March 23, 2014 –– 3rd Sunday of Lent
The Thirst of the Human Heart
Image is a big thing in our world. Advertisers work hard and spend millions to manipulate us into thinking that more and bigger and better and “beautiful” are sure ways to find fulfillment and happiness. Most of us are conscious of what we think others expect of us, and we usually “put our best foot forward” almost automatically.
This matches a brokenness in our hearts that we inherit from Adam. And like Adam and Eve did with God, we try to hide the things in our lives that show weakness or cause shame. We know that weakness and shame do not make us happy, and being “happy” is the one thing we think––and that popular opinion tells us––will give us fulfillment.
The human heart hungers and thirsts for fulfillment. We ache to be “satisfied.” It seems that every voice, both within us and around us, says “indulge yourself.” If you can get the applause of those around you, then the big SELF at the core of your being will find peace.
This is one way to understand the context of the woman who met Jesus at the well. She did not volunteer the whole truth, only a discreet and very partial truth: I do not have a husband.
Jesus brings the truth into the open (and not to belittle or condemn her, but to open the door to the true meaning of love). Again, we live in a world that runs from truth and a world that totally distorts love. “Love” is diminished and then used as tool for self-indulgence. This is destined for disappointment and pain because self-indulgence destroys love. They are mutually exclusive.
The “woman at the well”––as she has come to be known––was evidently using men (or allowing them to use her) in a search for “love.” This is not just an old story. This is happening all around us all the time. Our society has accepted it as normal and blesses it as a path to happiness. I do not know of any “happy” people who are living in a cycle of serial relationships.
At this point it might seem this story is about the misuse of sexuality and the need for chastity and purity. This could, indeed, be a sub-theme, but it is not the point of the Gospel. Regardless of what a person might use to try to find fulfillment or even grab a moment of happiness, this story is an invitation to consider the deep cry of the human heart. Perhaps “in the Church” we already know the answer. One popular quote by St Augustine is from his Confessions: You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you. But even if we “know” this, at least in our heads, it does not by itself take us where we need to go.
The true thirst of the human heart is for love, but not the distortion of emotional titillation or lust with their accompanying self-indulgence that the world calls “love.” Love is an acceptance of who we are in a context of what is truly right, good, and true. So much so that Love and Truth cannot be separated; this is why these two characteristics are ultimately defined within the Godhead.
The first way that Jesus loved this woman at the well was to bring her face to face with the truth about herself. Trying to hide behind an image or seeking love from something that is not true ultimately causes pain. It is when we face this reality that we are in a position to receive love.
When truth and love come together in a person’s life, the result is a deep and true happiness. After the truth-telling encounter with Jesus, the woman joyously went into the town inviting others to meet Jesus by telling them the one thing she had tried to avoid and cover: Come see a man who told me everything I have done. The only way such truth can bring joy is when it is coupled with true love. It is that kind of love that satisfies the thirst of the human heart.
Every one of us feels the pull to hide behind an image. All of us likely have things in our lives that we would not easily share with others. All of us are thirsty for true love.
There is a way to find peace and joy in the core of our lives. We see it in this Gospel story, and it is a paradox. Instead of hiding the things about us that make us weak in the eyes of the world, and instead of trying to indulge ourselves with the things that promise a bit of momentary relief, we are invited by a loving God––who already knows the full truth about us––to be honest with ourselves and invite his love and truth to reach deeply into the crevices of our hearts.
We can do this alone in the silence of personal prayer.
But because it is so easy for us to rationalize and excuse ourselves, our Lord has given us tangible help. We have the Sacrament of Confession. There is healing and relief when we are openly truthful about ourselves and receive the love of our Lord in return.
It is also good to be in spiritual direction with someone who helps us with both truth and love. It can be beneficial to have a spiritual accountability partner with whom we exchange truth and love.
Ultimately, we all desire what this woman at the well so deeply wanted: relief for the thirst of the human heart. Jesus is here to meet anyone who is willing to face their own truth. Jesus is here to give us the love that quenches the thirst of the human heart. We can know what the people discovered that day: We know that this is truly the savior of the world.