Dear Friends in Jesus Christ,
A tourist who had just returned from the Holy Land tells this story. One day he was sitting by a well in a field. An Arab woman came down from the hills. Over her shoulder was a big leather bucket. In her hand was a ball of twine and a tiny leather bucket. The woman tied the twine to the tiny bucket and lowered it into the well. When it was full, she pulled it up and poured it out into the big bucket. When she had filled the big bucket, she left the well and returned to the hills. A little later an Arab man appeared. But he had nothing to lower into the well. Since he was extremely thirsty, he got down on all fours and lapped up the water the woman had spilled.
This simple story illustrates a point that the woman makes in today’s gospel. She tells Jesus: “Sir, you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water?” But Jesus explains to the woman that he isn’t talking about physical water to quench physical thirst. He’s talking about spiritual water to quench spiritual thirst. Pointing to the water in the well, Jesus says: “Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” The point Jesus is making is this: we all have a spiritual thirst, similar to our bodily thirst for water. What is this spiritual thirst that we all have? What is this inner emptiness that we all experience?
Old Testament writers spoke of it as a thirst for God. For example, the psalmist says in Psalm 42: “As a deer longs for a stream of cool water, so I…thirst for you, the living God.” Similarly, the prophet Isaiah has God say: “Come, everyone who is thirsty…Come to me.” (Isaiah 55:1,3) Finally, Jeremiah compared God to a “spring of fresh water.” (Jeremiah 17:13) the thirst we all feel is a thirst for God. It is the same inner thirst that people have experienced since the beginning of time. The great St. Augustine explained it this way: “Our hearts are made for God, and they will not rest, until they rest in God.” A later writer put it more poetically, saying: “Our hearts have a God-shaped hole in them, that only God can fill.”
This leads us to a great tragedy in modern times. It is this: we are trying to fill the God-shaped hole in our hearts with something other than God. We are trying to satisfy our spiritual thirst with something other than God. The British writer Frank Sheed talked about this modern tragedy in his book Theology and Sanity. He says the human heart has a spiritual thirst. But instead of helping people satisfy this spiritual thirst, in a spiritual way, we give them material things. We try to distract them from what is troubling them, the same way we distract a crying baby by giving it candy and by making funny faces at it. Trying to satisfy a spiritual thirst with material things is like trying to satisfy a physical thirst with salt water. The more we drink, the thirstier we get. In his book Me and Other Advertising Geniuses, Carlie Brower talks about the foolishness of trying to satisfy a spiritual thirst with material things. He describes a business friend in worlds like this: “My friend Bill has done everything they’ve told him to do. But he’s still thirsty and unhappy. He’s come to the end of the rainbow, but there’s no pot of gold there. He’s found the buried treasure, but it’s empty. He climbed the mountain, but there’s another mountain on the other side.” The point is, material success, alone, leaves us empty. There’s something inside us that material things, alone, can’t satisfy. St. Augustine called it spiritual “restlessness.” Frank Sheed called it an “absence of meaning.” Charlie Brower described it as an inner “void.” But it all comes down to the same thing. In every human heart there’s a thirst no water can quench. There’s a restlessness no success can satisfy. There’s a void no material object can fill.
This brings us to the “good news” contained in today’s gospel: Jesus, and Jesus alone, can satisfy the thirst in our hearts. Jesus, and Jesus alone, can fill the void in our lives. Jesus is the Son of God, come to fill the God-hole in each of us. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, come to calm the restlessness in our hearts. Jesus is the water from heaven, come to satisfy the thirst we feel. “Whoever drinks the water that I will give him,” says Jesus, “will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring which will provide him with life-giving water and give him eternal life.”
Let’s close with a prayer.
Lord Jesus, you are the life-giving water for which we thirst. You are the happiness and success for which we strive. You are the peace and joy for which we search. Lord Jesus, our hearts were made for you, and they will not rest until they rest in you.
(Courtesy of Mark Link, SJ)
God Bless You,