Page 14, 22nd February 2008

22nd February 2008
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Page 14, 22nd February 2008 — THE WORD THIS WEEK

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David Mcgough

Page 10 from 28th May 1999


By Bishop David McGough

The Third Sunday of Lent Exodus 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2 & 5-8 ; John 4:5-42 4 T he people complained against Moses. 'Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Was it so that we might die of thirst?'" Complaints and grumbling, directed against a God who had so recently delivered his people from the slavery of Egypt, seem singularly inappropriate. How could God's people have forgotten so easily the wonder of their deliverance? When we look into ourselves, the answer is not difficult to find. The dissatisfactions of our lives, be they great or small, can take us over. Just as the children of Israel reached a stage when they were tormented by thirst. so we, in different ways, can be completely dominated by a life-denying negativity. At such times the blessings of life vanish from our consciousness. Our complaints begin to echo the grumbling of ancient Israel.

There had been, of course, a genuine thirst as God's people made their way through the wilderness. For us also there will be much dissatisfaction in our journey through life. The cup of selffulfilment cannot always be full. Thirst had not been Israel's sin. Their sin had been the self-indulgent grumbling that had turned against God.

Dissatisfaction rarely pauses to reflect upon itself. It is so much easier to blame the whole world. During Lent let us pray for the honesty to bring our dissatisfaction to God. In prayer he will reveal the thirst that lies beneath our unhappiness, and, in that thirst, draw us to himself.

In St John's Gospel Jesus constantly reached beyond the superficial, using the day-to-day longings of ordinary life to lead us to our deepest needs. His encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well began with the thirst of any traveller in a hot climate. Jesus had asked for a drink so that he might reveal more of himself to the woman. As the exchange developed, Jesus led the woman beyond a natural physical thirst to the deepest longings of the soul, longings that he alone could satisfy.

"Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again. The water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life."

The vague dissatisfaction that so easily overtakes the human condition may be likened to a thirst. The world has many wells on offer promising to slake its thirst. Eternal youth, wealth and influence, to name but a few. They never fulfil their promise. The dissatisfaction inevitably returns. Only in Christ do we find a satisfaction that can never be taken from us. We were born into new life in the waters of baptism. When we return to Christ we discover anew his abiding presence, the spring of our being welling up to eternal life.

Our most fundamental thirst is to belong, in today's jargon "to be connected". Jesus went on to promise the Samaritan woman that the hour was coming when true worshippers would worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. In such words Jesus promised to embrace the whole world in the love of his Father. No longer would we, like the Samaritans of old, live as strangers. This was no pretence. We would love, and be loved. in spirit and in truth. In this alone would our thirst be satisfied.

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