Are you willing to settle for the tangible? Or are you holding out for more?
Our first reading this Sunday, from Exodus, shows us the Israelites on a journey through the desert, struggling with their faith as they complain to Moses of their thirst: Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst? Their spiritual condition is undermined by their physical condition; their bond with God is tenuous, since they seem to assume God will not be there to help. As Psalm 95 reminds us, their hearts are hardened… Yet God does intervene in the Israelites’ plight nonetheless, providing what they ask for: tangible water for the people to drink. Such direct intervention should be sufficient to allow them to come to an awareness of God’s care for them, but in fact their spiritual life is unchanged, and they will soon be building a golden calf to worship in God’s place. Their ability to trust God – their faith – is limited by their human parameters.
The Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel is likewise limited, at first at least, by her own human parameters. Jesus breaks every rule in the book by asking her for water, placing himself on par with her, though he is a man and a Jew and should not be conversing alone with this Samaritan woman. He then tells her she should herself be asking for living water – not merely life-sustaining water, but a new kind of water, welling up from the spring that is Jesus himself, intangibly, something she can hold onto only in her heart.
We too are on a journey; we struggle with faith. What does it take to find the faith we need, and to maintain it? We are often willing to settle for what we can hold in our hands, the tangible. But God offers us eternal life, love, infinite and forever, in the person of Jesus. Only Jesus can slake our thirst for God. To worship God in spirit and truth is to enter into God’s place, into real relationship, to enter into who God is — I AM —, not just our concept of who God is. Because of Jesus’s death on the Cross, there is no longer any barrier: God is accessible. We enter into relationship because the Spirit acts; it is God’s action. But we have to be ready to receive the gift, to enter into where God draws us, embracing fully the fullness of God revealed in Jesus, whether we understand it completely or not. Jesus wants to draw the woman at the well out of the tangible to something more: living water. Our faith constantly calls us to that more that is the love of God poured out into our hearts (Romans). And it’s not tangible. But it is perfect.
This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.