Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Thirst of Jesus

The readings at Mass today, the Third Sunday of Lent, speak of thirst—two kinds of thirst. 

In the first reading (Exodus 17: 3-7), we hear of Israel’s thirst in the desert during their journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. And in the gospel (John 4: 5-42), Jesus, takes a rest next to a well at noon when a woman shows up.  Both are thirsty, but for more than water.

It was unusual for the Samaritan woman to show up at noon to draw water.  Why didn’t she come earlier, with the other women, at dawn before the intense heat of the day?  Probably because of shame and the abuse hurled at her by the others. She, who had had five husbands and was living with a sixth man, would have heard things like: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you keep a man? What a disaster your life is!”  So she came at noon when no one else would be around.  But someone else was there. She encountered Jesus.

The woman had, in the words of an old country-western song, been “looking for love in all the wrong places.” She was thirsty for love, for the care and concern of another, but, for one reason or another, she couldn’t find it.  Jesus too was thirsty for love—for her love.  He knew what she had been through and he did not condemn her. Rather, little by little, he led her to the understanding that he was the messiah who had come to free her and all people from sin. He offered her true love—God’s love, the truest, deepest love the world has ever known.  He told her that this love could become a fountain of life welling up within her. 

Later in John’s gospel (19: 28), as Jesus hung on the cross, he thirsted again. He was dying and said “I thirst.” In those dying words of his he expressed not only his physical thirst but his thirst for our love. It is as though he, with arms outstretched, was saying: “I love you this much. All I want is for you to accept my love. With my love within you, you will love me in return and be saved.”

Pope Benedict XVI wrote about this thirst of Jesus in his 2007 Lenten Message:  “On the Cross, it is God himself who begs the love of his creature: He is thirsty for the love of every one of us. … The response the Lord ardently desires of us is above all that we welcome his love and allow ourselves to be drawn to him.”

The Samaritan woman welcomed the love of Jesus and was drawn to him. But she couldn’t keep the good news of the love she had found to herself. She went to the townspeople, no doubt risking their ridicule and rejection, and told them of her newfound love. They went to Jesus and invited him to stay. He spent two days with them and they too came to believe in the love of the one whom they came to know as “truly the savior of the world.”

Jesus continues to thirst. Will we, like St. Therese and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and so many others, give him to drink?

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