One of the many benefits of being a lifeguard as a teen was the opportunity to teach swimming lessons. I really enjoyed helping the kids overcome their fears and develop confidence as their swimming skills improved. One of the big milestones for every child in swimming lessons was jumping off the diving board for the first time. At the end of each week, we’d take our classes to the “deep end” to see who wanted to give it try. Some kids faced the challenge with indomitable courage, some needed reassurance and a little help. In most cases, they went from frightened toe-dippers to happy cannonballers after just one jump. All they had to do was take the plunge. And that’s our invitation from today’s readings.
This morning’s readings are overflowing with aquatic symbolism. (“Overflowing” – get it?) In our first reading and our psalm, we hear of how God slaked the thirst of the grumbling Israelites by miraculously producing water from the rock. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul reminds us that “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:5) And in our Gospel, Jesus meets the woman at the well, offering her the living water that will become a spring welling up to eternal life.
So what’s with all the water? Well (pun intended), “water is the primordial element of life.” Without it, we die. The same can be said of God. Without God, we wouldn’t exist. That’s why the Jews “often spoke of the thirst of the soul for God; and . . . of quenching that thirst with living water.” So when Jesus offers us his living water, he’s talking about the Holy Spirit, the one and only life-force that quenches our deepest thirst and gives us the fullness of life that we’re waiting for. It’s no surprise, then, that water figures so prominently in the sacramental life of the Church. We’re buried with Christ in the living waters of Baptism only to rise with him to new life in the Spirit. Did you know that the preferred method of baptism is total immersion? While a sprinkle or a pour will do, the Church really wants us to take the plunge right from the start of our Christian initiation, so our thirst for God will be eternally quenched.
It’s human nature to thirst for God. “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself.” So we’re not the only ones who thirst. Think of the first words Jesus says to the woman at the well: “Give me a drink.” (John 4: 7) Jesus thirsts for our faith, a thirst that “will reach its climax in the final moments of his life, when from the Cross he cries out, ‘I thirst!’” Jesus’ thirst arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Just like with the woman at the well, God seeks us first, asks us for a drink and offers us his living water in return. Our thirst for God starts with God’s thirst for us.
Our thirst for God manifests itself in our never-ending desire for something more out of life, something that can only be fulfilled in God. But instead of turning to God to find it, we look elsewhere: we seek happiness in a bigger house or the newest smartphone; we base truth on the latest Facebook post or the cleverest tweet; we look for love in all the wrong places; and we’re never satisfied. We’re a stubborn lot who think we can do everything on our own, so we cling to our misguided self-sufficiency and to the things of this world and continue to live frightened, unhappy and dissatisfied lives.
Our challenge, then, is to recognize that what we’re really looking for, what we thirst for, is God. I’ll bet that if each one of us were to plumb the depths of our hearts’ desire, casting aside our surface wants and needs and focusing on what we really want out of life, we’ll all arrive at the same things – truth, happiness, love, justice, peace. All of these things can only be found in their fullness in God. What we really want, then, is eternal life with God right now. Well (pun intended again), “the woman at the well is a story about opening the well of eternal life [right] now.” It’s about a choice: Will we be toe-dippers, or cannonballers? There’s no middle ground. It’s time to heed the words of our Psalmist: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95: 7) It’s time to meet Christ at the well, to immerse ourselves in the mystery of the Eucharist, to draw from the wellspring of Scripture and to wade into the deep waters of faith, hope and love. It’s time to accept Christ’s offer of living waters and quench our thirst. It’s time to take the plunge.
Readings: Exodus 17: 3-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8; John 4: 5-42
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth (New York, Doubleday, 2007) at 238.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of John, vol. 1 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2001) at 178-179.
 See Pope Benedict XVI at 241.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 27 (emphasis added).
 Homiletic Directory (Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014) at 37.
 John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, Matthew, Year A (Collegeville, Liturgical Press, 2004) at 116.