Aren’t we all, to some degree or another, the woman at the well? This Gospel story is such a beautiful illustration of Jesus’ Well of Mercy, and though familiar, is a classic reminder to us all about the purpose of Lent: conversion.
Water is quite literally and obviously necessary to quench physical thirst, but the spiritual reality is that water symbolizes our need to be cleansed and healed. (And what better way to receive the healing we need than through frequenting the Sacrament of Reconciliation?) Our thirsting is deeper than the visceral need to consume water; our thirsting is our lifelong quest to seek and discover the Living Water.
The woman at the well represents the infinite longing of all of humanity: to finally obtain that abiding interior peace that results from our discovery that the world cannot satisfy our thirst, but rather, only God can in the most intimate manner. Consider what Very Rev. Robert Barron says about what the woman’s five husbands represent:
“Think of the five husbands as five errant paths that the woman has taken, five frustrating ways in which she has tried to find fulfillment. She has ‘married’ herself to wealth, pleasure, honor, power, material things, etc. Or think of them, perhaps, as five ideologies or political parties or gurus that she has followed, in the hopes of finding joy.”
Profoundly, this speaks to us all, because all of us (whether consciously or subconsciously) seek fulfillment in temporal ways. The enemy often convinces us that we need to be esteemed or acknowledged, successful and wealthy, externally beautiful, intelligent, and trendy. Even those of us who attempt to follow the path of Truth go astray, because our concupiscence is such that, quite simply, we sin.
I truly believe that the way our modern world is structured – the current cultural milieu – does not give way for personal reflection. It does not acknowledge that sin exists, and therefore its basis for acquiring “peace” is to practice Eastern meditation or Yoga, perhaps to empty one’s mind and engage in “positive thinking” exercises. While all may be useful for a moment, they are all fleeting and never offer the substantive and lasting peace we all truly yearn for.
And so this is our thirst. We convince ourselves that keeping up with the current of busyness will make us happy. We adopt the path of least resistance and pursue comforts and pleasures of all sorts. We make decisions based on our emotions rather than our will (which is not contingent upon emotion). All of these efforts are fruitless and futile, but somehow we all encounter Jesus at our personal well. When we are deeply entrenched in our sinful patterns of living, Jesus approaches us with the infinite offering of the joy we desire and ultimately, the healing we truly need.
Aren’t we typically caught off guard when we experience this encounter with Christ? It always seems to be an inopportune time when our consciences are pricked or when we are humbled in some way. We often resist, rationalize, justify – anything to continue the life we have achieved. The truth is, conversion isn’t easy, at least when one honestly surrenders him/herself on a daily basis to know, desire and follow God’s will. But I believe that, though God’s will for us isn’t necessarily the life we would have chosen for ourselves, it always leads to our greater good, the good of our souls.
Let us leave the lies and deception of the enemy, as well as the falsehoods and enticements of the world at the foot of the well this Lent. May we, like the woman thirsting at the well who was in the thick of her sinful life, recognize our encounter with Jesus as He beckons us to take His hand, trust Him and follow where He leads. Only when we follow the Living Water and drink from His Well will our hearts be overflowing with all that we desire that this life simply cannot fulfill within us.
Ponder: What are some sinful patterns or behaviors that have kept the well of my heart dry? Am I living a life that chases after the dreams of the secular world, or am I seeking God’s dream for me? How can I encounter Christ this Lent and offer Him my brokenness, weakness, and sins? Have I made an effort to frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Pray: Jesus, Living Water, fill the wellspring of my soul with your Truth. Enlighten my heart with the knowledge of Your will for my life, so that the desires of my heart may transform from that of pursuing worldly pleasures to the union of my will with Yours. I know that You desire the healing of my heart, and so I offer you my sins, weaknesses, vices, and secrets. Quench my eternal thirst, Jesus, beginning with my Lenten journey but extending to a true change of heart thereafter. Amen.