THIRST AT HIGH NOON!
Third Sunday of Lent (A)
March 27, 2011
I am no biblical scholar. I am just a teacher over the past 33 years and, as they say, "been there ... done that." And as a teacher, I would be a little annoyed with the woman at the well, if she were my student. First, she tended to be impertinent ... somewhat. Second, she had different questions about most everything, and they were quite desultory ... jumping from one topic to the other, and they could be a little off tangent.
But as teacher who might have little patience with silly questions, I find myself in awe at the great teacher who had answers to each and every question she posed - and more!
But first, I would like to speak about the little surprises that lead me, of all people, to ask silly questions, too. First and foremost, why would anyone go out to the well at midday to fetch water? As one who grew up in the boonies, where one had to fetch water from some place for daily use (there was no indoor plumbing to speak of!), one does not go out at high noon to fetch water. One does that first thing at the break of day, when the sweltering sun has not yet fully lashed out its merciless and blinding rays. Presumably, a woman who was in-charge of all details of domestic economy ( from the Greek oikonomia, which means management of the household), would know better than to run out of precious, cool, satisfying water to quench her husband's thirst at high noon, when the midday repast is what everyone should be engaged in.
But I am being flippant - and quite off tangent!
We should give it to her that she was more than just busy. She was hard working. She was still as busy as can be, at high noon, when everyone ought to be done with the first half of the day's work.
What could have brought her out to Jacob's well in the first place?
In my non-biblical scholar's mind, it was simply this .... thirst .... thirst at high noon! As one who climbed more than 13 Philippine mountains in my prime (many suns and moons ago!), I think I know what being high and dry and dehydrated at midday means, when you are in the midst of a grueling, knee-punishing climb up any tropical mountain. You look for water. You reach out for your water bottle and slake your parched lips and dry throat. Or, as in the case of the woman with a thousand and one household tasks to keep up with her domestic "economy"duties, you reach out for the water jug and solve a real and concrete problem fortwith! You go to the well, with or without your philosophical - if, silly - questions and ponderings!
Thirst at high noon ... that was what brought her to the well ... her own presumably, and that of others in her household, including the man she lived with. As the story unfolded, it turned out that more than just her thirst was quenched, and definitely more than just material, physical thirst, her own, and those of others, too.
For all her desultory and impertinent questions, she had one stellar action that stood out. Starting out with a mundane and shallow request, for her to be given that water, so she would no longer thirst and keep on coming back to the well, she graduated into someone with a most important, but thought-provoking question: "Could he be the Christ?"
Thirst and household responsibilities notwithstanding, the woman did the unexpected. She surprises everyone, including us. She turned out to be someone who was focused on more than just fetching material water. She brought her thirst and that of others to the Lord. And she was straightforward about what she needed and wanted. In the end, she brought to others in return what turned out to be the promise of living water. From someone who just asked silly questions, she metamorphosed into somebody who made everybody consider the most important question of a lifetime: "Are we dealing here with the Messiah? Could he be the promised One who is to come?"
We could be at high noon ourselves at any given time in our lives. Those transitioning to midlife, are, in the words of Carl Jung, moving over into the noontime of their lives. Those of us who have lost the enthusiasm and optimism of yore, are said to be experience the "noontime devil," the lack of faith and hope in humanity, the lack of assurance deep within that whatever little we can do would really matter in the long run.
We are at high noon in many parts of the world. We find ourselves seared, not by the material heat of the tropical sun, but singed by the heat of so much hopelessness, perhaps brought about by so many natural and man-made tragedies that occur everywhere. At high noon, everything withers ... our enthusiasm falters ... our dreams waiver, and our strength alters. We tend to become cynical. We tend to throw in the towel and give up hoping for the best that humanity is capable of.
We are at high noon in many ways. And we are thirsty at high noon. Our souls are parched dry by the sight of peace and unity seemingly becoming even more unreachable ... in Libya, in Tunisia, in Yemen, in Bahrain ... and in our own country divided and polarized by the Reproductive Health Bill that is being pushed in the name of trying to solve the gnawing and undeniable problem of massive poverty in the country.
We are at high noon and we are thirsty. But if ever the Samaritan woman got anything right, apart from asking that question about the possibility that the man she spoke to was the Messiah, it is this ... she knew she would be thirsty again. She knew that high noons don't happen only once in a blue moon, and that high noons coupled with searing thirst are not a once-and-for-all experience of humans like us.
We will be thirsty again, for sure. We will "see such sights colder and know not why," as the little girl Margaret was told by the persona in Manley Hopkins' famous poem. We will be thirsty again ... we will long for peace and it seems to be squandered by war-thirsty leaders who think of themselves much more than they think of the welfare of their people.
We will be thirstly again ... We will look for answers to questions much more pressing than indoor plumbing to assure us of a constant supply of refreshing and gushing waters. And when we become thirsty, at high noon or at any other time, we need to ask the really important question: "should we not consider that man's offer as the real answer to so many of our problems?" "Should we not take resort to him who promised the ultimate living water of faith, hope, and love and salvation?
Thirsty at high noon? ... Our choice ought to be clear ... and no, it is not about Sprite. It is about him who now reminds us, as he did the Samaritan woman at the well ... "the water I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."