I own a bucket. I suspect you do also. So…what is your favorite story about your bucket? Seriously. Ok, not so seriously. We don’t think about buckets a whole lot. It is not like we have a plethora of “bucket stories.” They are just kinda’ there when we need them. You use ‘em, you put them away. Back in the closet, pantry, or garage ready for the next time. And when the “next time” comes” and we go to find them and they are missing from their assigned place, it is not like the world has ended. Perhaps annoyed or inconvenienced, but not ended. A lots of times, the task is generally not too big and we can work around the missing bucket.
When I owned a home in the Catoctin hills of Virginia I gained a lot of experience with a bucket. The home came equipped with a cistern and a hand pump mounted atop it. It was charming and rustic looking when I was buying the property. The main part of the house had been built in the 1880s and did not come equipped with outside water connections. The cistern was charming; the charm wore off, but not completely. It was actually rather useful. But it’s usefulness was dependent on a bucket. I needed the bucket to prime the pump and the bucket to catch the pump discharge. Handy thing, that bucket. I used it for all the outside watering needs: flowers, vegetable gardens, washing the car, and mundane sorts of things. When I wasn’t hauling water with it, the bucket became a handy tote bag for tools, odds and ends, and what-nots.
Who knew I would carry my “bucket experience” with me on mission in Kenya. During the rainy season everyone had cisterns to catch rain running off the roof. Water was only a bucket away. Right after the rainy season, when the reservoirs were still full, there was water from the public utility system. But in the dry season in Kenya, the slums were the first ones to have the water cut off. Yet, we still had running water. You simply ran and got it. And yes, you needed a bucket. I can remember going to a place outside the slum where we thought we could get some water. Of course we got there, and sadly, no bucket. I could hear the Samaritan women’s voice: “you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep.”
The Samaritan women at the well in today’s gospel knows the value of a bucket. At the noon hour, when she encounters Jesus at the well, he says, “Give me a drink.” She replies, “you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep.” It is a reasonable assessment of the situation. In her own way she has sized up Jesus and her assessment is: “The task is bigger than you think and you are not equipped to do what needs to be done.” Maybe she reached into the well of her own experience, her own limitations, her own humanity, and simply knew some things are not within our control. They are too much. Too big. Too far gone with no way to go back. Just too much.
There are lots of times when we face circumstances that are just too much and we feel ill equipped, unprepared, or reach into the well of our own experience, limitations, humanity, and are just daunted, haunted, and discouraged. It’s too much.
Between obligations, duties, and responsibilities at home, work, and school, you wonder how you are possibly going to be able to fulfill these commitments. The well is deep and you have no bucket. Maybe a loved one is struggling in life, health, or with an addiction and you feel helpless in the face of its power over them. The well is deep and you have no bucket. We lose a loved one. The well never felt so deep. We may feel this way in the face of the suffering of people in our own communities, the abuse of power, poverty, people without healthcare, the homeless, human trafficking, and the next thing to creep off the front pages into our lives and souls. The well always seems so deep and we have no bucket.
We always have a bucket. It’s just there in the closet, the pantry, or the garage. Sometimes we just need to use it. There is a story about how a vessel in the waters of the southern Caribbean signaled for help from another vessel not far off: “Help! Save us, or we perish for lack of water!” The captain of the other vessel’s reply was “Cast down your buckets where you are.” Supposing that the second captain had not gotten the message accurately, the troubled ship signaled yet again. “Help! Save us, or we perish for lack of water!” Again the nearby ship signaled back, “Cast down your buckets where you are!” This exchange went on until the first ship, in desperation, decided it had nothing to lose by following this outlandish advice. When crew members cast down their buckets, they drew them up filled with clear, cool, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon. They had not realized that the powerful current of the Amazon River carried fresh water from the South American rain forests into the heart of the ocean.
So it is with Jesus and our own lives. “you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep,” yet Jesus offers “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus is that well of grace, the living water. It is the Amazon of living waters of Christ welling up from the place of grace, the place where we just reach out in prayer, bucket or no, not to just receive, but to be awash, to be washed clean, refreshed, renewed, and able to take a deep breath – and get back into our life and to be that spring of graced water welling up to others who struggle. To be their bucket, a font of living grace, for others in each passing moment.
“If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” May be it takes a bucket of prayer, but maybe one just needs to stretch out one’s hands, to cup the living waters of grace.
Just ask. It is the gift of God. Just ask.
The “woman at the well” (3rd Sunday Lent) is the gospel when RCIA celebrates the First Scrutiny at Mass.