John 4: 5-42
Bruce Springsteen begins one of his songs, “Everybody has a hungry heart.” It is his way of saying that all of us want something in our life, something we need, something we desire. Perhaps we want someone to love, someone with whom we can share our life and build a family. Perhaps we want to play for the NFL. Maybe we want to be a doctor, a physician, or an entrepreneur within our own community. Perhaps we want to be respected in the eyes of others and admired in the eyes of our peers. Each one of us longs for something: that our spouse would love us differently, that our friends would treat us with more mutuality and respect, that we could make a lot of money and become a millionaire. Our hearts are hungry. It is the way that we are. It is a part of the human condition.
Now, at first glance this hunger in our heart can seem like a kind of selfishness, simply catering to our own desires. But today’s Gospel presents such hunger in a very different perspective. It tells us that God has placed the hunger in our hearts for a purpose.
The Samaritan woman in today’s gospel comes to the well because she wants water. She wants water which she can drink and with which she can clean and cook. But when she comes to the well for that water, she meets Jesus. There she listens to him as he talks about a living water that will lead to salvation. The woman does not come to the well to find Christ’s water, she comes to find the water that is in the well. But her thirst for that water leads her to consider and ultimately to accept the water that Jesus offers. A natural water leads her to an eternal water. A physical thirst leads her to a drink beyond her imagining.
Because God has put a hunger and thirst in our life, our desire to satisfy that hunger and thirst becomes a spiritual journey. As we reach out for the things that we want, we are not being selfish. We are following a way to God. Nothing will ultimately satisfy us other than God alone. Other things in our life might for a time distract us or amuse us, but only the knowledge of God’s love and a life lived according to God’s word will ultimately make us happy. St. Augustine, one of the great theologians of the Church, spoke eloquently on this topic. He said, “Oh God, you have created us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” Ronald Rolheiser, a great spiritual writer of our time, has described this hunger in our hearts as “a holy longing”—holy, because if we follow it, it will ultimately lead us to God.
Every good and natural thing that we reach out for is a limited good. As we confront the limited nature of the things we desire, they push us to seek the unlimited goodness who is God. Money will only keep us happy for so long. Then we will long for something else. Even the closest and most intimate human relationship has its down side. As we face the limits of relationships, we recognize that we want something more. It is gratifying to be successful in our work and in the eyes of others. But once we claim that success, our heart says, “Is that all there is?”
God has placed hunger in our hearts to lead us to eternal life. Therefore, go for the things you want, try to attain them, do not be deterred. Work as hard and as honestly as you can to make money. Love the people in your life as deeply as you can. Be the best teacher or accountant or NFL football player that you can be. But then do not be surprised if your heart is still hungry. The Samaritan woman looks out at us from today’s Gospel and says, “When you find the water you seek, you will want more. God has made us that way. The water you obtain is meant to lead you to the water that only Jesus can give.”