One of my favorite stories in all of Scripture is the encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. Like all the stories in John’s gospel, this one, too, is filled with symbolic imagery and meaning. Jesus, tired and thirsty from his journey, sits at a well, and there meets a Samaritan woman who is also thirsty and seeking water, at the well. In this encounter between two people who thirst, we catch a glimpse into the heart of the Christian life: the deep thirst for God that is in every human being, and God’s unquenchable thirst for each one of us. Consider the veiled promise Jesus gives the woman:
“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water…whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:10, 14).
The water that this woman comes for everyday is a symbol for everything in our lives that we seek to quench the deep thirst in us – money, sex, entertainment, friendship, intimacy, power, food, etc. We go to those ‘wells’ and we drink deeply, but find that we are still thirsty. The problem is they just aren’t enough. Jesus promises her a different kind of water. A ‘water’ that truly satisfies – a living water: grace, God’s very own divine life. Jesus himself is what will truly satisfy this deep thirst in her.
When I scroll through my Facebook feed, read articles from both sides of the cultural divide and think about the general direction our society is going in as a whole, I can’t help but think about this encounter in Scripture. We are divided on so many issues: our understanding of marriage, the meaning of sexuality, gender-identity issues, racial tensions, the limits of religious freedom, and so on. In engaging with these issues, we realize that conclusions from both sides don’t exist in a vacuum but are a consequence of deeply-held belief systems and personal experience. So we take a step back, and the discussion deepens. Is Truth objective? Does God exist? Does His existence have moral implications for how we live our lives? Is Christianity true? And most importantly for us, how should the Christian respond?
I think this gospel story gives us some hints. At its core, this is a story of an encounter between a sinner and Truth. To this woman who has had five failed marriages, Jesus proposes a different kind of marriage. He helps the woman understand that the love and intimacy that she had been searching for all her life, is ultimately fulfilled in him. Once she’s been healed, she goes back into her town to share the good news. What is the good news? It is not an abstraction or an argument. It’s a Person: “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29). This is the pattern for every person who has encountered the Truth in Jesus. In every authentic meeting with Jesus, there is an element of exposing of sin. This is what we call conversion or healing. This is what happened to the woman in the gospel story, and this is what must happen to every person on both sides of the cultural divide. We must daily allow Jesus to encounter us and uncover that which does not correspond with Truth. We must seek His healing and the freedom that comes from a life lived in Him. We must drink from the ‘well’ that is the Love of God and receive Him frequently in the sacraments. When engaging the culture and speaking to family and friends, we witness to this reality by living lives transformed by Love. The arguments, hashtags and debates are good, but they are not enough. True Evangelization, that brings forth lasting fruit, comes from lives transformed by Jesus. May God, in his infinite mercy, transform our hearts and lives that we would effectively witness to Him and to the truth of His Gospel.