Today’s Gospel reading (John 4:5–42) is the touching and tender story of the Woman at the Well. That Gospel story is always read in liturgical year A and is optional for years B and C. That story fits beautifully with the theme we have been pondering of Jesus’ forty days in the desert.
First of all, the story takes place at noon, when most women remained inside at home to avoid the heat. The woman comes to the well during the heat of the day to avoid encountering other women, for fear of experiencing their judgment of her sinful life.
The story also has as a central theme the quenching of one’s thirst, which we have also pondered this Lent as we looked at Jesus in the desert. When Jesus encounters this woman at the well, it is clear that she is physically thirsty; even more, she is spiritually thirsty. She sought to quench that thirst by marrying one man after another and then by living with someone who was not her husband. When Jesus sees her, He makes an interesting request of her with deep spiritual meaning. He simply says, “Give me a drink.”
On the surface, this is not surprising. It was hot, Jesus was physically thirsty, and the woman was drawing water from the well. But we must see Jesus’ request on a much deeper spiritual level. The “thirst” Jesus was experiencing was for her faith and her conversion. He wanted her free from her life of sin and shame. He wanted her to experience refreshment in her soul. For that reason, Jesus goes on to say of the water in the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Often, those trapped in a cycle of sin feel shame, hopelessness, and fear. Jesus saw these qualities in the soul of this woman. He saw that she was trapped in this cycle of sin, and He wanted her to be free.
When we look at our own lives, especially if we have fallen into some cycle of sin we cannot escape, we must see this very compassionate and merciful Heart of Jesus reaching out to us as He did to this woman. Furthermore, when we see others who are caught in a cycle of sin, we must become the Heart of Jesus for them, not giving into judgment and condemnation.
At the end of the encounter, the woman leaves her water jug at the well, symbolizing that she had received this “Living Water” which instantly became “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” This short encounter with Jesus so satiated her spiritual thirst that she completely forgot about her physical thirst. She left with amazement and joy.
Ponder Jesus sitting at that well as you come to get water while experiencing the weight and dryness of your sins. Jesus does not condemn you. He wants to free you. He wants to give you His Living Water. Satiate Him by trusting in His unfathomable compassion and mercy. And when you encounter those who are caught in a life of sin, be Jesus’ merciful Heart to them.
Most compassionate Lord, I am amazed by the depths of Your perfect compassion and love. Help me never to fear You but to always turn to You in my thirst that is caused by my sin. As I receive Your unfathomable mercy, I pray I will also become Your merciful Heart to those in need. Jesus, I trust in You.