The people of Israel grew thirsty in the desert and gave in to that most human of behaviors: complaining. They grumbled against Moses, but they were really grumbling against God. Despite having been saved from slavery in Egypt, they quickly forgot just Who was in charge of their lives. I struggle to understand how they could lose faith so quickly after having crossed the Red Sea in such a miraculous fashion. They failed to remember the good things God had provided for them and were instead focused on the one thing lacking in their present situation: water.
We have the advantage of knowing why God allowed them to grow thirsty, and the great lesson about God’s providence that the events at Meribah would provide for future generations. God allowed them to grow thirsty so that He could remind them to rely upon His providence—to remind them that they need God for everything. Beyond this, their physical thirst became a symbol of their spiritual thirst for the Living Water that Christ would provide upon His coming.
Thus we jump from our first Reading to the Gospel: Jesus satisfies the thirsts of the woman at the well. The woman is thirsting for community and for spiritual nourishment. Jesus provides her with both by making her His witness to the people of her town. She began by complaining of the various political and social factors that separated her Samaritan people and Jesus’ Jewish people. Just as at Meribah, Jesus used the situation to transcend such earthly concerns and teach a lesson about God’s love for His people.
The people of Israel asked at Meribah: “Is the LORD in our midst or not?” Jesus answers their question with a resounding: “I AM,” for He is Emmanuel: God-with-us. We are loved; we are cared for. God is with us. So do not be afraid, and do not give in to complaining, for “we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”