The other day my wife and I were cleaning out a closet when I came upon a stash of bedtime stories that I had read my kids – you know, the ones I read while trying very hard not to fall asleep myself. I was struck by how well I remembered many of them- or rather, I remembered their happy endings. Cinderella and the prince fall in love; the little engine that thinks he can finally reaches the top of the hill, the very hungry caterpillar becomes a butterfly. Somehow, we tend to only notice or remember only endings – happy or sad. We miss the details that can only be found when you have taken the time to reflect on everything that the story contains.
The Gospels have a lot of stories that are like that. What you might remember about the story we read from the Gospel of John is Jesus meeting a Samaritan, a member of a community that Jews loved to hate. She, it turns out, is a woman who has had more than her share of relationship trouble, and who is living in an irregular marriage now. But Jesus, to the great surprise of the apostles, accepts her and welcomes her with words of great love. If that is all you remember of this story than you will go away fully satisfied, fed by the Word.
But look again – there is more to see. Water plays an important part of this story. Living water, a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Water plays an important part of many stories that we find in the Gospel of John. Think of the wedding at Cana. Think of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples on Holy Thursday. And water is central to the Old Testament story we heard today in which the Lord quenches the thirst of those in the desert with water from a rock. In both the Old and New Testaments, water is a symbol of life.
Back to the Gospel. In an extraordinary dialogue, full of symbolic language and imagery, Jesus offers the woman life giving, living water and she accepts his gift. We know she does by what happens next. “The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, ‘Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?”’
She leaves her water jar because having received the gift of living water she will never be thirsty again. She goes into the town as a disciple of Jesus and a witness. This individual, who the apostles found quite unacceptable, goes into the town bearing witness to Christ. She makes other disciples, risking perhaps ridicule and scorn from her neighbors, a witness with tremendous conviction, faith, and courage to spread the news that the Christ has come and that the path to eternal salvation is open to all people.
Today, at this Mass, each of us is invited to partake of the living water that Jesus offers. No matter what desert you are crossing, the water from the rock is meant for you. The tender words of salvation and love Jesus offered the Samaritan women are meant for you… today… now. Whatever you thirst for, you thirst for Jesus. Jesus says to you today “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
My friends, we have among us today some who are thirsting for the living water in a unique and profound way. I refer to the members of our RCIA Class, who we now know as the Elect. Like the Samaritan woman, they are thirsting for living water, and like her they have encountered Jesus. They long for the living water of baptism that they will receive in a few weeks at the Easter Vigil. In a moment I will invite them forward and we here today, who have already partaken of the water of baptism, will ourselves be disciples and witnesses and testify to them about the Christ.
Unlike the bedtime stories we tell our children, this story does not have a happy ending. It has happiness that’s true, joy beyond belief. But it does not have an ending. The life that Jesus offers us is eternal, eternal life. Let us partake of that living water together.