Water is necessary for human life. Scientists tell us that 50 to 65 percent of the adult body consists of water. Water helps the body function. Lacking an adequate amount of water, the body will start to strain. The person in this state will experience a lack of energy, regular bodily functions will start to slow, and the ability to focus decreases. If the absence of water continues serious damage will occur.
Living in the United States we are so fortunate to have regular access to water. In other parts of the world the availability for safe drinking water is not as readily accessible. According to UNESCO six million to eight million people die each year from water related diseases and 780 million people (that is two-and-half times the population of the United States) lack access to clean water. The statistics remind of the great need we have for water. Water sustains life.
The Israelites experienced the need for water as they were traversing the Sinai peninsula. The lack of water led them to grumble to Moses: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?”
The people were in need of water and they were weakened by their thirst. Yet instead of turning to the Lord in their need, they complain. Instead of remembering their recent deliverance from slavery in Egypt to freedom, they forget the great deeds of the Lord and His mighty arm of freedom. Instead of remembering the power of the Lord over the waters, they forget that he was the one who led them through the Red Sea. So they grumble.
Yet the Lord in his compassionate love hears their grumbling and provides for them. When Moses strikes the rock with his staff, as instructed by the Lord, water comes forth for the people to drink. The incident is remembered in the later life of Israel. Psalm 94 refers to the hardness of heart reflected in the grumbling; a failure to recognize the Lord’s power and goodness. The psalmist extols us: “Today, listen to the voice of the Lord: Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness, when at Meriba and Massah they challenged me and provoked me, although they had seen all my works. Forty years I endured that generation. I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray and they do not know my ways.’”
Jesus also speaks of water as it relates to life. The Gospel account recalls how he is tired after the long journey to Sychar so he sits down near Jacob’s well. This sets the scene for the famous interaction with the Samaritan woman. Water plays an important part in the story. The woman is at the well to draw water. Jesus asks for a drink. The woman is surprised that Jesus would ask her for the drink. In the cultural milieu it would be considered unthinkable that Jesus would ask her for a drink.
Jesus then says: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’” The interaction continues. At first the woman thinks Jesus is speaking of the water that comes from the well in the ground. Soon she learns that the water of which he is speaking is something different. This “living” water will come forth from a well that will never run dry; it will always be available. Unlike water from the well, which provides life for the body, this water will spring up to provide eternal life. The woman is fully engaged in the dialogue with Jesus and is clearly interested in what Jesus offers.
As the conversation continues, the focus shifts to Jesus himself, the one who provides the living water. Central to understanding the connection between Jesus and the “living water” is the question of His identity. Who is this Jesus? Slowly the woman begins to realize who He is and what he offers. At first she identifies Jesus as a prophet, then as the Messiah, the Christ.
When Jesus’ disciples return the woman goes into the town. She wants people to meet Jesus. While her testimony leads the townsfolk to Jesus, once they encounter him for themselves their faith increases: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” With these concluding remarks the question of Jesus’ identity is answered.
The water welling up from within, the “living water,” is the life of faith that flows from recognizing, acknowledging and professing Jesus as savior. From this starting point one can worship in “spirit and truth,” one can live on doing the will of the one who sends, and one can do his work.
Jesus is the living water that provides life. Later in the Gospel, in the passion account, Jesus’ side will be pierced with the spear. St. John tells us that water and blood flow out of Jesus (John 19:34). These represent the “living water” that springs from Jesus. His death accomplishes the saving event for mankind. No longer will humanity be trapped by death but are now set free for eternal life.
Sacramentally the “living water” is represented through the waters of baptism. As we continue to journey through Lent we are being prepared to celebrate the baptism of adults at the Easter Vigil and to renew our own baptismal promises. Through the baptismal waters we are made one with Jesus and we share in his death, the death that brings life.
Through the gift of the Spirit now dwelling in us we “will never thirst again.” Lent provides us an opportunity to be renewed in our faith, faith in Christ Jesus, and the life we have in Him. Water is necessary for life and Jesus is its source.
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.