Unexpected meetings sometimes lead to the most marvellous and far reaching consequences. Take the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. Jews travelling from Judea to Galilee found it difficult having to pass through the hostile territory of Samaria. So you can imagine how shocked the apostles were when they saw Jesus deep in conversation with one of these Samaritans, a disreputable, ostracized woman at that – a conversation that started ordinarily enough with a request for a drink of water.
Within a short time this sassy woman, used to being defined by her gender, her race and her lifestyle, had entered into a debate with Jesus about issues and questions that interested her. In a tennis match of statement and response they talked religion and politics. This was real conversation – with depth and respect on both sides.
As they talked this woman met at a well became aware of a yearning desire for something – something more, something she didn’t seem able to name.
As a woman I sometimes find myself thinking that the ache I can feel inside for that something that always seems to be missing, can be filled by going shopping. And you know how long that solution lasts! Maybe men do the same when they buy yet another ‘boy toy’.
Writer Ronald Rolheiser calls this ache Holy Longing. He says that we are women and men with deep emotional, psychological and sexual needs, often unknowingly looking for God to fill the emptiness we feel. Over the centuries we have been conditioned to believe that emotions, sexuality and the psychology that defines individuality are somehow a bit suspect in God’s eyes, outside God’s interest, forgetting that it was God who planted these needs and desires deep within us.
Whether it’s money, a secure job, prestige, a university degree, a beach house or a slim figure, by itself it can never satisfy the thirst in us for that something more. Some look for it in exotic places, such as an Indian ashram. Others hope to find it in crystals or their horoscope. We Catholics have a religious history of expecting to find it in wordy devotions.
It was this thirst that Jesus had recognised in the Samaritan woman. In return for her cup of water he offered God’s flowing, life-giving, never-ending water. Sometimes we forget that the refreshing water of God’s presence in our lives can come in the most ordinary of vessels – a smile or a few words that set us up for the day, the funny things children say, getting green lights when you’re driving somewhere in a hurry, an unexpected and welcome phone call.
Jesus caught up all the longing, the restlessness, the yearning of the woman and gave it back to her in the image of running, flowing, tumbling, life-giving water. He’ll give it to us too. All we need are cupped hands or an empty jug.