Third Sunday in Lent (L3B), March 15, 2009
By Fr. John Foley, S. J.
SUNDAY READINGS (For use by RCIA)
The readings for Sunday speak of a key desire within us, a longing, a craving. The best symbol for this desire is thirst for water.
I remember bicycling with a friend out in the countryside on a very hot day. We had not counted on one particular hill that would rise up and up before us, a very long and unremitting one. We worked and worked and worked and at last achieved the top. Hurray! But the heat and humidity had perspired the water out of us and we were thirsty. I felt like a paper copy of myself. We debated. There was a farmhouse or residence of some kind just off to the left. Why not go ask for a drink of water?
Because the house itself was at the top of another hill, and there were possibly four hundred steps leading up to it. Ok not four hundred, but it seemed like that to us. Could we possibly put ourselves through still another Olympic ordeal and clamber up the steep steps just to subject some innocent citizen to our begging?
Yes indeed. We marched up, knocked on the door, were greeted by a most gracious lady who could think of nothing more delightful than to bring us each a big glass of cool, wet water. Aaaaahhhhhh. Bottoms up. Thanks. Easy trip down the steps. Off and away.
You can fast from food for but not from water. In the Gospel Jesus uses water as a symbol for the Samaritan woman. He speaks about slaking her thirst forever, about putting a flowing fountain of water right inside her. He is talking about the longing each of us has deep within for “the love poured forth from God in Jesus through the Holy Spirit” (Second Reading). This need of ours is much like thirst except that it is more subtle. We mostly ignore it and go for substitutes. Food, work, good looks, accomplishment, maybe alcohol, other persons, sexual satisfaction, and so on. They can satisfy but ultimately do not work. They leave us croaking the famous line “Is that all there is?”
It is not. We are constructed in such a way that without real love we die. St. Ignatius points to this fact again and again. Our small selves are constructed with a soul that can open wide enough to admit even the very God himself. And God is able to become whatever size will fit us. A non-Christian poet, Tagore, put it this way:
“What is there but the sky, O Sun, that can hold thine image?”
“I dream of thee, but to serve thee I can never hope,” the dewdrop wept and said; “I am too small to take thee unto me, great lord, and my life is all tears.”
“I illumine the limitless sky, yet I can yield myself up to a tiny drop of dew,” thus the Sun said; “I shall become but a sparkle of light and fill you, and your little life will be a laughing orb.”
Nothing else can enlighten us, nothing can slake our heart’s thirst for God except God. Let us pray that Jesus will speak to us, will bring forth a fountain of God-love from our stony hearts.
We pray with the Samaritan woman, “Sir, give me this water.”