if you only knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, `Give me a drink,' you,
perhaps would ask of him and he would give you living water"
John 4: 10.
As we look over the pages of God's revelation to us in Scripture, we see water used and compared to a whole variety of meanings and applications in our lives as believers.
And so we are just as impressed and inspired as was the Samaritan woman to whom our Lord pays such particular and soul-saving attention. We encounter water in the very first pages of Scripture, in its very first book, when the Lord is described as is creator with Spirit brooding "a mighty wind swept over the waters" Genesis 1: 2. Later, in the Psalms we see it as symbolizing troubles and afflictions, "Save me 0 God, for the waters threaten my life. I am sunk in the abysmal swamp where there is no foothold; I have reached the watery depths; the flood overwhelms me" Psalms 69: 2, 3.
In Matthew's gospel we see the same understanding conveyed by our Lord himself when He addresses the aspiring brother disciples seeking eminence above the rest, "Can you drink of the cup I am about to drink?" Matthew 20: 23, meaning being dipped and plunged in affliction as He was, literally being baptized with Christ's baptism, that is, in voluntarily and willingness immersing oneself actually tasting the pangs of death for man's salvation. And in the understanding of the prophets, waters often denote a great multitude of people as in Isaiah, "Therefore the Lord raises against them the waters of the river, great and mighty, the king of Assyria, and all his powers" Isaiah 8: 7. In another sense, in the beginning water was understood metaphorically for children or posterity. "His wells shall yield free-flowing waters, he shall have the sea within reach..." Numbers 24: 7.
And of course in the best sense of understanding the Lord in today's gospel narrative, water stands not only for physical nourishment, but primarily as sustenance of the soul, the doctrines and teaching of the gospel enunciated by the Lord. Even Moses grasped this insight, "May my instruction soak in like the rain and my discourse permeate like the dew, like a downpour upon the grass, like a shower upon the crops" Deuteronomy 32: 2; as does St. Paul, "I planted the seed and Apollo watered it, but God made it grow. This means that neither he who plants nor he who waters is of any special account, only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters work to the same end" 1
Stolen waters denote unlawful pleasures eagerly undertaken. (Proverbs 9: 17). The Israelites were often upbraided and corrected for having forsaken the fountain of living water and drinking from broken cisterns, that is, for having quitted the worship of God for the worship of pagan deities as preferable to reality and truth (Jeremiah 2: 13).
So hardened were the hearts of the Chosen People that Moses despaired to think his vocation of leading them to the Promised Land was possible. In showing some sign of doubt in the promises of the Lord, he questions his people, "Must we fetch you water out of this rock?" He struck the rock twice after our heavenly Father already commanded him to merely speak to it. Thus it is true that recalcitrant, faithless people, who refuse to faithfully follow, can provoke their leaders, their priests and bishops and cause them to sink and lose faith in God. Moses and Aaron did not display the honor that was due to the Creator because they followed the people instead of leading them. They gave the people an occasion to conceive too low an idea of the overwhelming power and goodness of God by depending on themselves instead of on God. They did an injury to the understanding of the people in the experiencing and witnessing the astounding power and goodness of God. In some measure the power of God was sorely diluted or watered down in the eyes of the people because Moses and Aaron listened to them and succumbed to their nonsensical purely humanistic earth-bound ideas.
So today the Church prescribes this "living waters" gospel to affirm the reality of victory and triumph in Resurrection truth. When the authentic truth of Christ is taught and affirmed, as our Lord by example does, the entire townspeople respond. When people are fed and nourished, given the drink of truthful salvation, they are eager for further affirmation. There is a major lesson for us as a faith community here, "And they said to the woman, `We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is in truth, the Christ, the Saviour of the world"' John 5: 42.