By Sr. Tracy Kemme
The Gospel for this Sunday gives us a wonderful image for our Lenten journeys: living water.
Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, "How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
The woman said to him, "Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?"
Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." (John 4:5-15)
We prayed with this portion of the upcoming reading yesterday as a parish staff in a simple Lectio Divina style.
I have to admit, the first time we read the passage, the phrase that jumped out at me was, “Jesus, tired from his journey…” The words brought me relief: “Oh, Jesus, you felt tired, too.” March madness seems to have hit not only NCAA basketball but my calendar, too. There is an overload of activity – Lenten commitments at the parish; activism, education, and accompaniment in the current immigration climate; continuing to settle into our new home and dedicating energy to build a new intentional community. I’ve been feeling my resources wane and allowing myself to be irritable and negative. I feel guilty confessing my exhaustion. I know it’s a privilege to do meaningful work, and those who are the victims of oppression and injustice don’t have the option to give up because they’re tired. Still, in my humanness, I sighed, “Jesus, I’m tired from the journey, too.”
The second time we read the passage, I imagined myself in the scene. I became the Samaritan woman, my skin tingling under the high-noon sun and sweat dribbling down the side of my face. I came to the well, wearily lugging my bucket as I had done so many other times, fetching the liquid of life from the only source in the village. There sat a man with the kindest face I’d ever seen.
When Jesus spoke to me, everything around me seemed to stop. I felt overcome by peace and drawn to the compassion in his eyes. For a moment, anxiety and fatigue subsided. The focus moved from my weakness to his strength. I sensed that he had something real and sustaining to offer me, something as real as a quenching swig of water on a sweltering day. As Jesus described living water, I felt the urgent thirst that the woman in the story gives voice to, “Sir, give me this water.”
The third time we heard the words of the Gospel, I listened for the message Jesus might be trying to speak to my heart this day. I heard one phrase so clearly, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." It was not said in a disparaging way to make me feel little, but rather, it was a loving invitation to my jittery heart: “Tracy, remember who I am. Look into my eyes, and see all of the gifts that I want to give to you. I mean it. Do you believe me?” I realized that I did believe it somewhere deep down, but I had forgotten how to trust it. I figured that with so much need in the world, I shouldn’t dare bother Jesus with something so petty. Then, tenderly, he assured me, “Ask me for what you need.”
Something in my heart shifted, and even though my eyes were closed, the whole room felt lighter, glowing with golden warmth. In my own preoccupations, I had latched on to a burdensome illusion that I had to do all of this on my own. Here, Jesus brought me back to truth: I am your source, a well inside of you that will not dry up. Come to me, and rely on me. As my spiritual director reminds me often, “If Jesus calls you to something, he gives you what you need to respond to that call.”
More powerful than a dismal reminder of our own weakness, Lent is an opportunity to remember, again, who Jesus is. Yes, it is important to look sincerely inside ourselves throughout to season to see where we are missing the mark and how we can grow. But we must do it in the context of knowing the “gift of God.” As the Gospel so beautifully reminds us this Sunday, we don’t go the journey of transformation alone. Lent is a call to believe, again, that Jesus is our source, an eternal spring welling up inside of us. He wants us to return to him with our whole heart and ask him for our deepest longings. He wants to nourish us, sustain us, refresh us, cleanse us, and fill us with hope.
Our Living Water is inexhaustible; there’s enough to go around for every person, for every day of life.