Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Third Sunday of Lent, March 19)

Water is necessary for life. While we know this from our intellect we also sense it experientially when we go without water for a period. In the initial period we may say that we are “thirsty.” Our body tells us that we need water. We can feel the need as we long for water.

Going without for a longer period of time we begin to get dehydrated. When this happens all sorts of things start to occur in the body – we can get faint or lightheaded, lethargy sets in, we might even get disoriented. The urgent need for water will be noticed as the body then begins to shut down – and eventually, without water, we will die.

The Israelites were keenly aware of this as they journeyed in the desert. It’s not that easy to find water in the desert. Such was the case when they were at “Meribah and Massah.” They are thirsty. So they grumble against the Lord: “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt?” Wow. That is some pretty serious grumbling. Remember they were slaves while in Egypt; the Egyptians were working them to death, and murdering all their new born males.

In their thirst, they forgot the Lord’s goodness to them and his power to save. The Lord is not happy with this grumbling but provides, once again, for his people. Their thirst, at least their physical thirst, is quenched and they are saved.

The Gospel passage for Sunday’s liturgy is Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well of Jacob. Jesus was thirsty. He had been walking all morning when he arrived at about noon in Sychar, a Samaritan town. It is here that Jesus encounters and interacts with the “woman at the well.”

In the encounter we see a wonderful interplay between thirst and satisfaction, between water and spirit. Jesus is thirsty for water, the Samaritan woman thirsty for spirit. She can provide the water, he can provide the Spirit. As the interchange develops we see clearly that the need for “living water” is much more significant and important than regular water.

Jesus says to the woman: “Everyone who drinks this water [from the well] will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The offer of “living water” can only be made because Jesus has come on a mission from the Father. The mission is that of mercy and healing through sacrifice.

When the disciples returned to find Jesus at the well with the woman, they urge Jesus to eat. Jesus responds to them: “I have food to eat which you do not know…. My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”

The living water that Jesus promises is poured out from the cross. Recall that after Jesus dies but is still hanging on the cross, the soldiers came and one of them “thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.” The water signifies the “living water” that Jesus provides through his passion and death. The resurrection will witness to its power to give eternal life.

Lent helps prepare us for the Triduum and Easter in which we remember the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord and our participation in the life he affords us. Participation in the liturgies of the Triduum draws us into the paschal mystery we celebrate.

A major part of these celebrations happen at the Easter Vigil when adults are fully initiated into the life Christ won for us. They are immersed in the “living waters” of baptism and the gift of the Spirit is poured out upon them. At the Easter liturgies, all the baptized are reminded of their own baptism through the renewal of vows and the sprinkling of water.

The celebration of Easter is the celebration of life, the eternal life that has been made possible for us through Christ Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. These are the “living waters” that provide for our thirst, the thirst for life.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.