Your Soul Is the Living Water for Which Christ Thirsts

It is for all the fallen of the world that Jesus Christ hungers and thirsts, eager to deliver us all from a state of unending desolation.

Annibale Carracci, “Christ and the Woman of Samaria,” 1605
Annibale Carracci, “Christ and the Woman of Samaria,” 1605 (photo: Public Domain)

In reading the various gospel accounts of the life of Christ, there are certain words that leap right off the page — words whose repeated use invite us to suppose that here is a major, indeed, decisive theme. A motif, as it were, whose application encompasses everything. The word water, for instance, implying a certain thirst that one hopes to assuage. Or the word bread, hunger for which suggests that one might be fed. 

The recurrence of such words, and the realities to which they point, raise a couple of questions — questions that impinge upon us and God. For what do we hunger and thirst? Bread and water, to be sure, the absence of which will almost certainly kill us. But God, must he too hunger and thirst? Or is he perhaps above such paltry concerns? After all, isn’t he pure Spirit? Why should God need food or drink?

Well, maybe not the food or drink that mere mortals require. The dietary needs of the deity, after all, do not consist of perishable goods. Of the seven last words spoken by Christ from the cross, for instance, the shortest is Sitio, which is Latin for I thirst. And while it is spoken very near the end of his life, uttered in an anguish of almost unspeakable torment, it has nevertheless been the constant preoccupation of his life.

But it is not water that he is thirsting for. Not even a bucket drawn from the purest springs will slake the thirst of the Son of God as he hangs helpless upon an instrument of the most exquisite of Roman tortures. Had he not already refused the wine mixed with vinegar, offered as a kind of narcotic relief? It is not hydration or nourishment that Christ desires in these last desperate moments, but the Father for whom he has always been hungering and thirsting.

“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me,” Christ tells us, “and to finish his work.” It is a will to which his whole being has been bent upon doing from all eternity. So it remains even as he finds himself thrust into time, raised high upon the cross. It is the intimacy of Abba himself whom Christ longs for, especially now that the accustomed closeness of his presence appears to have becomes a cruel and protracted absence.

“My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?” That is a cry not from the belly, but from the heart, a heart that longs for the warmth of an eternal embrace. That is the meat and drink on which the Son subsists. If Father and Son remain one, their love breathing forth the Holy Spirit, then the felt absence of that unity, for however brief a time in the human being Jesus, will only serve to deepen and intensify such hunger and thirst as defines from all eternity the bond between Father and Son.

But it is not only the Father for whom the Son pines in abject pain and loss. He is on a mission, after all, sent from the Father to enter and redeem a world lost in sin. It for us, too, that the Son longs, hoping in his sacred humanity to do us some permanent good. Accordingly, it is for our souls stained by sin that he suffers so great a loss. It is for all the fallen of the world that he hungers and thirsts, eager to deliver us all from a state of unending desolation.

Nowhere, it seems to me, is this more vividly shown than in the encounter with the woman at the well, an exchange as poignant and profound as any to be found in the New Testament. Jesus has come to Samaria, along with his closest followers, and as they go off into town for food, he sits down to await their return. He is both thirsty and tired. A woman of Samaria, meanwhile, has come to draw water at the well. Jesus asks her for a drink. She is disconcerted by this, knowing the state of enmity in which Jew and Samaritan live. Not to mention the obvious impropriety of asking anything of a woman, particularly a strange woman.

To all of this, however, Jesus provides a most telling and unexpected response: “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

It is for her soul, you see, for the salvation which she herself secretly thirsts, however disguised or suppressed by habits of longstanding sin, that Christ truly thirsts. The water from the well is but a prelude, a point of entry, to the far deeper springs of “living water” for which she has been thirsting all her life. How well Jesus knows her heart! How clearly he understands her thirst, sees right through her, down to the very bottom where her deepest longings are to be found — for love, for lasting connection, for giving herself fully to another, to God. All that hunger and thirst thwarted by sin, her own and that of others. 

“Sir,” she tells him, “you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where can you get this living water?” It is a fair question to put to a stranger who hasn’t even sense enough to show up with the right stuff. What she doesn’t know, of course, but will shortly find out, is that while the cistern may indeed be deep, Christ’s reach is deeper still. In fact, he himself will be the bucket to draw forth these living waters. That the very Messiah whom even Samaritans know will someday come, who will tell us everything we need to know, is in fact standing before her.

“I am he,” he tells her, “the one who is speaking with you.”

It is an absolutely stunning admission, horizon-shattering even. Because, until that very moment, Christ had not told anyone, had not yet revealed a thing about himself to the world he aims to rescue. “You are the first,” he tells her, the very first to learn the truth of his messianic status, that he is the very Anointed of God. In fact, from all eternity she had been the one, the chosen witness, destined to receive the Good News, and thus to carry it to others. 

“I’m going to tell everyone,” she exclaims, eager to be on her way.

“I was counting on it,” says Jesus, who has come to Samaria for that very reason, to see her especially. 

May that be our summons as well. And never mind where any of us are from, or what evils we’ve done. Even the stones can be made to speak.