A reading from the Gospel of John, chapter 4: verses 1-15. Let us listen for God’s word to us on this day.
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard,”Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than Joh”’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ”If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”’ The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, ”Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.
Let us pray:
Oh lord of the dry places and the watered gardens,
open our minds and hearts to you.
Quench our thirst for your radiance and hope.
May the words of my mouth & the meditations of all of our hearts
be acceptable in your sight
oh Lord in whom we live and move and have our being. Amen.
To be honest, something in this passage trips me up, something that I wonder about maybe it’s finicky, but did she actually give Jesus something to drink?
Last week we learned about Jesus’ time in the wilderness, without sustenance and food. When talking about the wilderness my mind goes to a desert image… dry, desert places.
I’ve spent some time in the desert, a very short time, but with a friend who’s spent a lot of time in the desert. We were hiking through with gallons of water and placing them on paths where people had walked before us. We identified the gallons with sharpie markers… writing things like Agua pura, pure water, Agua = life, Agua de vida. We left them in various places, places we’d found empty discarded containers. And in places we’d found empty, discarded people. This is what I think about when I read the story of the woman at the well—that water = life, tangible water, thirst quenching water and fleshy human life. On a journey when you run out of water, you fall behind. Lack of water = death. Especially in the desert wilderness.
So for me, I can’t help but ask the question. Did she draw water for Jesus? Agua de vida for a thirsty stranger as he came to the well to rest? Did she present him with this practical human need, before He taught her the words of life?
At first glance this woman sees Jesus as nothing more than a “thirsty stranger who asks her for a drink.” It’s easy to move past the request to the later part of the story, to the promise, the words of life. But for a moment let’s not forget about the necessity of a parched throat. Physical needs, human needs of the flesh that we share or hoard.
Now it doesn’t say it, and we did have some discussion in Bible Study about this, but I think that she does offer him something to drink, regular H2O. She satisfies his thirst, his human needs and he promises her new life, Auga de vida.
It might be easy to read this story and think about how thirsty we are. Especially during the Lenten season when we take a more reflective and introspective posture. A mentor in seminary joked that people Lean spiritual during lent. And a friend last week posted on Ash Wednesday “Thank God it’s Lent! My soul really needs this!” Sometimes we need this water more than we know… Students who are thirsty, seeking knowledge… Parents who are thirsty digging deep for the energy to nurture growth… thirsty family members who seek connection with loved ones… Men and women of faith WHO ARE THIRSTY drawing deep into the well for renewal and transformation and courage and strength to face what lies ahead. How dry our journeys might be. I’ve jumped before to the woman’s question, her yearning give me this water, that I may never go thirsty… This spiritual teaching, the promises of God that we strive for. But when you need water and you get something else—anything else—it can’t help you.
By focusing on the beginning of the conversation, we hear the request, “Give me a drink.” It is Jesus who doesn’t have a bucket. The Samaritan woman asks him how he intends to drink and realizes he can’t “do this by himself. He asks the woman to give him a drink… Jesus is thirsty at the well, and we are the ones with the bucket.”
So often we get caught up with the big picture, the end goal, that we miss those little moments—the small opportunities along the way. And the physical need gets over looked.
The need, the request, the response.
When you need water, it’s the only thing that will satisfy—anything else, salty sea water, soda, alcohol, coffee, they worsen the symptoms of dehydration. If you’re thirsty, you can’t really learn something new, parched in the desert. It is easy for us to focus on the words, the discussion, the debate, and it fills us. And hear me right, I’m not dismissing the beautiful promises offered to the woman at the well and offered to us throughout this gospel, they are life giving, but when we’re so full of answers that we forget compassion… that’s when we miss the mark. That’s when we need to be reminded that thirsty people need water. Thirst quenching, agua de vida.
In this meeting, Jesus gives her the opportunity to respond, to meet Christ in a stranger. She doesn’t know him, it’s only after their conversation that she comes to understand his identity. After their drink recognizes him for who he is.
As the conversation continues she begins to understand more about him, who he is, and what it means for her and her community. I’d like to continue further in the passage, and read verses 16-30 as the story continues:
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I — am he — the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
And then v. 39 concludes, “Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
When you look closely, you see two figures who are very different—a Jewish man and a Samaritan woman. Both of them come from different worshiping traditions. These communities are neighbors, but because of their ritualistic differences they don’t mix, let alone share drinks. So she is quizzical about his request, the boundary crossing, the rules being broken. Not only are they talking, but would he drink from her bucket that’s been used all around Samaria—by Samaritans?? So they bridge that gap. They’ve broken down some cultural barriers, unified in their mutual need for water. As they move forward in their encounter, there is a recognition, an unveiling of who each other is. Not only the woman recognizing Jesus, but also Jesus recognizing the woman.
Her history and her relationships have made her this liminal border figure, even a bit of an outcast in her community. Jesus speaks about her living situation and her husbands, but I don’t hear that with a tone of judgment. He doesn’t call out her shameful history to exclude or marginalize her. He recognizes her, acknowledges that it’s there; it’s a part of who she is. But then moves forward. He continues in conversation, in relationship with this woman. Not judging her as maybe the people of the community or even the disciples do when they return.
And she doesn’t back away from him either, she’s not intimidated by his knowledge or theological prowess. She engages him in religious debate—how bold?! Especially for a woman of that day. She defends the faith of her ancestors—asking who do you think you are? Are you great than Jacob, who gave us this well? And she comes to realize the answer to this is—yes… and she tells him, “I see that you are a prophet…” Now she’s getting closer, first it’s this thirsty Jewish stranger, and then he’s a prophet. And as their conversation continues, as the relationship deepens. She asks, “Could this be the Christ?”
She’s still not sure. So she runs from the encounter, not in fear, but in awe… and asks everyone, is this really who I think it is? The community then becomes a part of it, and helps recognize it as they invite Jesus and his disciples into the town to stay with them for a couple days… She becomes a witness and the people begin their own process of recognition through their own relationship with Jesus.
When we share our lives and our questions with one another in a deep and true way, we help recognize and identify for one another how God is working in our lives.
So her progression of faith can be like our Lenten journeys and even beyond. As often happens, our journeys are strengthened by the community around us. We’re asking one another and asking ourselves to draw deep from our wells to offer sustenance, not only for today, but for this community, our spiritual home, for years to come.
What we are offered is more than tangible sustenance, after their shared drink he offers her living water and she offers him her witness, her voice, her invitation to others to “Come & See.”
As we’re holding this bucket, we meet thirsty strangers, every day. In that interaction, there is an opportunity for our relationship with a stranger deepens, and in that very same opportunity our relationship with Christ deepens.
There is an opportunity for response. Jesus has a need and how do we respond?
In the final moments of his earthly life… Jesus again makes the request. On the cross, when he cries out tengo sed, I thirst.
Do we offer sour wine to Jesus on the cross? Offer him lame gestures? and false expressions? of our faith in him?
Or do we draw deep from the well, our buckets overflowing with running water? Do we quench his thirst with our response? His thirst for our witness? For our discipleship? For our looove?
Meet him in the empty, discarded people.
The reality is that Jesus is thirsty, and you have something in your bucket to offer. By offering your water the promise of the living water becomes almost tangible. Come to the Well, Meet Christ there . . . in every thirsty stranger
Offer agua de vida.