“Give me the living water, that I may never thirst again.”
It is fortunate for the Samaritan woman that she did not live in our day and age. If she were alive today I fear we would pass her by. It would not even come to our mind that there may be something lacking in her life. In fact, if we were to enter into conversation with her, it would be to affirm the absolute validity of her own religious experience. We would have a fine academic discussion of the comparative merits of our respective spiritual inclinations. It would be unsophisticated to suggest that ours might be a better way. How boorish and arrogant to point out, as Jesus did, that she could be without proper understanding concerning God and the Way of worship. Our theology has evolved beyond the narrow, exclusive thought of the Early Church to a higher plane of love and acceptance.
Some years ago several friends and I were relaxing in the lobby of a hotel in Lusaka. We were preparing to take leave for a late dinner when the “lady on call” approached us. We were wealthy Americans good for a high fare. We were also missionaries, but either she didn’t recognize that or it didn’t matter. Such a proposition was a new experience for us, however, and so looking at each other in disbelief we began to sputter back some incoherent response to the patiently waiting but hopeful woman. After a few awkward moments one of our group blurted out, “Would you care to join us for dinner?” She warmly accepted our invitation after checking with her “uncle” who was waiting in a room upstairs.
I don’t know what her religious background was – Muslim, Christian or a native tribal belief. Whatever it was it was not vital to her now. She was left thirsty. The woman was hungry. For a good solid meal. For friendly conversation. For the love of God. Over the next couple of days we spent a good deal of time with her. She opened her heart and the pain and poverty of her life spilled out. We could not stand as her accusers casting stones. We offered her instead what we believed Christ would have offered … the Bread of Life and the Water of the Spirit.
Before we flew off to Nairobi, we introduced our “woman at the well” to a parish prayer group. A local mission office was contacted to find her a job and a new place to live. We received a letter from her some weeks later. She was well, had found new employment, and was “Happy in the Lord.”
I fear for the many women and men who are left standing, left thirsting by the well at the crossroads of life. Most are not as obvious in their need as our friend and so we hesitate to venture a relationship or to inquire of their need. We assume that they have their own beliefs and that those are sufficient. But we need to realize anew that there is a hunger and a thirsting that comes to each of us. And we must renew ourselves to the historic conviction that it is only in Jesus Christ that this hunger and thirst can be eternally quenched.
Third Sunday of Lent
Ex. 17: 3 – 7; Rom. 5: 1 -8; Jn. 4: 15 -42
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.