March 15; 3rd Sunday of Lent; Year A

3rd Lent 19 20When the well runs dry

Compared with the generation of our parents and grandparents, today we own twice as many cars per person, eat out twice as often and enjoy endless other commodities that weren't around then--big-screen TVs, microwave ovens, tablets, smart phones, handheld wireless devices, to name a few. But are we any happier? Certainly, happiness is difficult to pin down, let alone measure. But I suspect that we're no more contented than we were then--in fact, maybe less so. Compared with our grandparents, our most recent generation have grown up with much more affluence, slightly less happiness and much greater risk of depression and assorted social pathology, So many today suffer from that gnawing spiritual thirst for more and the next best thing, but the next best thing always seems elusive.

This spiritual thirst is indicative of an awareness that something is missing in one’s life – a feeling of ennui, of listlessness and dissatisfaction, mundane boredom, an inner longing, but one can’t quite put your finger on the reason for the emptiness within. Several years ago, Prince Charles of England spoke of his belief that, for all the advances of science, “there remains deep in the soul a persistent and unconscious anxiety that something is missing, some ingredient that makes life worth living.” He may not have been aware of how prophetic his words were but I believe that he is referring to the persistent and unconscious anxiety and thirst of the soul.

This emptiness often feels like a bottomless pit. We try to fill the emptiness with sex, drugs, work, fashion, cars, houses, jobs, and many other things, but the truth is, nothing but God Himself can quench our spiritual thirst. As St Augustine so eloquently described it in his autobiographical confession, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in” God. Science fiction writer, H. G. Wells, writes that every person has a “God-shaped vacuum in his heart - a void that only God can fill.” God has “hard-wired” us for a relationship with Himself, a God-shaped void, and until we are united with Him by repenting of sin and receiving Christ, we will continue to have this inner longing unfulfilled.

The story of the Samaritan woman is such a story – a story of someone thirsting for love, for meaning, for peace and until now, she had found it in all the wrong places. The story begins with this remark that our Lord had to pass through Samaria as He was going from Judea to Galilee. Did He have a choice? Yes, most certainly. There were three routes between Galilee and Jerusalem. The fastest and most direct route required travelling through Samaria, if speed was the main concern. But because of the ancient antagonism and tension between Jews and Samaritans, many Jews, especially the religiously observant, would avoid the route to prevent contracting some kind of ceremonial uncleanness. To the Jews, the Samaritans represented the two worst abominations: schism and idolatry. But it would seem that our Lord decided to choose this route. It was deliberate, not just coincidence. During His encounter with the woman at the well, our Lord broke three Jewish customs. Firstly, He spoke to her despite the fact that she was a woman. Second, she was a Samaritan woman, and as mentioned, Jews traditionally despised Samaritans. And, thirdly, He asked her to get Him a drink of water, although using her cup or jar would have made Him ceremonially unclean.

If one finds our Lord’s behaviour strange, at least from the perspective of a Jew, let us now consider that of the Samaritan woman. Saint John tells us that this encounter took place at the sixth hour. The sixth hour would have been our modern-day noon. It would have been the heat of the day and most people during that time would have been resting. As the story progresses, we learn that this woman regularly comes to the well at this time of day. As our omniscient Lord had discerned, she has been married five times, and is currently living in a scandalously sinful relationship with a man who isn’t even her husband. These circumstances point to her desire to avoid the shame of being in the company of other women. And yet, our Lord sought to meet this specific woman at this specific time. We may be ashamed to approach God and others because of our sinfulness, but there is nothing that can get in the way of the Lord approaching us, not even sin.

Through conversation with the Samaritan woman, we see Our Lord reveal Himself three times throughout the story. First, Our Lord is revealed as the Living Water. After asking the Samaritan woman for a drink, He responds to her by offering her something greater, “the living water” that will ultimately quench her thirst. This was a water that did not only sustain life but bestowed everlasting life. What is this living water but our Lord Himself - He is the Living Water that she needs, the well spring of life.

Next, our Lord is revealed as the prophet that the Samaritans had been expecting. He does so by exposing her matrimonial history – she had had five husbands and a current live-in lover. To which she immediately responds, “I see you are a prophet!” Shocked by the truth of His words and exposure of her own sin, her eyes are beginning to open to the truth of who He is.

Finally, we see our Lord revealed as the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah – that is, Christ – is coming; and when He comes He will tell us everything.” “I who am speaking to you”, said Jesus, “I am He.” The terms Messiah (Hebrew – Moshiach) and Christ (Greek - Christos) both mean “anointed.” In the New Testament and early Judaism, “Messiah” combines many Old Testament expectations about an “anointed one” who would lead, teach, and save God’s people. Here, our Lord reveals Himself as that Messiah. He has now explicitly told the woman that He is the final anointed King that has come to seek and save the lost.

Our Lord’s encounter with this woman brings to light a core belief in our Christian faith: Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the unique and universal Saviour of the world. He is not one prophet among many and Christianity is not just one way among many paths that lead to Salvation. We desire a fulfillment, rest, and joy that cannot be found in another person, place or project. Only our Lord Jesus Christ is the Living Water that can fill the void in our lives, He is the source of that well that will never run dry. He is the unending source of peace, joy, love, truth and satisfaction. Abundant life, truly abundant life, can only be found in Him. He is the One who “reconcile all things to Himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross.” It is only in Him that we will be saved from our sins and made new again.

This world is filled with wells that promise to provide love, acceptance, and self-worth but never fully satisfy. Many of us turn in desperation to the fountains of the world seeking a drink; where alcohol, food, outside relationships, addictions, entertainment, money or constant busyness fill our cup. And, yet, like the Samaritan woman, we still thirst. Only Christ can fill our empty souls for eternity and provide for our essential emotional needs now. Don’t wait till your soul is empty and the well runs dry. Look for Jesus now. Thirst only for him. He alone can quench the thirst of your soul. Saint Augustine was right when he said that our hearts will remain restless until we rest in Christ.