The Hunger Games tells the story of a young woman, Katniss Everdeen, who finds herself in a life-or-death game show, competing against 23 other young people aged 12-18 to become the ultimate (and only) survivor. The “game” begins with all 24 competitors facing off in a field, which usually results in some bloodshed. For this reason, Katniss is given simple advice on how to start things off with the best chance to survive: hit the ground running (away from the group) – and then go to find water as soon as possible.
This need for water makes a lot of sense: up to 60% of the adult human body is made up of water (which is down from about 78% of a newborn infant.) We can only survive about three days without water. In short: water’s a big deal. And if you’ll notice that this Sunday’s readings emphasize our need for water (click here for the text of the readings on the USCCB website) – both as a basic physical need in the first reading (Exodus 17:3-7), and as a sign of something more in the Gospel (John 4:5-42).
Water shows up at key moments in both Biblical Testaments. A quick look at the first two books of the Old Testament clearly reveals this. In the book of Genesis, the spirit of God “hovers over the waters” (Genesis 1:2); Noah came from sin, through water, and into new life (Genesis 6:9-9:17), and the people of God were rescued from slavery in Egypt by crossing through water (Exodus 14). Looking to the New Testament: Jesus was Baptized in water (Matthew 3:13-17), and He performed His first miracle by changing water to wine (John 2). He called His first disciples near the water (Matthew 4:18-22), and one of His most notable appearances following the resurrection to Peter also took place near the water (John 21).
It’s also important to note that after his death, “…one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out” (John 19:34). In this moment where death was being unmade, we see clear signs of Baptism (the water) and the Eucharist (the blood). When you pair this with water as a traditional image of the Holy Spirit – you’ve got a good context in which to hear this Sunday’s readings.
In the first reading, we encounter the Israelites, three chapters after their miraculous rescue from slavery in Egypt. God has provided food for them in the form of mystical bread (“manna”) given to them from Heaven, but they’ve become thirsty… and they’re not afraid to let Moses know about it. They don’t trust in God’s ability to look after them – and so God’s gift of water comes from the most unlikely of places: a rock which Moses strikes with his staff. This may be an apt metaphor for the human heart – their and ours, which can become so hard… yet God’s ability to bring life from the hardest of hearts is unmistakeable.
In the Gospel, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at a well begins with a similar motivation – the need to satiate one’s physical thirst. He discusses her story – where she’s come from (and this woman clearly has a past) – but he points to her future, which will find its source in the living water which he will give. How she started does not define how this woman’s life will end – and the same is true for us. Regardless of the ways in which we’ve build up a past, the ways in which we’ve allowed our hearts to become hard… God wants to give us not just the water that will satiate our physical thirst, but water that will transform us in ways we cannot imagine. Consider what St. Paul writes in the second reading (Romans 5:1-2, 5-8) – that God proved His love for us by dying for us when we didn’t deserve it.
The advice given to Katniss at the start of her first hunger games is good advice for all of us: we need, like Katniss (and the Samaritan woman) to seek for water. God wants to give us this water, whether we’re young and inexperienced, as Katniss was, or with a sordid past bringing us to the present moment, as the Samaritan woman did, or even if we complain and doubt the power and mercy of God, as the Israelites did.
We come to this third Sunday of Lent needing to recognize the ways in which we are all spiritually thirsty – but that the living waters of Baptism, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are offered to us (as promised) to bring life to and from our sometimes hardened hearts.
…hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. -Romans 5:5