First Tuesday of Advent: Thirsty
So Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour...
—John 4:5-6 (read John 4)
My father died last September from complications of dementia. My mother has early-stage Alzheimer’s. With my father gone, my mom’s future was unclear. My insides churned at the thought of what it might take to see her through the coming years. I prayed, I worked to have faith, but I remained seized by doubt and fear.
* * *
Many years before this, Jesus waited by a well. A woman came who knew, like me, what it was like to have her life turned upside down.
Jesus had learned that the Pharisees were suspicious of him. They had heard that he was making more disciples than John the Baptist, and so he fled Judea for Galilee. John tells us he had to pass through Samaria, but he didn’t have to take that route—the Pharisees regularly traveled a different way to avoid the Samaritans.
But Jesus was doing his Father’s will.
He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, wearied from his journey, sat beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
Jesus chooses fatigue and thirst. He waits.
Meanwhile, a woman moves toward the well. The day is scorching hot, but she does not take advantage of the coolness of the morning to journey to the community well and fetch water. Let the other women go early and enjoy each other’s company, gossiping and lording it over her, she who has known five husbands. She goes at noon, when the sun is at its highest and hottest. She will see no one, and no one will miss her.
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
She tells him he has no bucket, the well is deep—he must be talking about some other well. Is he greater than Jacob?
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
She would never have to come this well again.
He asks her to go and get her husband. She tells him the truth: she has no husband. He tells her about her current lover and previous five husbands.
“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”
He says salvation is from the Jews, but the time has come when the Father seeks true worshippers.
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
She tells him she knows Messiah is coming, and he will explain everything to them.
“I who speak to you am He.”
* * *
This exchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is, as one commentator writes, an example of “the scandalous graciousness of God.”
There is no hint of condemnation in Jesus’ words to her and no defensiveness in her response. Jesus breaks through barrier after barrier, finally revealing himself to her as egō eimi: “I AM.” He had not stated this to anyone else, not even his disciples.
In the words of St. Augustine, “He who was asking drink was thirsting for the faith of the woman herself.”
Jesus waited for her.
* * *
It is Advent. We anticipate Jesus’ return and we will soon celebrate his birth. We wait. We prepare.
But who is waiting for whom?
One afternoon, a few weeks after my father died, I called my mom and heard the voice of a friend of hers in the background, preparing to leave after a visit. A devoted Christian and loyal friend, she and her husband have known my parents for decades. I knew she loved my mom and was praying for her. She was one of many friends visiting and calling regularly.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the way my mom’s friends were caring for her. At that moment, I heard a voice in my head say, “I have My hand on her.” As tears of relief and thanksgiving came, I knew it was true.
It was as if Jesus was there by my mother’s side, waiting on me to call, eager to speak, thirsty for my faith.
Beth Bogard Vander Wel is a homeschooling parent and Director of the Challenge A program for Classical Conversations of Accokeek, Maryland, where she lives with her husband, Brian, and their son, Doug. Beth worked for the CCO between 1985 and 1996, during which time she served as campus ministry staff, as a staff supervisor, and as a member of the communications department.