A friend of mine liked to quote a saint — I don’t remember which one — who said that food is God’s love made edible. In our first reading, the biblical authors indicate that water is God’s love made drinkable. When the Israelites become dehydrated during their journey through a broiling desert, God pulls them back from the brink of death with a miraculous supply of water.
It is his personal gift, as he makes clear when he tells Moses, who is to perform the act that will trigger the miracle, “I will be standing there in front of you.” Indeed, every nonmiraculous glass of water we drink is his personal gift.
In the Gospel, Jesus rearranges the elements of journey, thirst, God and water to make a different point. He is traveling, and at midday is tired. He sits down next to a well and waits for someone with a bucket to come along who can draw some water for him.
A local woman arrives, and they get into a conversation. To her astonishment, he tells her that if she asked, he could provide water for her, water that would become a flowing stream within her — better than any well water.
If the first reading features water as an expression of God’s love, the Gospel shows God as the real water that can keep us alive, not only today but forever.
After talking with the woman, Jesus has a conversation with his disciples about lunch. Here too he surprises. “I have food to eat of which you do not know,” he tells them. What is that? “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work.”
In his human life, Jesus experienced God’s will for him — his calling, his God-given mission — as nourishment. What kept him going was God’s purposes for him. As he declared in an earlier conversation, a person lives “by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).
Jesus is saying that God himself, living within us, wants to be the substantial breakfast that sustains us through every long morning of work, the cool drink that enables us to finish the task on every hot afternoon.
Jesus says to the woman, “If you knew the gift of God ... you would have asked ...” What do these words mean for you?