remember the first reading from a couple of Sundays ago?  It involved Adam and Eve, a cunning serpent and some forbidden fruit.  It was the story of the Original Sin—one with which we’re all too familiar, since we’ve all been dealing with its sad consequences ever since.  But have you ever wondered what life was like for Adam and Eve before that incident at the tree?  Theologians call that earlier state of affairs, when everything was still working as intended, “Original Holiness” or “Original Justice.”  In one place, the book of Genesis describes it a bit more poetically, implying that, in the cool of the evening, Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden (cf. 3:8).  Just imagine, a late day stroll, hand-in-hand with God in Paradise!   Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?  But that’s exactly what we were made for.  God created us to be in such an intimate friendship with him.  We were built for relationship, for union, for communion with God.  Which is why Original Sin deals such a deep blow to our original design.  When our relationship, our communion, with God was broken by sin, we were left with a hunger, a thirst, an ache, a big empty hole.

We see this in the Samaritan woman who speaks to Jesus at Jacob’s well.  She’s startled that Jesus knows her so well: “You have had five husbands, and the man you’re with now is not you husband.”  It kind of makes you wonder if it’s really water she was after, having spotted a handsome, single man sitting all alone in the bright sun by a watering hole…  (“Can I get you a drink?  Do you come here often?”)  This woman indeed has a deep, deep thirst, but she seems unable thus far to recognize it for what it truly is.  And so, in the words of the old Country song, she keeps “lookin’ fer luv in all the wrong places.”  They’ve only just met, but Jesus seems to already know her much better than all the other men in her life; in fact, he knows her perfectly, and seems to care for her anyway.  He’s waiting there, not considering how he might take advantage of her, but instead offering to quench her thirst.

So the woman runs off, and tells everybody she knows about this Jesus: “I just met the most amazing guy over at the well!”  “Oh,” they must have said, “we’ve heard about you ‘amazing guys’ before…”  “No,” she insists, “you have to trust me: this one is different from all the rest.  He’s able to see things in me—good, true, and beautiful things in me—that I haven’t been able to see in myself.  I think he’s the one I’ve been looking for all along.  Actually, I think he’s the one we’ve all been waiting for.”

Did you catch the little detail of what she did when she ran off?  She left her water jug behind.  She won’t be needing it any longer.

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.

Have you ever noticed this hole inside yourself?  Since the Fall, it’s there in every one of us—no matter how hard we try to ignore it, or wish it away, or attempt to fill it up.  Some of the cheap counterfeits for living water are rather obvious, such as drugs or alcohol, promiscuity or pornography.  They’re all just different ways we take a crack at numbing the pain.  But there are other distractions which are a bit more subtle—or, at least, more socially acceptable.  Some of us just throw ourselves into our work: “If I just work harder!  If I just keep myself busy!”  For some of us, it’s sports—whether playing them or watching them: “As long as I’m in the game, nothing else matters!”  And then there are all those glowing screens in our lives—television, internet, cell phone, video games—whisking us away from the real world to a virtual reality.

My friends, we need to get in touch with this deep longing.  We need to acknowledge and repent of all the false gods with which we’ve attempted to satisfy our true need.  We need to recognize there’s only One who can fill the hole, who can satisfy the hunger, who can quench the thirst—and that’s the One who made us, and the One for whom we were made.  He fits in that empty space perfectly: square peg in a square hole.

Did you catch that the Samaritan woman isn’t the only one who comes to Jacob’s well thirsty that day?  So does Jesus. “Give me a drink,” he says to her.  We thirst out of deep need: something crucial’s missing for which we were made.  But God thirsts, too.  God’s thirst is not out of need; God is in need of nothing, which is a big part of what makes him God!  But God thirsts out of deep love: desiring that relationship, that communion with us, which was his plan for you and me from the very beginning. 

Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst.

This Lent, let us reckon with the thirst we find within ourselves, and the many sinful ways in which we try to satisfy it, and instead go looking for love in all the right places.  In so doing, we’ll begin to satisfy the thirst we meet in Jesus, that thirst found in the very heart of God: for our faith, for our love, for our souls.

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