Our Hungry Hearts
(Ex.17:3-7; Rom.5:1-2,5-8; Jn.4:5-42)
In his popular song Hungry Heart, Bruce Springsteen sings:
Everybody needs a place to rest
Everybody wants to have a home
Don’t make no difference what nobody says
Ain’t nobody like to be alone. [i]
His message is that, deep down, we’re all hungering for something. Whether it’s for shelter or friendship or a sense of belonging, or even for some kind of change, our hearts are always hungry. There’s always something we want or need.
To some, this hunger might sound selfish, but the story of the Woman at the Well in John’s Gospel today tells us that God has designed us this way. He has deliberately placed hunger in our hearts for a purpose.
Jesus is at Jacob’s Well, in the Samaritan town of Sychar, 63 kilometres north of Jerusalem. There he meets a woman who the locals actively dislike because she’s had too many husbands. They think it’s scandalous.
However, she needs water, so she goes to the well at noon, at the hottest time of day when all is quiet. But Jesus is there, and he starts talking to her about water. He knows she’s struggling, and that she needs more than drinking water. ‘Whoever drinks of this water will get thirsty again,’ he says.
So, he offers her a new kind of water: the refreshing, life-giving water of the Holy Spirit. ‘Whoever drinks the water that I shall give, will never be thirsty again,’ he says.
What Jesus is saying is that this world can never satisfy what her (or our) heart desires. Indeed, we know this for ourselves: every time a desire is fulfilled – like our need for water, or a new outfit or a car – that sense of satisfaction never lasts. We’re always hungry for something else afterwards.
So, our hearts teach us that we have infinite needs that can only be satisfied by the infinite. When God created us, he gave us a natural hunger for himself, and that’s why we’re always seeking something more than whatever we have.
Ronald Rolheiser calls this hunger in our hearts a ‘holy longing’. It’s holy, because if we follow it, it will ultimately lead us to God.
This longing is a deep-seated desire to love God. And if we nurture that love, it will grow.
Just like artists practising their art, the more we practise loving, the better we’ll be at it. And the more we give ourselves to God, the more we’ll love him and the more we’ll feel at peace.
But Rolheiser says that before we can fill our hearts with this love, we need to create space for it by letting other things go. We’ll get nowhere if our hearts are already ‘full,’ he says. ‘It will be like trying to attach two inflated balloons to one another.’
In his song, Bruce Springsteen sings: Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing, I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.
For many of us, this is how we live. We drift aimlessly through life, trying to satisfy one worldly hunger after another.
But in today’s story, the woman makes a decision: she accepts Jesus’ offer. ‘Give me some of that water,’ she says. Her physical thirst has helped her discover her spiritual emptiness, and it changes her life completely.
When she runs off to share the news, she leaves her water jug behind, just as the disciples left their nets behind to follow Jesus.
According to Eastern tradition, this woman was St Photina, the first evangelist in John’s Gospel. Her name means ‘the enlightened one.’ After meeting Jesus, she travelled far and wide, telling the story of how he saved her. [ii] She dedicated the rest of her life to encouraging others to drink Jesus’ living water.
In his commentary on this reading, St Augustine said that Jesus was thirsty for that woman’s faith. But he’s thirsting for our faith, too. So, this Lent, let’s ask Jesus for some of his refreshing, living water, which is always available to us in Baptism. And let’s really drink it in.
For as Joseph Krempa writes, ‘If we don’t take the call of Lent to heart, then we can be like someone who is thirsty and reads about water, listens to talks about water, sees beautiful banners about water, hangs pictures of water, collects books about water, sings songs about water, gathers with others to hear sermons about water, joins discussion groups about water, hears stories about those who have found water, until one day he or she dies of thirst.
He or she never drank the water.’ [iii]
[i] Bruce Springsteen, Hungry Heart. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/brucespringsteen/hungryheart.html
[iii] S Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire, St Pauls, New York, 2005:34.