My soul gasps for thee as a thirsty land [Ps.143;6]

Reflection for 3rd Sunday of Lent

John 4;5-42 and Revelation 7;17ff.

Few of us will experience chronic physical thirst. We only see at times of earthquakes, wars and famines, our fellow human beings gasping for water in a way that was a common experience in earlier ages when water could be a rare commodity.

The theme of thirsting is present in the scriptures where events take place in the arid wilderness of the Middle East Moses gifting water to the stranded Hebrew people, or Elijah craving water in the desert, in the same way Jesus too, in the reflection for this week, travelling through Samaria meeting a local woman at Jacob’s well, ignores conventions saying, “give me a drink”. Every episode in the gospel is given for meditation, as in this case not only is the Lord dealing with a Samaritan woman’s life at a very deep and personal level, he is given a chance to discourse on his own understanding that he is the giver of life giving water for everyone including this Samaritan woman. The incident must have been well known In Christian tradition, for she was given the name “Photina” at her baptism and her feast day is at this time of the year, commemorating her martyrdom on March 20th.

Manuel Panselinos, Photina the Samaritan in Protata, 1290-1310,
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Only after the meeting with Photina, do the disciples arrive with food and the Lord says to them and of course to us, “I have food to eat of which you do not know (…). My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work”. [John 4;32-34] All of this points in the direction of two other passages. First, this meeting at Jacobs Well, anticipates the last words of Jesus from the cross, where he has revealed the utmost extent of his physical suffering, which some may have a little experience of in a care home or hospice when the task of moistening the lips of a dying relative is required. “I thirst” speaks also from the depths of the Lord’s exhausted soul and outpouring of divine love that had featured in the High priestly prayer [John 17]; for all who follow him in the arid world in which the devil prowls around. In this pain Jesus fulfilling the scriptures cries again, “I thirst.” The thirst is of a body and soul yearning for truth, wholeness, peace and love.

Christian devotion during Lent is a journey into the mystery of this suffering love and death of the Son of God. What does it mean that we are lead beside “still waters” that we shall “no longer hunger or thirst”? Why was this suffering required? But above all to arose in our own souls the thirst for the life of God in the dryness of our own lives. It is by looking into the madness and disfigurement of our godless world and how we participate in its disorder, by sleep walking avoiding confrontation thereby dulling the soul’s thirst for God’s kingdom. We turn to Christ because He has turned to us. He invites us to participate in his life for the world and to become that great multitude for whom he prayed.

The encounter at Jacob’s Well leads us to the second passage of life beyond the cross written by the mystic theologian in the last book of the New Testament. The vision of the faithful, “standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches, crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” [Revelation 7;9–11] This hope and vision is the cause of the deep longing and thirst of our souls for the baptismal promise that we shall “neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. [Revelation 7;17]

Fr. Geoffrey Neal

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