ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH NOVEMBER 13, 2016
WATER FROM THE WELL
Isaiah 12; John 4: 4 – 29
Rev. Sabrina Ingram
My mother-in-law lives in Yuma, Arizona in the Mojave Desert. It’s very different from Ontario. The sun shines every day. Not much grows there and what does generally needs an irrigation system. You can travel for miles and see only dirt. There’s not much sign of life – human or otherwise. The air is dry. Lakes are scarce. Every inch of the Mojave cries out for water. It’s a dry, thirsty place.
In many ways the Mojave is a picture of the human soul. We thirst. Gerald May writes, “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call our heart. It is never completely satisfied and it never dies. We’re often unaware of it, but it’s always awake.” This past week Donald Trump was elected as the next US president. Many are baffled as to how that happened. Political pundits speculate that Americans are dissatisfied with their lives, their country and their leadership. In 1981, 2/3 of Americans expected to be better off than their parents. Now, ¾ say the American Dream is harder than ever to attain. 60% say achieving the dream requires more financial risk than it did before. Disillusioned with their lot in life and thirsty for something better, they’ve bought the promise that “The Donald” will “Make America great again”. They thirst. All of us have desires. We want to belong, to be loved, to be safe; to know who we are, accomplish something and be recognized; to be healthy and wealthy and live in peace; to be connected and leave a legacy. We thirst.
Scripture gives us a record of a woman who was thirsty. She headed up a dry desert road with her empty water jar. She went to an ancient well, named after her ancestor, Jacob. This is where Jacob travelled after he’d betrayed his brother because, estranged and alone, Jacob had a burning desire to belong. At the well, he met his cousin Rachel. As he drew water for her sheep Jacob explained his relationship to her and her family. They embraced as kin and as Rachel ran off to find her father, Jacob wept. Once this well had been more than a place to draw clean water; it had been a place where a parched soul found reconciliation and belonging; a place where the desire of a dry and burning heart was filled. The woman who approached the well knew the story. But it seemed long removed from her story. She too had desires; she desired to belong, to be loved, to be nurtured, to be safe. She’d had a hard, sad life. She’d been married 5 times and was living with her 6th partner. We’re not told why – she may have been promiscuous or she may have had bad fortune losing one husband after another to illness, injury, war or famine. Perhaps she’d married repeatedly to avoid the stigma and hardship of widowhood. Maybe the 5th husband abandoned her and without a divorce she couldn’t remarry. Maybe she’d come from a dysfunctional home or experienced some trauma that left her scarred. Whatever the cause, her desires hadn’t been met as she had dreamed and her bucket, her soul, was empty.
Like this woman, few people can name their deepest thirst. We look for love or some other form of satisfaction, in all the wrong places – relationships, money, accomplishments, food, work, addictive substances, sex or pornography, shopping, even religious observances or some type of “spirituality”. While these things satisfy a certain level of thirst for a while, our water jar is quickly emptied and the thirst returns. On the highways in Arizona you see these signs, “Caution: this road subject to flash floods.” It rarely rains in the desert but when it does it’s a torrential downpour. Because the ground is dry and hard, it can’t absorb the water which quickly builds up and pushes the sand away. These “flash floods” wash out roads and create giant mud holes. In a similar way, the things we hope will quench our thirst may seem like a glorious downpour on a hot day but they leave chaos, mayhem and pain in their wake. Inevitably they dry up, our bucket is empty again and we go in search of water once more.
As the woman approached, she encountered a Jewish man sitting by the well. He asked her for a drink of water. She was a Samaritan woman and normally this wouldn’t happen. These sentiments give insight into the disdain of the Jews for the Samaritans, “Let no man eat the bread of the Samaritans, for he who eats their bread is as he who eats swine’s flesh.” and “Lord, do not remember the Samaritans in the resurrection.” Women were also a problem. Rabbis forbade other rabbis to greet women in public. A common prayer was, “I thank you I was not born a gentile, a slave or a woman.” If Samaritans and women were disparaged, Samaritan women were scorned. They were all considered immoral temptresses who were always ritually unclean as they were said to menstruate from the time of birth. Sizing Jesus up the woman decided to playfully mock him for being so needy he would violate all Jewish social customs. Turning the conversation around, Jesus, challenged 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.” (vs. 10) Although Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit, the women thought he was speaking of fresh spring water. Ironically (because Jesus is), she asks, “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..?” (vs. 11f)
We too often miss the point. We come to Church, go through the routine and hear the words yet our minds wander, we get sleepy and our energy is zapped. It’s very familiar and ordinary. We’re doubtful Jesus has anything special to offer. He’s just one of many spiritual teachers and maybe not even the best. What’s he going to give us that we couldn’t find elsewhere? We’re doubtful he’ll produce what he offers or that it will really make a difference to our souls. Like the woman, we’re skeptical.
Hear Jesus’ response, “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 I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (vs. 13f). Jesus is offering her an unending cascade of the Spirit that will quench her soul and remain alive in her forever. Intrigued the woman asks for this water but she still doesn’t quite get it. She wants the water so she’ll “never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (vs. 15). She thinks it will make her life easier.
Like her, we want God not for God but for what we can get: forgiveness, affirmation, answered prayers, inner peace. We want to use God in the hope that our lives will be easier. Isn’t that what God is for?
With that Jesus changed the topic. He asked her to go get her husband. This touched a nerve and a wall went up. She didn’t want to get into it so she simply said she isn’t married. To a degree, that was true but it wasn’t the whole truth. Jesus called her up on this, exposing her attempted deception.
We too have things in our lives we don’t want God to know – secret sins, shame, pain, fears, guilt. Things about which we don’t want God to challenge us or ask us to change. Guess what? God knows.
Jesus also knew and the woman recognized he had some prophetic ability. For the Samaritans prophets were identified by their knowledge of the law, so she asked him a question about the proper place to worship. Jesus responded that, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (vs. 24). The woman said she is aware the Messiah is coming. Jesus reveals himself to her by confessing that he is the Messiah.
“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.” (vs. 10) Through this encounter the woman discovered who Jesus was – the Messiah, the gift of God and she asked for the living water he offered. Jesus immediately kept his promise. Filled with living water, the woman dropped her empty water jar and ran off to invite her friends to meet Jesus.
This Samaritan Woman still invites us to meet Jesus and discover if he is the Messiah? Jesus is waiting for you. He sees your thirst, your need to be whole, and he is offering you the opportunity to never be thirsty again. He’s offering you “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” Are you thirsty? Then come and meet Jesus, the Messiah, the gift of God, sent to set us free. If you ask him, he will give you an unending cascade of the Spirit that will quench your soul and remain alive in you forever. Will you ask him for living water? God desires us to be able to drop our empty water jar because we no longer need to search for water. And just as Jacob found a place of belonging at a well, so God thirsts for us to belong and to be safe and to find love in a relationship with him. He is waiting at the well; come thirsty, come empty, come with “joy to draw water from the well of salvation”. (Isaiah 12:3)