God's Word on Sunday: God’s living water will quench our thirst

  • March 10, 2023

Third Sunday of Lent (Year A)March 12 (Exodus 17:3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42)

Is the Lord among us or not? This petulant expression of anger and doubt was the first sign of the rebellion and unbelief that would plague the Israelites during the entire journey to the Promised Land. At times it would threaten to rupture their relationship with God entirely. 

Eventually the entire generation born in Egyptian captivity would be denied entry and would die in the desert. God needed tougher people who were more obedient and trusting. The people cried out in desperation for water — the Sinai desert is a harsh and unforgiving environment. But God always brings life where there is none. Moses was directed to strike the rock with his staff and when he did, water gushed forth. One would think that this miracle would chase away all doubt, but it was not long before food and more water became the issues. 

People have short memories concerning blessings and favours that they have received. Trust is supposed to support us and carry us forward in the in-between times — those times when God seems rather hidden. But there is more than meets the eye in this story. We cannot stop at the literal and superficial meaning of the story, for it is far more than an account of water shortages. 

Water became the master metaphor throughout the Old and New Testaments for the Spirit of God. In the last days, water was prophesied to gush up from the temple and out into the land to give life. The Gospel of John refers to the living water that only Christ can give, leading to eternal life. Paul portrays the water-bearing rock as the presence of Christ that followed the Israelites throughout the desert. It was often depicted in the catacomb frescoes of early Christianity as well as in the artistic representations of the synagogue. For us it signifies the continual life-giving presence of the Spirit of God — it indeed follows us on our journey. We should never give in to doubt and fear and question the presence and compassionate care of God.

Part of this permanent presence of God is the love that God pours into our hearts through the gift of the Spirit. We need not look outside of ourselves for the presence of God, for God is nearer to us than our own heartbeat. This presence should remove doubt and fear for it assures us that salvation has been given to us through our faith. God meets us where we are and accepts us and God indeed does not disappoint. 

The encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is a set piece that beckons us to go below the surface. With its highly symbolic and metaphorical presentation, it reveals what Jesus brings to those who elect to follow Him in heart, mind and soul. The words of Jesus were veiled in symbolism and double meaning. When Jesus spoke of water — living water — he was alluding to the Spirit, the vivifier of the soul and the gateway to God. The woman at first took His reference to water literally — the usual practice of those lacking spiritual insight. They bantered back and forth as she tried to figure Him out. It finally dawned on her that there was something special about Jesus after He correctly read her recent history. She acknowledged him as a prophet. Then she asked a question about the proper place to worship — in Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim, where the Samaritans had their own temple. Jesus replied that neither place was where true worship would take place. He signaled the dawning of a new age. In this new era, believers would worship God in spirit and truth — the sort of worship God wanted. After all, God is Spirit. 

But what does that mean? The Spirit with which Jesus will gift His followers will enable them to know God personally and experientially — to be in God’s presence always. Jesus became the new temple and the prophesied water — the Spirit — flowed out from Him. Once we taste this water we will never thirst again. 

Worship would not be confined to certain places but to the human heart and soul. That is the true temple of God, and it must always be honoured as such.