March 15, 2020

 “Living Water”

John 4:5-30

 

What must it have been like to be the woman who met Jesus at the well? Who was she? We know that she wasn’t wealthy, for no one of status went to draw water from a well in those days. She must’ve used the same dusty road each day to get to the well of Jacob. On her way out of Sychar, did she draw stares from others? Whispers about her sordid lifestyle? She’d probably heard it all before- “GO ahead, Stare,” she may’ve thought. “It isn’t like any of you really care about me anyway.” This day was just like all the other days, heading out of town, enduring the looks and cold shoulders, walking on the hot dusty road to get water for the day. This day was just like all the other days that had come before, and like all those that would follow.

 

On her way to the well, she met a group of strange men- Jewish men who looked at her with anger. She was a Samaritan, an ages-old enemy. It was one more hard look thrown at her, like all the other looks she had gotten from the townsfolk. She said nothing as she passed the 12 men, and went on her way to the well. She thought about how Samaritans and Jews had hated each other for centuries. She thought about how an army of Jews had destroyed their place of worship on Mt. Gerazim almost 100 years ago, and about how they had been looked down upon as a people because they had mixed with other races, other religious groups. “So much energy and emotion, so much hostility and fighting, all for what?” She thought to herself. This was one of many sore spots for her emotionally, and so she tried to think about something else.

 

When she finally arrived at Jacob’s well, a stranger was there, a Jewish man of all people, at this well of her ancestors. “So much for thinking about something else,” she thought to herself. Her heart raced, and she hoped he didn’t want to cause trouble. She just needed to get the water and head back to town. But there was something different about this man. She found herself drawn to him. As she came closer, she could see by his dress he was a rabbi. “Give me a drink of water,” he said. “How is it that you, a Jew, would speak to me a woman, and ask me to give you a drink?” she said. Then she thought- “How is it that you, a rabbi would even talk to a woman out in broad daylight?”- This was beginning to be a day unlike any other she had experienced.

 

Then he said something about how if she really knew who she was talking to, she would ask him for a drink, a drink “of living water.” “How can you get water for me? You have nothing to draw the water with? Are you claiming to be better than our father Jacob?” She wondered out loud.

The stranger said- “You misunderstand. I’m talking about a different kind of water- living water that if you drink of it- you will never be spiritually thirsty again. This living water leads to eternal life.”

 

 

“Sounds good to me!” She said. Then the rabbi changed the subject. “Go and call your man, then come back here.” The rabbi hit a sore spot in her life, a place that was spiritually dry as the desert. “I have no man,” she said. “This is true, for you really have been with 5 men, and the man you are with now is really someone else’s man, isn’t that true?” She knew she was in the presence of a prophet, one who spoke for God. His words were true, and yet, somehow, they didn’t cut her deeply, like all those others who talked about her in town. “ Sir, I detect that you are a prophet,” she said.  This was her chance to talk with a rabbi who was more than just a teacher, who spoke directly for God, and so she asked about the main issue that had kept Samaritans and Jews apart for hundreds of years. “Our ancestors worshiped at this mountain for many centuries. (“until your people destroyed it,” she thought to herself) Yet your people say that Jerusalem is where God lives. Which is true?”

 

“Neither one” replied the prophet. “A new way to worship is now here, worship in spirit and truth. You do not need temple sacrifice anymore, for what I will do will make a new way. The spirit of God is upon me, and I will be the one you worship” She became excited as she considered his answer. For so long her people had waited for messiah. This man was no ordinary prophet. Could it be...? “I know that one day, Messiah will come, and when he comes he will show us all things.” Her heart raced as she waited for his reply. The man said, I am the one, the messiah of which you speak.”

 

Suddenly, her heart was full. She understood that living water was not normal water. It nourished the parched, dry spirit inside her, and she found new hope and meaning. She felt joy inside for the first time since, well since she could remember.

 

The group of 12 men she had passed earlier showed up at the well, once again staring at her, but this time, perplexed that she was now talking out in the open with a rabbi, whom they seemed to know. Although their eyes were as wide as saucers, they said nothing.

 

She knew what she had to do- She needed to run back into town, and tell others that their wait for messiah, their wait for hope was over. She left quickly, so quickly, that she forgot her water jar. This errand was more important even than getting water for the house- She was on a mission to tell others about the living water she had just experienced.

 

She ran into town, down to the center of the main street and said, “Come and see a man who knows everything about me. He has told me all about everything I have ever done! This man, he could be the messiah!” At first, the townsfolk were skeptical. How could she know anything about something holy, especially with her lifestyle? But they saw the excitement in her eyes. They knew something profound must’ve happened. Some believed her right on the spot and knew that messiah had come.  Others weren’t so sure. A big crowd followed her out to Jacob’s well. They came running and stopped when they saw Jesus, and his followers. Some had heard stories of a miracle man, someone who had changed water into wine at a wedding in Cana. Could this be the man? He began to teach them, and they too experienced the living water. They asked him to stay in their village, and he was with them for two days, teaching them about this living water. When they saw her in the street, their mocking looks were gone, replaced with one of admiration. “Your words brought some of us to believe, but now we have heard for ourselves this man, and we now know that he is the one we have been waiting for, he is the savior of the world.”

 

 

The woman was never the same. She had found what she was looking for- she found a way to fill the void that was in her soul- the void she had tried to fill with poor relationships and poor choices. People in the town treated her differently now. She had found living water, and her soul would never be thirsty again.

 

So ends the retelling our story for today. What does it tell us?  There are two teachings for us to ponder. First Jesus’ ministry was all about breaking down barriers between people. Although he and the disciples went to Samaria in part to avoid the Pharisees, who were now paying attention to Jesus because he was baptizing more than John the Baptist, Jesus had other ideas as well. John 4:4 says that Jesus "had to go through Samaria". Jews normally avoided contact (and contamination by that contact) with their Samaritan neighbors by traveling other, longer routes. – interesting to consider in light of the Covid 19 times we live in…Unclean meant something quite different than it does now. What so compelled Jesus that he "had to" travel through Samaria? It looks like he intentionally sought an opportunity to speak to Samaritans. Jesus, on other occasions, made a point of choosing to confront or especially single out people who had a great need - the woman with the issue of blood, the ruler of the synagogue (Jairus) whose daughter was deathly ill, tax collectors, etc. It was time to tear down this wall of hostility between Israel and Samaria. Here was a woman who was an enemy of the Jews, and Jesus struck up a conversation. That Jesus would begin this breaking down of barriers by focusing on the Samaritans was one thing- that he would begin his outreach to a hated enemy by speaking with a woman was quite another.

 

 

 Historically and traditionally, Jewish men did not speak in public to women, even their own wives. For a rabbi, this would have been an even greater restriction. Women were not publicly taught the Law. A woman's place in that society was not even remotely similar to today. You may have noticed in my retelling of this story that I used the word “man” instead of a husband. The word from the Greek translated as “husband” here really does mean “man.” It is likely that she was not married. Jesus spoke out in the open to a woman of low moral standing in her society. But Jesus never did the expected. He never sought out the perfect moral people to spread his message. He never treated women in the expected ways of his culture. He talked with them. He taught them. He expected and trusted them to be able to proclaim the Good News. He told stories using women as his characters. He even gave an illustration of what God was like using the image of the woman searching for the Lost Coin. Jesus acted and spoke as if women and men were equal before God.

 

Not only did Jesus begin to heal two groups of people, but he also broke down the societal walls that had kept women from power and standing. Yet there are still many walls in our society today.

 

Theologian and Pastor Rev. Jill Duffield writes, “Who can be leaders in the church? What form of baptism is legitimate? Who can receive communion and who cannot? On what day do we hold worship? Who will we sit beside? Eat with? Marry? Which candidate or political party represents a faithful choice? What's your stance on this issue or that one, and how can you possibly defend it? The reasons we separate and estrange ourselves from our siblings seem endless and perpetual.

What keeps us apart and what do Jesus' actions at Jacob's well tell us about God's will for bringing us together?”

 

We build walls of separation, look for differences and marginalize others to have power over them. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, people are now unfairly harassing those of Asian descent. Xenophobia and fear have a place in a world of barriers. Yet today’s encounter at the well suggests a different way of living.  What people in our society have no power? Who has no standing? Who needs to be treated equally, loved, and cared for?  What might Jesus’ example spur of breaking down barriers spur us to do in this world?

 

The second thing to ponder is this: In addition to breaking down barriers, Jesus spoke of living water. We know of course he was speaking of something spiritual, not physical. Why did he use the analogy of water? Water covers 80% of the surface of our planet, yet less than 1% of that water is drinkable. The vast majority of the earth’s water is seawater, which is too salty to consume without expensive treatment. Water makes up 2/3 of our bodies, and we cannot go more than three days without it. Throughout history, safe water has determined where people live, with the vast majority of the world’s population living near an ocean, lake, or river. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that in the United States, 168 gallons of water per person are used each day. Water is so central to our lives.

 

 

Living water is the word of God. It is hope for the world in the midst of hopelessness. It is water that quenches the thirst in the depth of our very souls.  Where is our spirit dry as dust? Where do we need to let Jesus pour living water upon our lives?  As this virus progresses, we need that living water, so that we are led by faith, not fear. We need to be centered, grounded in God, reminded of God’s care and provision, and seek to be a community through God’s Spirit, even if it is true that after this morning’s gathering, we cannot meet in person together for a while.

 

So quench your thirst in time of prayer, in time of quiet, in Bible study. Perhaps you’ll join us in a virtual worship broadcast in the coming weeks and drink of the living water it provides. As we are filled, we pour out that living water to others in service to those in need, to those in distress or sorrow. We pour out that living water as we look at the barriers that society has erected, and begin to tear them down. We pour out that living water of faith over fear as we begin to hunker down due to Covid-19. Living water is something we cannot do without, and something this world cannot do without, especially in a time of a pandemic.

Living water is the very foundation of our spiritual life, and what this dry and parched world needs most. May we go from this place today, having our vessels filled, our spirits quenched, that we might break down societal walls, and bring the water of life to others in this time of great distress and fear. Amen.

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