Friday, June 22, 2007

“Jesus said to [the Samaritan woman],
‘Give me a drink.’”

(Jn. 4:5)
Yr. A Lent 3
Exodus 17:1-7 Ps. 95
Jn. 4:5-26 (27-38) 39-42
St. Mark’s Church
March 11, 2007

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Water. It covers most of the earth. It comprises most of our bodies. It is the essence of life, itself. While we could go for many days without food, it would take only about 3 days for us to die without water. The Israelites were keenly aware of this as they traversed the desert. Our reading says they quarreled with Moses and said “Give us water to drink.” Eventually, Moses went to God with the request and God granted it, though not without consequences because they doubted God’s presence and ability to sustain them on their journey. This is only one of many references to water we hear in the Hebrew Scriptures, perhaps the most dramatic being the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea, which we will hear at the Great Vigil of Easter.

Then there was the well. It was a hot, sultry day. Jacob’s well had been a place of meeting and of conversation among the women who had gathered there early in the morning. Now it was an empty, lonely place. Jesus came and sat down by the well. A Samaritan woman came, alone, to draw water. She was, by every standard, an outcast of her society. Alone, in a foreign country, of “ill repute”. There she was, trying not to be seen when she encounters a man. And not just a man--a Jewish man. For his part, Jesus did the unthinkable: he spoke to her. “Give me a drink”, he asked. And this prompted a conversation of gentle listening and honest questions which would lead her to encounter Jesus as Messiah, and to leave her precious water jar to go and tell the townspeople what she had heard and seen. Through her words, they, in turn, came to see and believe for themselves.

“Give me a drink”, said Jesus. Of the many surprises in this story, perhaps the most startling is that it was Jesus who asked for a drink of water.[1] An antiphon from Orthodox vespers captures this well:

Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
The One who covers the earth with clouds
asks water of her.
Oh! What a wonder!...

Jesus was willing to become vulnerable and to break every taboo so that a conversation with this woman could happen. But it quickly turns as Jesus speaks of giving her “living water”:
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,
but those who drink of the water that I will give will never
be thirsty...”

Now Jesus and the woman have found common ground. They are both thirsty. Jesus’ human thirst would echo again from the cross with the words, “I thirst”. But his thirst goes deeper. It is a thirst for peace--shalom. The woman also thirsts--for dignity, for respect, for a purpose in life. Suddenly there is something she can do for him. This, too, reminds us of Jesus’ words,
“And whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of
these little ones in the name of a disciple--truly I
tell you none of these will lose their reward.” (Matt. 10:42)

Here is a wonderful exchange! The woman gives Jesus a cup of cold water and he offers the “living water” of eternal life.

When the disciples returned, they must have been scandalized to see Jesus speaking with a Samaritan woman. Yet, this is the example he is giving them of the very ministry to which he is calling them: to listen across all boundaries and taboos, and to allow others--perhaps the least likely others--to minister to them, too. The woman runs away, leaving her water jar behind. She doesn’t need it any more, for the spring of living water is welling up inside her, just as Jesus said.

We, too, thirst for “living water”. Not the water of the grumbling Israelites in the desert, but the “living water” which we find in Jesus. This story was used by the Early Church to prepare candidates for baptism--and for good reason. Baptisms were done in “living water”--running water. In baptism we are reborn to new life in Christ. But it does not stop there! It is the water of Jesus’ gift of eternal life. But what does this encounter at the well--and Jesus’ gift of “living water” have for us?

Perhaps if we were to approach others as Jesus did we would find the world and the Church less divided. Perhaps we could find the common ground of our thirst--our real thirst--and then ask Jesus to give us the “living water” that wells up inside us.

As we continue toward Holy Week, let us remember that this story moves us, with those preparing for baptism, toward the “living water”. It also moves us to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. Let us remember that Jesus still thirsts today, and let us see ourselves as that Samaritan woman. For we come here to Evensong month after month to drink of this well.

But Jesus comes here, too, and asks us for a drink.
Are we ready to give Jesus a cup of cold water?
To talk with him?
To listen to him?
To reveal our brokenness to him?
To make our full commitment to him?
To go and tell others about him so that they, too, might believe that
“[Jesus] is truly the Savior of the world”? (Jn. 4:42)

If we are, then we will be ready to hear the invitation from the Revelation to John:
The Spirit and the bride say,
And let everyone who hears say,
And let everyone who is
thirsty come.
Let anyone who wishes
take the water of life as a gift. (Rev. 22:17)

Receive a drink from Jesus--the “living water that...will become.. a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14)

[1] the Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek, sermon for Yr. A Lent 3 found on the website Used with permission.

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