The 3rd Sunday of Lent
One of the classic expressions of our human longing for God occurs in the Confessions of St Augustine. Towards the beginning of this work, Augustine wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. He was speaking of our thirst for God, but there is also a thirst that God has for each one of us, a longing to be received by us, and Christ gave expression to this longing when he met the Samaritan woman. “So ardently did he thirst for her faith, that he kindled in her the fire of divine love.”
The thirst of Christ is the thirst of the One who is closest to the Father’s heart, who knows from experience what it means for God to be burning with infinite love for us. So strong is his love for us, that Augustine’s saying can be reversed and applied to God: God has made us for himself, and his heart is restless until it rests in us. Each of us is a unique resting place for God, and he can only come to rest in us when we have faith and confidence in his love for us, and when we have made him the great love of our lives.
Already in today’s reading from Exodus, there is a hint that God thirsts for us, that he longs to give himself to us. We are told that the people were suffering from thirst, a deeply felt need that could be satisfied by only one thing, something to drink. It was a human need for a physical thing, water, but since we are made in the image and likeness of God, it suggests that there is something in God that thirsts for each one of us, something that longs to find the uniquely personal faith and love that only we can give.
God invites Moses to make an act of faith that God still loves his people, even when he lets them suffer from thirst. He tells Moses that he will be standing on the rock, and if Moses will strike the rock, water will flow. Moses responds with confidence in God. He strikes the rock, and two things happen:
– the people slake their thirst with the water that flowed from the rock.
– and we who listen with faith get an insight into the very heart of God.
Exodus tells us that God was standing on the rock. St Paul tells us that this Rock that the people drank from was Christ (1 Cor 10:4). And St John in another part of his Gospel adds that “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Now he said this about the Spirit” (John 7:38-39). So already in the Old Testament reading, the Christian believer sees an image of the triune God giving himself to us in love: God stands on the rock, the rock represents Christ, and the water from the rock represents the Spirit, which would be poured out on all believers. God’s heart is restless: he is forever flowing with living water, looking for the resting place that he has made for himself, in each one of us.
In the Gospel, God shows how much he cares for each particular resting place that he has made for himself. He so loved the woman of Samaria that he gave his only Son to do for her what he had done for the people in the desert. They were thirsty, and he gave them water to drink, the same kind of water that could be found in Jacob’s well. The Samaritan woman had a thirst of a different kind. She had a longing to give her whole heart to someone who would understand her, who would know everything she had ever done, and yet still find it possible to love her. She had already looked for understanding from five different people and was now looking for it from a sixth, but no human being could satisfy this thirst, because it was a thirst of the soul, a longing for God.
Jesus recognizes this thirst and offers to give her water that will turn into a spring inside her, welling up to eternal life. Her past is no obstacle to receiving the living water. All Jesus looks for from her is a faith like Moses, a faith to ask for the living water flowing no longer from a rock, but from the human heart of Christ, the only human being who could satisfy her thirst for God.
Each of us here is dearer to God than the Samaritan woman. She could not receive the fullness of the Spirit, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. But we have proof that God loves us in spite of everything we’ve ever done because we know that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. When we were baptized into his death, the love of God was poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us. God’s living water, the Holy Spirit, found the resting place that he had made for himself in our heart.
If at Holy Communion you hear his voice, harden not your heart. Come before him, giving thanks that he knows everything you’ve ever done, and loves you with the fullness of his three-Personed love. Rejoice that you need him, that you can offer him a resting place in your heart. And no longer let your heart be restless: you have found forgiveness and understanding in the compassionate heart of our God.