The Thirst of the Heart
The Thirst of the Heart
On this Third Sunday of Lent, as later in the Fourth and Fifth Sunday, the Liturgy, instead of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, offers us three texts taken from the Gospel of St. John. They describe three meetings of Jesus:
-the one with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, who receives the gift of the water that quenches thirst forever;
-the one with the man born blind, who receives the light of the eyes and of the heart;
-the one with his friend Lazarus, whom He resurrects.
The encounter with each of these three people highlights some particular aspects of the person of Jesus, Son of God, who gives life quenching thirst with “spiritual” water, giving light to see God and not just the world, and giving life to a friend, namely to each of us
1) Our thirst.
Because He is love, God thirsts to love and be loved while man, his creature, thirsts to be loved and to love. This thirst leads Christ to ask to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (see Jn 4, 7). The Son of God comes to us as a beggar in need of what we can give. “The greatest thing in the love of God is not the fact that he loves us, but the fact that he asks love, as if he could not be able to do without what we can give him. The one who is infinite, who is the eternal, the one who is self-sufficient rests on the brink of a well” (Father Divo Barsotti). The Samaritan woman represents the whole humanity, whose thirst for love cannot be satisfied by any man (the Samaritan woman had had six men).
Let’s try to imagine the scene of today’s Gospel: around noon a woman goes to Jacob’s well, which is located near to the village where she lives, to draw water and within minutes lands to the faith that her encounter with Christ arouses. Jesus is waiting for her at the well and he too expressed his wish. Faith is born from the meeting between two deep desires that “talk” to each other. The thirst of Christ reveals the secret of the thirst for this woman, who represents all of us.
Why does this woman come to faith and does it so quickly?
-Because she agrees to a dialogue with Christ, who is waiting at the rim of the well. Because she comes to the well where she goes every day, and because every day her body is thirsty. The Samaritan woman is thirsty also and above all for love, and does not find it either exaggerating the love she already has, nor continually changing love (ahead of the five men she has already left and the one with whom she lives, now comes Christ, the one who is the “seventh”).
-Because she gets thirsty not only for the water that quenches the body, but also for the one that quenches the thirst for truth, love, and justice. This “spiritual” thirst – in front of Jesus who says “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (Jn 4, 10) – pushes this woman to beg, saying: “Lord, give me this water” (Jn 4, 14).
This woman not only is the humanity alive at the time of the earthly life of Christ. She also represents the whole of humanity of all time, whose thirst is well expressed by these words: “O God, you are my God, for you my body yearns; for you my soul thirsts, in a land parched, lifeless, and without water”(Ps 63.2).
The thirst of man was not extinguished either then or ever: it is not extinguishable. In every human being there is the unavoidable question of meaning (understood as direction and taste of life) and opening to the Infinite. To this question of the infinite, the world responds with endless things that never fill the human heart that wants the infinite because it is capable of God. In this regard, the Catechism of the Catholic Church in Chapter I, entitled Man is “capable” of God, reiterates the fact that the desire (that is the thirst) of God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God. God never ceases to draw man to himself and man, only in God, will find the truth and the happiness that he seeks without pause. The meaning of the human life consists in its vocation to communion with God, the source of joy.
If we were to ask those who do not yet know Christ, those who have not yet met him, even those who do not want to try, many would answer to be happy with their lot. They go to fetch water, but they do not need God. They go to the well to fetch water for the body, but do not notice that they have thirst for another water. The presence of Christ reveals to the soul its emptiness that only God’s infinite love can fill. Of this speaks the Blessed Charles de Foucauld who, in his meditation, talks about the sadness that earthly passions brought to him when, still an atheist, he believed to suffocate with trespasses the thirst for God, typical of man.
2) The thirst of Christ
To answer the deep thirst that our spirit has, Christ puts one condition to donate himself. He begs an “offering”: that we give him water for his thirst. The water that he asks for to the Samaritan woman is an offering. Thanks to it, our hands and our hearts are open, and can thus receive much more, infinitely more.
Inspired by a painting by Duccio di Boninsegna that depicts Jesus sitting on the edge of a well, which is actually a solid marble baptismal font, and the Samaritan woman carrying on the head a delicately balanced fragile clay jug, I can write that Jesus needs our pitcher to draw into the well, that is, He need our freedom and our free love, that he redeems.
The spiritual journey of the Samaritan woman is proposed to us today. It is a route, that each of us is called to rediscover and to travel constantly. Even we, who are baptized, are always on the journey to become true Christians and this Gospel episode is an incentive to rediscover the importance and the meaning of our Christian life, the true desire of God that lives in us.
Proposing the Gospel of the Samaritan woman, the Church today wants to bring us to profess our faith in Christ, as this woman did, going out to announce and to testify to our brothers the joy of meeting Him and the marvels that his love accomplishes in our lives.
Faith is born from the encounter with Jesus, recognized and welcomed as a savior in whom the face of God is revealed. After the Lord has won the hearts of the Samaritan woman, her life is transformed, and she runs without delay to communicate the good news to her people. St. Augustine said that God thirsts for our thirst for Him, that is, He wants to be desired. The more the human being turns away from God, the more He pursues him with his merciful love.
Today, the Gospel urges us to review our relationship with Jesus and to seek his face tirelessly. “It is the desire that hollows our heart” (St. Augustine) and expands it. It is the desire that makes deep the heart and the “life of a good Christian is the holy desire” (St, Augustine).
A testimony of a good Christian life is that of consecrated virgins in the world, who mortify the thirst for human love to drink only the water of life that flows from Christ and to respond to his thirst.
The consecrated celibacy “is not lack of desire, but intensity of desire” (Saint Teresa of Avila). It is a vocation that expresses how you can live a life that is only quenched by God. This life given and therefore, fruitful, must be lived with an attitude of faith and spiritual joy, nourished by prayer. It must be lived with a detachment not only from marriage, but also from too limited fondness, to direct all energies, including the affective one, to the communion with Christ and with those who become close because of him.
The person living a consecrated virginity is a precious gift for the Church. In fact, she testifies the initial presence of the kingdom of God and the sure hope of its fulfillment and makes us more available to service. Finally let’s not forget that virginity does not contradict the dignity of marriage but presupposes it, confirms it and defends it from a reductive interpretations. It reminds the spouses that they must live marriage as an anticipation and an image of the perfect communion with God. The “you” that everyone ultimately seeks, is God: the spouse can not satisfy the limitless desire for love, the true wedding is the one with God.
“Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him, shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting Life.”
[1.] Scripture calls the grace of the Spirit sometimes “Fire,” sometimes “Water,” showing that these names are not descriptive of its essence, but of its operation; for the Spirit, being Invisible and Simple, cannot be made up of different substances. Now the one Jn declares, speaking thus, “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with Fire” (Mt 3,11): the other, Christ, “Out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7,38). “But this,” saith John, “spake He of the Spirit, which they should receive.” So also conversing with the woman, He calleth the Spirit water;1 for, “Whosoever shall drink of the water which I shall give him, shall never thirst.” So also He calleth the Spirit by the name of “fire,” alluding to the rousing and warming property of grace, and its power of destroying transgressions; but by that of “water,” to declare the cleansing wrought by it, and the great refreshment which it affordeth to those minds which receive it. And with good reason; for it makes the willing soul like some garden thick with all manner of trees fruitful and ever-flourishing, allowing it neither to feel despondency nor the plots of Satan, and quenches all the fiery darts of the wicked one.
And observe, I pray you, the wisdom of Christ,4 how gently He leads on5 the woman; for He did not say at first, “If thou knewest who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink,” but when He had given her an occasion of calling Him “a Jew,” and brought her beneath the charge of having done so, repelling the accusation He saith, “If thou knewest who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of Him”; and having compelled her by His great promises to make mention of the Patriarch, He thus alloweth the woman to look through,7 and then when she objects, “Art thou greater than our father Jacob?” He saith not, “Yea, I am greater,” (for He would have seemed but to boast, since the proof did not as yet appear,) but by what He saith He effecteth this. For He said not simply, “I will give thee water,” but having first set that given by Jacob aside, He exalteth that given by Himself, desiring to show from the nature of the things given, how great is the interval and difference between the persons of the givers,8 and His own superiority to the Patriarch. “If,” saith He, “thou admirest Jacob because he gave thee this water, what wilt thou say if I give thee Water far better than this? Thou hast thyself been first to confess that I am greater than Jacob, by arguing against Me, and asking, ‘Art thou greater than Jacob, that thou promisest to give me better water?’ If thou receivest that Water, certainly thou wilt confess that I am greater.” Seest thou the upright judgment of the woman, giving her decision from facts, both as to the Patriarch, and as to Christ? The Jews acted not thus; when they even saw Him casting out devils, they not only did not call Him greater than the Patriarch but even said that He had a devil. Not so the woman, she draws her opinion whence Christ would have her, from the demonstration afforded by His works. For by these He justifieth Himself, saying, “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not; but if I do, if ye believe not Me, believe the works.” (c. x. 37, 38). And thus the woman is brought over to the faith.
Wherefore also He, having heard, “Art thou greater than our father Jacob,” leaveth Jacob, and speaketh concerning the water, saying, “Whosoever shall drink of this water, shall thirst again”; and He maketh His comparison, not by depreciating one, but by showing the excellence of the other; for He saith not, that “this water is naught,” nor “that it is inferior and contemptible,” but what even nature testifies that He saith: “Whosoever shall drink of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever shall drink of the Water which I shall give him, shall never thirst.” The woman before this had heard of “living Water” (v. 10), but had not known its meaning. Since because that water is called “living” which is perennial and bubbles up unceasingly from uninterrupted springs, she thought that this was the water meant. Wherefore He points out this more clearly by speaking thus, and establishing by a comparison the superiority (of the water which He would give). What then saith He? “Whosoever shall drink of the Water that I shall give him, shall never thirst.” This and what was said next especially showed the superiority, for material water possesses none of these qualities. And what is it that follows? “It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” For as one that hath a well within him could never be seized by thirst, so neither can he that hath this Water.
The woman straightway believed, showing herself much wiser than Nicodemus, and not only wiser, but more manly. For he when he heard ten thousand such things neither invited any others to this hearing, nor himself spake forth openly; but she exhibited the actions of an Apostle, preaching the Gospel to all, and calling them to Jesus, and drawing a whole city forth to Him. Nicodemus when he had heard said, “How can these things be?” And when Christ set before him a clear illustration, that of “the wind,” he did not even so receive the Word. But the woman not so; at first she doubted, but afterwards receiving the Word not by any regular demonstration, but in the form of an assertion, she straightway hastened to embrace it. For when Christ said, “It shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting Life,” immediately the woman saith,
Jn 4,15. “Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”
Seest thou how little by little she is led up to the highest doctrines? First she thought Him some Jew who was transgressing the Law; then when He had repelled that accusation, (for it was necessary that the person who was to teach her such things should not be suspected,) having heard of “living water,” she supposed that this was spoken of material water; afterwards, having learnt that the words were spiritual, she believed that the water could remove the necessity caused by thirst, but knew not yet what this could be; she still doubted, deeming it indeed to be above material things, but not being exactly informed. But here having gained a clearer insight, but not yet fully perceiving the whole, (for she saith, “Give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw,”) she for the time preferreth Him to Jacob. “For” (saith she) “I need not this well if I receive from thee that water.” Seest thou how she setteth Him before the Patriarch? This is the act of a fairly-judging 10 soul. She had shown how great an opinion she had of Jacob, she saw One better than he, and was not held back by her prepossession. Thus this woman was neither of an easy temper, (she did not carelessly receive what was said, how can she have done so when she enquired with so great exactness? nor yet disobedient, nor disputatious, and this she showed by her petition. Yet to the Jews once He said, “Whosoever shall eat of My flesh shall never hunger, and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst” (c. 6,35); but they not only did not believe, but were offended at Him. The woman had no such feeling, she remains and petitions. To the Jews He said, “He that believeth on Me shall never thirst”; not so to the woman, but more grossly, “He that drinketh of this Water shall never thirst.” For the promise referred to spiritual and unseen 13 things. Wherefore having raised her mind by His promises, He still lingers among expressions relating to sense, because she could not as yet comprehend the exact expression of spiritual things. Since had He said, “If thou believest in Me thou shalt not thirst,” she would not have understood His saying, not knowing who it could be that spake to her, nor concerning what kind of thirst He spake. Wherefore then did He not this in the case of the Jews? Because they had seen many signs, while she had seen no sign, but heard these words first. For which reason He afterwards reveals His power by prophecy, and does not directly introduce His reproof, 14 but what saith He?
“Go, call thy husband, and come thither. The woman answered and said I have no husband. Jesus saith unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. The woman saith unto Him, Sir, I perceive that Thou art a Prophet.”
O how great the wisdom of the woman! how meekly doth she receive the reproof! “How should she not,” saith some one? Tell me, why should she? Did He not often reprove the Jews also, and with greater reproofs than these? (for it is not the same to bring forward the hidden thoughts of the heart, as to make manifest a thing that was done in secret; the first are known to 15 God alone, and none other knoweth them but he who hath them in his heart; the second, all who were sharers in it know;) but still when reproved did not bear it patiently. When He said, “Why seek ye to kill me?” (c. 7,19), they not only did not admire as the woman did but even mocked at and insulted Him; yet they had a demonstration from other miracles, she had only heard this speech. Still they not only did not admire, but even insulted Him, saying, “Thou hast a demon, who seeketh to kill thee?” While she not only doth not insult but admires, and is astonished at Him, and supposes Him to be a Prophet. Yet truly this rebuke touched the woman more than the other touched them; for her fault was hers alone, theirs was a general one; and we are not so much stung by what is general as by what is particular. Besides they thought they should be gaining a great object if they could slay Christ, but that which the woman had done was allowed by all to be wicked; yet was she not indignant, but was astonished and wondered. And Christ did this very same thing in the case of Nathanael. He did not at first introduce the prophecy, nor say, “I saw thee under the fig-tree,” but when Nathanael said, “Whence knowest thou me?” then He introduced this. For He desired to take the beginnings of His signs and prophecies from the very persons who came near to Him, so that they might be more attached 16 by what was done, and He might escape the suspicion of vainglory. Now this He doth here also; for to have charged her first of all that, “Thou hast no husband,” would have seemed burdensome and superfluous, but to take the reason (for speaking) from herself, and then to set right all these points, was very consistent, and softened the disposition of the hearer.
“And what kind of connection,” saith some one, “is there in the saying, ‘Go, call thy husband’?” The discourse was concerning a gift and grace surpassing mortal nature: the woman was urgent in seeking to receive it. Christ saith, “Call thy husband,” showing that he also must share in these things; but she, eager to receive 17 (the gift), and concealing the shamefulness of the circumstances, and supposing that she was conversing with a man, said, “I have no husband.” Christ having heard this, now seasonably introduces His reproof, mentioning accurately both points; for He enumerated all her former husbands, and reproved her for him whom 18 she now would hide. What then did the woman? she was not annoyed, nor did she leave Him and fly, nor deem the thing an insult, but rather admired Him, and persevered the more. “I perceive,” saith she, “that Thou art a Prophet.” Observe her prudence; she did not straightway run to Him, but still considers Him, and marvels at Him. For, “I perceive,” means, “Thou appearest to me to be a Prophet.” Then when she suspected this, she asks Him nothing concerning this life, not concerning bodily health, or possessions, or wealth, but at once concerning doctrines. For what saith she?
Jn 4,20. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain,” (meaning Abraham and his family, for thither they say that he led up his son,) “and how say ye 19 that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship?”
Seest thou how much more elevated in mind she has become? She who was anxious that she might not be troubled for thirst, now questions concerning doctrines. What then doth Christ? He doth not resolve the question, (for to answer simply to men’s words was not His care, for it was needless, but leads the woman on to the greater height, and doth not converse with her on these matters, until she has confessed that He was a Prophet, so that afterwards she might hear His Word with abundant belief; for having been persuaded of this, she could no longer doubt concerning what should be said to her.
Let us now after this be ashamed, and blush. A woman who had had five husbands, and who was of Samaria, was so eager concerning doctrines, that neither the time of day, nor her having come for another purpose, nor anything else, led her away from enquiring on such matters but we not only do not enquire concerning doctrines, but towards them all our dispositions are careless and indifferent. Therefore everything is neglected. For which of you when in his house takes some Christian book 21 in hand and goes over its contents, and searches the Scriptures? None can say that he does so, but with most we shall find draughts and dice, but books nowhere, except among a few. And even these few have the same dispositions as the many; for they tie up their books, and keep them always put away in cases, and all their care is for the fineness of the parchments, and the beauty of the letters, not for reading them. For they have not bought them to obtain advantage and benefit from them, but take pains about such matters to show their wealth and pride. Such is the excess of vainglory. I do not hear any one glory that he knows the contents, but that he hath a book written in letters of gold. And what gain, tell me, is this? The Scriptures were not given us for this only, that we might have them in books, but that we might engrave them on our hearts. For this kind of possession, the keeping the commandments merely in letter, belongs to Jewish ambition; but to us the Law was not so given at all, but in the fleshy tables of our hearts. 23 And this I say, not to prevent you from procuring Bibles, on the contrary, I exhort and earnestly pray that you do this, but I desire that from those books you convey the letters and sense into your understanding, that so it may be purified when it receiveth the meaning of the writing. 24 For if the devil will not dare to approach a house where a Gospel is lying, much less will any evil spirit, or any sinful nature, 25 ever touch or enter a soul which bears about with it such sentiments as it contains. Sanctify then thy soul, sanctify thy body, by having these ever in thy heart, and on thy tongue. For if foul speech defiles and invites devils, it is clear that spiritual reading sanctifies and draws down the grace of the Spirit. The Scriptures 26 are divine charms, let us then apply to ourselves and 27 to the passions of our souls the remedies to be derived from them. For if we understand what it is that is read, we shall hear it with much readiness. I am always saying this, and will not cease to say it. Is it not strange that those who sit by the market can tell the names, and families, and cities of charioteers, and dancers, and the kinds of power possessed by each, and can give exact account of the good or bad qualities of the very horses, but that those who come hither should know nothing of what is done here, but should be ignorant of the number even of the sacred Books? If thou pursuest those worldly things for pleasure, I will show thee that here is greater pleasure. Which is sweeter, tell me, which more marvelous, to see a man wrestling with a man, or a man buffering with a devil, a body closing with an incorporeal power, and him who is of thy race victorious? These wrestlings let us look on, these, which also it is seemly and profitable to imitate, and which imitating, we may be 28 crowned; but not those in which emulation brings shame to him who imitates them. If thou beholdest the one kind of contest, thou beholdest it with devils; the other, with Angels and Archangels, and the Lord of Archangels. Say now, if thou wert allowed to sit with governors and kings, and to see and enjoy the spectacle, wouldest thou not deem it to be a very great honor? And here when thou art a spectator in company with the King of Angels, when thou seest the devil grasped by the middle of the back, 29 striving much to have the better, but powerless, dost thou not run and pursue after such a sight as this? “And how can this be?” saith some one. If thou keep the Bible in thy hands; for in it thou shalt see the lists, and the long races, and his grasps, 30 and the skill of the righteous one. For by beholding these things thou shalt learn also how to wrestle so thyself, and shalt escape clear of devils; the performances of the heathen are assemblies of devils, not theaters of men. Wherefore I exhort you to abstain from these Satanic assemblies; 31 for if it is not lawful to enter into an idol’s house, much less to Satan’s festival. I shall not cease to say these things and weary you, until I see some change; for to say these things, as saith Paul, “to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.” (Ph 3,1). Be not then offended at my exhortation. If any one ought to be offended, it is I who often speak and am not heard, not you who are always hearing and always disobeying. God grant that you be not always liable to this charge, but that freed from this shame you be deemed worthy to enjoy the spiritual spectacle, 32 and the glory which is to come, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom to the Father and the Holy Ghost be glory for ever and ever. Amen.