“Give me a drink.” Our minds are filled with the images of the passages of which we have just spoken. Who is this Man sitting beside Jacob’s well, addressing a woman who is a complete stranger and asking her for a drink of water? The woman is quite put-off, and retorts: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” This was indeed taboo in their culture, for, as we have said, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” and, further, a man would not address just any woman in public. What is Jesus seeking? And what is the woman seeking? She comes to the well to draw water, certainly, but we recall that it is “about the sixth hour,” that is, noon. Why would anyone in a desert climate go out to draw water in the middle of the day? We will learn the reason for this later: the woman is an outcast in her own village, a “public sinner,” we could say. She is, therefore, the “outcast of the outcasts,” the lowliest of the low. A despised member of a despised people. How fitting, then, that she is the first person to receive the “wedding proposal,” the “will you marry me?” of Jesus!
Jesus is not upset by her response, but does what he so often does in John’s Gospel. He begins leading her from the superficial level to a deeper understanding, from earthly things to heavenly things. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” But she doesn’t understand, and replies, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?” She doesn’t grasp what he is referring to, and indicates his practical inability of drawing water for her. “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?” How significant are these words, perhaps said in a rather dismissive tone of voice! First of all, the One to whom she is addressing this question is greater than Jacob! Second, she refers to Jacob as “our father.” She identifies, despite the fractured history of the Samaritans, with the chosen people. She too is a child of Abraham, a descendant of the patriarchs, and therefore an inheritor of the covenant made by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Of course, Jesus is well aware of this, and so he presses his point: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drink of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” At last, the woman begins to sense something special about Jesus and his words. “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” (cf. 4:7-15).
We are beginning to realize something very beautiful occurring between Jesus and the woman of Samaria. To understand it is tremendously important for grasping the significance of our own lives. Are we not, like the woman, often going out at the middle of the day to draw water? When Jesus approaches us and asks us for a drink, do we not respond at times with incomprehension? “Who are you to ask me this?”
We come each day to the “well,” seeking for happiness. Our hearts are yearning for something, and we carry the empty water jar of our hearts with us everywhere we go. We have been made in the image of God, bearing in ourselves a reflection of the very openness of the Trinity’s life: openness to relationship, to love, to communion. But in sin we have lost our likeness to him, we have fallen away from a living and life-giving relationship of love. And when we do not taste this relationship, when we do not know the truth of love, when we do not experience the joy of intimacy, we experience a dread thirst.
The image of God can never be effaced from our hearts; it is impressed indelibly upon us. No matter how immersed we are in sin, no matter how lost and broken, the image of God is alive inside of us, crying out for fulfillment. But we ourselves cannot bring back the likeness to God that we have lost. We live in a tremendously thirsty world, a world that has forgotten the true face of Love, the true meaning of intimacy and joy. But it cannot stop yearning, thirsting, and seeking. Like the Samaritan woman we are often seeking for fulfillment in the wrong places, hurting ourselves still more by what we so feverishly grab on to. But this is where Jesus comes to meet us.
Jesus comes from the heart of the Trinity, from the joy of his intimacy with the Father. And he is thirsty too. He is, indeed, more thirsty than we are, only in a different way. Ours is the thirst of the need to receive. His is the thirst of the need to give. He asks us for a drink, but what is he seeking but to be allowed to give himself as the living Fountain? Yes, as the Church Father’s so beautifully said: Jesus is the Thirsty Fountain. He comes from the Father, and exhausts himself in the journey, sitting down beside the well to rest. And in his weakness, in the vulnerability of his love, he encounters us in our own weakness and vulnerability.
“Give me a drink.”
“Who are you to ask me for a drink?”
“If you knew the gift of God! If your knew who was asking you—you would have asked me, and I would have given you the living water that fulfills all your desires!”
Yes, Jesus is the true “man of desire,” who counts it “but a few days” to spend his entire life in service of us, pouring himself our lovingly for our salvation. He is the Bridegroom who comes to meet us at the wells of this dry and thirsty world. And he himself is thirsty, thirsty to unite us to himself, to espouse us to himself in the most profound and beautiful marriage. A thirsty God! Thirsting to give himself to us and to fulfill our deepest longings with himself!
Ah, but this is not all. Whenever we encounter—the thirsty God and the thirsty human heart—the roles are also interchanged. What do we mean? We mean that God himself becomes a beggar for our love! He loves us so much, he thirsts for us so deeply, that he yearns not only to give us his love, but to receive our love in return. Yes, only in receiving our love can he welcome us completely into his embrace. And this, more than anything else, is where he desires us to be. “Come to me, and let me hold you,” we can hear him saying. Let us therefore come, and give ourselves to him.
When we see such a thirsty Savior, we come not only to thirst for the happiness that he alone can give—we thirst particularly for him who, in his immense and inexpressible Beauty, wounds our heart with longing for his embrace. Yes, we realize that, as much as we long for happiness, it is not a generic happiness that we desire. Our heart, bearing a “God-shaped hole” within it, on encountering Jesus, knows at long last what it has been seeking. We have been seeking him…yes, him. And now, having found him, we must belong to him, must remain always in his arms. Indeed, we feel the need to give ourselves to him, as we thirst to satisfy his thirst in return! We yearn to quench the thirst of Jesus!
What a beautiful encounter…and here we see the awesome mystery of love. When thirst meets thirst, what happens? These thirsts give drink to one another. How is this? It is quite simple. What do we yearn for more than to be desired and sought by another, to be loved and accepted and cherished? This is precisely the gift that God gives to us in thirsting for us. Further, on his part, what does God desire, in relation to us, more than to be desired and sought, to be loved and accepted and cherished? What a mystery! By thirsting for God, we satisfy his ardent thirst for us. Thirst meets thirst, and the two together become the joy of intimacy.