The Samaritan Woman at the Well – by CARRACCI, Annibale – from Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan
Lent: the Meeting of Two Thirsts
Paris, March 21, 2014 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) A poor one who asks to donate.
In his exodus Jesus passes through Samaria and stops at Jacob’s well near the town of Sychar. He sits on the wall that surrounds the well because he is thirsty and tired of walking, but he is poor and has no means to draw water. He waits for someone who can draw water for him and quench his thirst, but his humble request is a “pretext” to give himself.
Christ is so thirsty for us that he does not hesitate to ask for water for his body to be able to offer himself as the source of the water that quenches the thirst forever, because he knows that those who go to the well to fetch water are thirsty for another water, even if they think they do not need it.
Christ is thirsty, but his is not just a physical thirst, it is a spiritual thirst for us, represented by the Samaritan woman. Jesus becomes the Good Samaritan for the Samaritan woman and by offering the water that quenches even the heart, invites her to repentance.
What does “conversion” mean? It is not only an act of the will, but is a response to God’s Love that has made its way into our often complicated, confusing or disorderly way of living that makes us hungry for everything. Let’s ask Christ to pour true love in our hearts so to have a constant desire for Him. Then the desert of life will bloom, and we will be in his loving and steadfast hands forever.
The journey to conversion that the heart of the woman of Samaria makes is not without resistance. The search for God in the human being is always in danger of closing in on itself and is always threatened. John the Evangelist lays bare the roots of this closure pointing out that, at the beginning, the Samaritan woman does not understand. In fact, when man abandons himself to his instinct and reactivity, he is no longer capable of understanding the word of God, or correctly interpreting his own expectations. The heart is thirsty and like a deer longs for water, but looks in the wrong direction with pretensions and prejudices. The woman understands something of the gift of which Christ speaks about (the water), but she plays it on the tape of her concerns, “Sir” said the woman “give me this water so, that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw”. The temptation of those who seek God is always to lock up the gift of God within their expectations. But God doesn’t allow himself to be locked up in man’s expectations: he expands them. The woman tries to situate Jesus in the traditional religious categories, but Jesus does not hesitate to show their inadequacies. Twice – about the gift of water and the place of worship – the woman evokes the grandeur of the patriarchs and of the past. Her search is shut in the past. Jesus forces her to look to the future and to realize that in the world the novelty has arrived and renews the problem from the ground up. The news is not in something that quenches the thirsty body, but in One who quenches the heart by filling it.
Saint Paul had already understood that Jesus is “the water that quenches thirst,” when he said “And the Rock was Christ “, in reference to the text of today’s first reading. At times we may feel challenged by the dryness of thirst, but Jesus will always be near with the living water of His love.
The water that is Christ Himself, not only quenches thirst, but purifies and gives life. In fact, from the side of Christ flowed water and blood, the symbols of the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. But it is not enough to be quenched, purified and revived by the Water of Christ. This water is not just for us, it is for everyone.
The Samaritan woman understood. She left Jesus for a few minutes and went into the city, becoming a “missionary” to her fellow citizens. The entire humanity needs to be quenched and washed with this water of Christ. The first person who does it is the woman that, having arrived to the point where Jesus wanted to lead her, leaves her previous concerns and runs into the city (cf. Jn 4:28 ). Her encounter with Christ becomes communal and her journey becomes missionary.
This research and this meeting of the woman of Samaria and of her fellow citizens are of course a picture of the journey of each man toward God
2 ) The thirst of Jesus the Teacher.
The Gospel speaks of an unusual “school” environment, a well, and of an unexpected teacher, God. A Teacher who chooses a wall as a pulpit to teach, not from above but at heart’s high, and a woman as listener. Of this fact the disciples were astonished because the listener was a Samaritan and because she was a woman, not knowing yet that the Church of Christ would place a woman as a mediator between the children and the Son, Our Lady who gathered around her, unique one of all women, the two supreme perfections of womanhood, the Virgin and the Mother, and who suffered for us from the night of the birth to the one of the death of Jesus, our brother.
A Teacher, who to draw the truth from his heart, asks for a drink. Only twice in the Gospel it is said that Jesus was thirsty: in this encounter with the Samaritan woman and on the Cross. And on the Cross He keeps saying “I am thirsty”, addressing each one of us, because he is thirsty for each one of us and tells us: “I know your heart, your loneliness and your pain, reactions, judgments and humiliation. I have endured all this before you. I carried it all on Me for you so that you can also share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love and the need to drink from the fountain of love and consolation. How many times your thirst was in vain, quenching your thirst in a selfish way, filling your thirst of illusory pleasures, that is the greater emptiness of sin? Do you thirst for love? “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink” (John 7:37). I will give to drink to fullness. Do you thirst to be loved? I love you more than you can imagine, to the point of dying on the cross for you. I’m thirsty for your love. Yes, this is the only way to tell My love: I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love and be loved. To show you how precious you are to Me! I THIRST FOR YOU. Never doubt of My grace, my desire to forgive, to bless and to live my life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to me, come to me, be thirsty for me, and offer me your life. And I’ll show how much you are dear to My heart.” Jesus Christ, the Son of God thirsts for our thirst (cf. St. Gregory of Nazianzus), has desire of our desire. He needs us, he is thirsty for siblings.
Our question is the response to the thirst of Christ. It is not so paradoxical to say that our prayer of petition is a response. It is a given fact. With the power of love we are called to respond to the plea of the living God. “They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, to dig cisterns, broken cisterns,” It is the response of faith to the free promise of salvation , loving response to the thirst of the only Son.
To all it is renew the invitation of God “All you who are thirsty come to the water! You who have no money come, buy grain and eat; come buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost!” “Let the one who is thirsty come forward and the one who wants it receive the gift of life-giving water “. It is a clear call of Jesus Christ to all men. It is an encouragement to “drink” from the eternal source, the only one who quenches the thirst of the heart and mind and heals the soul and the body, the only one who gives salvation, the only one who gives happiness that lasts forever.
But let’s keep in mind that this water also comes from those who believed in Him as Savior, who, like earthen vessels, are called to be filled with the Water of Life, and humbly share it.
The Consecrated Virgins are called to live this sharing through the consecration and the total donation to God that they carry as sacred vessels, as fragile as the clay but strengthened by His grace from which they draw the love that God has poured into them.
The Consecrated Virgins, then, with their dedication to constant prayer testify that prayer and genuine spiritual life are similar to the primary instinctive drive of thirst that is a primary and elementary need. It is a necessity almost “animalistic”, similar to that depicted by the prophet Jeremiah in the thirst of wild donkeys, which during the drought “stop on the bare heights gasping for breath like jackals. Their eyes grow dim, because there is no grass. But by living prayer and life as a response to the thirst for God allows them and us to pray: “For your love is better than life, my lips shell ever praise you!” These women testify to having learned the lesson of Jesus to the Samaritan woman. They do not seek God on the mountain of Samaria, nor of Zion. They seek and find Him in their hearts, wells from which flows water of eternal life.
With their lives these women say, like Abraham , “I trust you, I trust in You, Lord.” They remind us that to believe in God means to base our life on Him and to let His Word direct it daily, in the concrete choices, without fear of losing something of ourselves and without hesitation to consecrate completely ourselves to God .