Woman at the Well and Spiritual Thirst

Water, water, everywhere,

 And all the boards did shrink;  
 Water, water, everywhere,  
 Nor any drop to drink.


Seven Sisters Waterfall, Grenada

Seven Sisters Waterfall, Grenada

These may be the only lines I remember from high school literature. I was not into poetry then; however, today’s lessons are all about water. Cruising the Caribbean I understood why water is so important. In the midst of the Caribbean, there are desert islands. Water everywhere but not a drop to drink unless you desalinate it.

The ancient philosophers considered water to be one of the four basic elements of the cosmos—earth, air, fire and water. Water has real and symbolic properties. Water can quench your thirst and water can drown you. Water can bring life to crops and water can destroy crops.

Water is a powerful symbol of our quest for the Living God. Once a preacher was having great difficulty getting an unbelieving person to accept God. In sheer desperation, he leads the young man to a stream, grabs him and holds his head under water until he is flailing and grasping for breath. Lifting him up, he asks, what did you want more than anything else when I was drowning you? The man said, “Air, air, air.” The preacher said, “When you thirst more for God than you gasped for air, you will understand what I am trying to teach you.” When I finished the 5K Walk this morning, I wanted, “Water, water, water.” Our quest, our pilgrimage, our life journey is about thirsting for God more than anything else.

Water has been a symbol of purification and destruction in most religious cultures. In baptism, water is a symbol of dying to self and rising to new life. In the Psalms, the wicked stand in a salt desert while the just have their roots in living water.

In today’s first reading, picture Moses wandering in the dry, hot, dusty desert with a rag tag band of malcontents. Why did you bring us out here to starve to death? Why did you bring us out here to die of thirst? Having just been rescued from the slave toil in Egypt, the people are quick to grumble and complain when their needs are not met immediately. God tells Moses that their plight is understood and instructs Moses to strike the rock. Striking the rock once is not good enough for Moses.Moses was a lot like us. If one vitamin tablet is good for us, two will work even better. He strikes the rock twice precious life-giving water comes forth; however, Moses and the people will be punished for their impatience and lack of trust. They will wander aimlessly seeking the Promised Land.

Come now to chapter 4 in John’s Gospel. We have the wonderful narrative of the woman at the well. Under the intensity of the noon day sun this troubled woman who has suffered much in her life comes to the well. She comes when she knows other women will not be there. She is a Samaritan. The Samaritans did not go into exile in Babylon and did not worship in Jerusalem. They were the avowed enemies of the Jews. Maybe a Christian encountering a Muslim woman at a well in the Middle East would be a modern comparison.

There are several things to note about this story. First, she is not a fallen, immoral woman. This would be reading way too much about morality into the story. She is a woman who has suffered the loss of four husbands and is now probably in a Levirite relationship with a relative. Some did not consider his as marriage and thus Jesus comment about it not being her husband.


The point of the story is that Jesus goes to the margins and breaks all kinds of social conventions to minister to the woman in her grief. First, he is a Jew and he is talking to a Samaritan. Second, he is a male speaking to a female. He then asks the woman for a drink. The woman tells him the well is deep. Unlike Nicodemus and the born again story, this woman gets it eventually. Jesus is talking about living water. She asks for the living water. Telling her all about her life, Jesus accepts her as she is. He bestows dignity upon her. Jesus explains to her that true worship will not be a matter of place. It will be an affair of the heart—seeking God in love and truth. No wonder she recognizes him as a prophet.


Jesus offers us living water. The Irish in their own imitable way, call whiskey ouische bertha—whiskey, the water of life.  Wine can gladden the heart and wine can destroy the heart. Jesus offers the true water of life, that which we must want more than anything else. Power, possessions, and prestige are not the water of life. Paul tells us that God will pour forth the Holy Spirit into our hearts. Within us the Holy Spirit creates a deep longing for the Living God and the Living Water. When we want God more than anything else, we are like trees planted by the living water. We flourish and grow and become more than we can be without the Living God. Let us resolve during this Lent to thirst for the Living God and the Living Water of the Holy Spirit.

What do you thirst for more than anything else?





Leave a Reply