For what Do I Thirst? – Third Sunday of Lent 2020


It’s the Ides of March and by chance we’ll soon be approaching the halfway point of Lent. Our scripture readings today help us to reflect on how we are making our way through this season and what still needs to be allowed to take place in our hearts. It may be helpful for us to ponder the question – For what do I thirst?

What am I still looking for in this season of Lent? Even the naming of that is an occasion of God’s grace being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (as Saint Paul reminds us today).

Both the reading from Exodus and the Gospel account of the Samaritan woman at the well speak of thirsting for water. In the first reading, the thirst is very real. The Israelites were grumbling because of their thirst. Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst? Moses cried to the Lord and the ever-responsive Lord head the cry.

That Exodus story is behind Psalm 95, today’s Responsorial Psalm. The evangelist John’s account of the Samaritan woman at the well is a common Gospel account to offer people on retreats precisely because it deals so strongly with our spiritual thirst and desires.

The woman’s desire is articulated very simply: Give me living water, that I may never be thirsty. She is searching for something much more profound than the water emerging from the rock at Horeb. The story of the woman’s encounter with Jesus is beautiful and it is easy to imagine. He approaches the well at the height of the day and he is worn out. He asks her for a drink of water and she expresses surprise that he would ask her.

She is a Samaritan, basically a non-Jew and an outsider. She is likely further ostracized by the fact that she has lived with a series of men, marking her as immoral. Her sin is well known. She and Jesus have a conversation that offers her some truth about herself and is the reason for her spreading the message of her encounter with Jesus.

The Eastern Church venerates this unnamed woman as Photine, meaning the luminous one. They celebrate the Sunday of the Samaritan Woman on the Sunday four weeks after Pascha (Easter). She is celebrated as a saint of renown and is considered an equal to the apostles.

Jesus is revealed as one who can give living water. That is not merely water that will quench physical thirst, but the kind of spiritual nourishment that sustains us through all of the ups and downs of life. Photine receives the acceptance of Jesus, in spite of her immoral life. Jesus saw value in her; he looked beyond her sinfulness.

Surely even we can experience that acceptance, regardless of what we have done or how we have lived. God’s grace comes most powerfully to us when we know our need, our thirst. The woman at the well knew her need. What’s my need as I move toward the halfway point of Lent? Do I even know my neediness?

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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