Lately we have been examining scriptures where people (or powers) have had very personal encounters with Jesus. Two weeks ago we saw Jesus’ close encounter with Satan in the desert. Last week it was Nicodemus, the learned and respected Pharisee who came searching for Jesus in the darkness of night. As the contemporary readers of these stories, we understand the struggles of temptation and truth faith and through these encounters are made stronger disciples. The trend continues in the coming weeks as we see encounters between Jesus and a man born blind and Jesus and Lazarus.
In this week’s story we see a close encounter with a woman at the well. This is not to be understood as “any” woman. The author of John’s Gospel makes a point to name her a Samaritan to emphasize the double taboo Jesus commits by talking not only to a woman but a Samaritan woman. “Jews and Samaritans don’t share things,” the author notes! Jesus comes to the well for a drink and asks the woman for one. Stunned that a Jew would not only be talking to her but willing to share the water pale with her, she replies with a retort, “You, a Jew, asking for water from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus, in his replying statement, changes the direction of the conversation from one about fulfilling the human need to drink water to fulfilling the eternal need to drink living water. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it was that is saying to you ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.
This is the direction of the sermon for this week but also the statement from Jesus we must all confront. We can certainly relate to what it means to be thirsty. When we are thirsty we drink something; water, Gatorade, soft drinks, whatever so that we are not thirsty anymore. Inevitably we will become thirsty again, especially if we drink things that in fact make us more dehydrated and are actually counterproductive. It is simply a universal human truth that we will become thirsty again. We will always have to go back to the well and draw water so that we can live.
But what the Samaritan woman was truly suffering from was spiritual thirst. The fact that she had to keep going back to the well over and over and over again is a metaphor for what her life was like. She spent her life going back again and again and again to the well of things and activities to try and fill a thirst – and it didn’t work, so she had to go back over and over again. But Jesus offered her something more, the gift of God, the living water in Jesus Christ, something eternal.
I wonder how many times in our lives we keep going back to the same well over and over again because we are thirsty and trying to find relief from the constant thirst of our fallen human nature. But you heard the verse last week from John 3. God loved the world – that is – you and I so much that he sent his only son, that whoever might believe in this living water might never be thirsty again. The living water that Jesus provides is universal. The living water that Jesus gives and in fact, is will touch the depths of our sinful human nature, resolving all of our desires and our needs to continue coming back to the man-made well over and over again.
But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus says that the living water that we drink will become like a gushing spring within the life of that person. And a spring is not stagnant water that has to be drawn out but moving and living water to be accessed. When the Samaritan woman drank of the living water, she wanted to tell others about it as well. That is our charge also; to drink from the freely given living water but to go and tell others about it as well. We are called to drink and share living water. We are not called to hoard it for ourselves, as in a well, but to receive it freely, as from a spring, and invite others to share what we have received. And we are called into life in the Spirit, real, constant engagement with the Holy One, whose Life and love cannot be contained in any dwelling made by hands, but always and continually springs up to eternal life.