WHAT ARE YOU THIRSTING FOR? – Third Sunday in Lent, Year A

March 12, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Exodus 17:3-7
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 (8)
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
John 4:4-15 (16-19a) 19b-26 (27-38a) 39b (40-42)

“Give me a drink.” (Jn 4:7)

Today’s Gospel story takes place at a well and begins with that simple request: “Give me a drink.” The Samaritan woman’s question about the propriety of Jesus’ approach provides an opening for him to speak about the water that he can offer her instead—water that springs up within us, “gushing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

For the woman at the well, the dialogue about thirst was the starting point for a deep spiritual journey. At the beginning of their conversation, the woman assumes that Jesus is merely a thirsty Jewish traveler. As they begin to converse about water from the well that she could provide and the water springing up to eternal life that Jesus offers, she realizes that there’s more than meets the eye, and so she asks him to give her this never-ending supply of water.

When she claims not to have a husband, Jesus lets on that he knows all about her marital history—five husbands down and now living with one who is not her husband. This leads to the next step in her growing awareness of who Jesus is: “I see you are a prophet” (Jn 4:19). When the woman then speaks about the coming Messiah, Jesus reveals to her that he is the one: “The one who is speaking to you, I AM” (Jn 4:26)—using the same language by which God’s identity was revealed to Moses in the burning bush.

The woman takes the next step in her progression as she runs into town and proclaims Jesus to the others: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” (Jn 4:29) One commentator has pointed out that she left off what is clearly implied: “Come and see someone who told me everything I have ever done – and loved me anyway!”

In the course of the story, this woman of Samaria is transformed by her encounter with Jesus, moving from curiosity to fascination to awe to faith. She doesn’t even have a name, comes from the wrong ethnic group, lives in the wrong neighborhood, belongs to the wrong denomination, is a person of the wrong gender, has looked for love in all the wrong places, and yet she is held up in John’s Gospel as a model of faith. Her unconditional acceptance by Jesus and her openness to the gift of living water frees her to place her faith in Jesus and then to give testimony to others.

As we continue our Lenten journey and reflect on the meaning of our baptism, today’s Gospel prompts us to ask what we are thirsting for: success? companionship? love? knowledge? something else? Do we, baptized disciples of Jesus, thirst for the living water that transforms our ways of seeing and living and alone has the power to satisfy? What do we need to leave behind to deepen the faith that we received in the waters of baptism?

Lord Jesus, give us living water, so that we may never thirst again.

A Hymn for Today: “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say”

Horatius Bonar, a minister who broke from the Church of Scotland to join the Free Church of Scotland in 1843, wrote hymns that deliberately departed from the tradition of singing only psalms, at first as a way of providing songs that children would enjoy singing. He went on to create more than 600 hymns. In this text, written in 1846, Bonar looked to Scripture for inspiration, basing each of the three stanzas on familiar sayings of Jesus (Mt 11:28; Jn 4:10-14; Jn 8:12). The first part of each stanza recalls the words of Jesus, and the second part is the believer’s response.

The second and third stanzas are drawn from the Gospel stories for this Sunday and next, and so this hymn provides an apt response to the message of these two passages. To hear the first stanza sung to THE ROWAN TREE, a nineteenth-century Scottish tune, click here. Many hymnals today pair it with the English folk tune KINGSFOLD in an arrangement by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Listen here.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold I freely give
the living water, thirsty one;
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me, your morn shall rise,
and all your day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my star, my sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till traveling days are done.

Text: Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889

Image Credit: Christ at the Well, Peter Koenig, United Kingdom, 20th cent.

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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