Third Sunday in Lent, March 19, 2017 Lectionary A
The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr.+ Rector Scripture: John 4:5-42
“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:30
Let us pray. Gracious, eternal, and bountiful Father, send now the Holy Spirit to quench our thirsts through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever. Amen.
We heard a lot in this morning’s gospel from St. John. Jesus and His disciples are in Samaria, no longer part of Israel. John significantly alerts us that they were near Jacob’s well. In the Bible, important relationships often started at wells. Abraham’s servant found Rebekah at a well, and brought her home for Isaac, and Jacob met Rachel at a well. So, we are to remember from last Sunday that John will take the ordinary and use it as a stepping stone toward the extraordinary.
We find then Jesus sitting by this well, Jacob’s well. He is hot and tired. The disciples have gone into the nearby village to pick up some burgers and fries from the local McDonald’s. As Jesus is sitting there, perhaps under shade from a nearby tree; a Samaritan woman arrives to draw water for herself. Jews and Samaritans did not mix. The Samaritans were considered half-breeds in a number of ways, including their religion. In other words, Jesus stepped outside the social norm when He spoke to her. We could make a big deal over that. Suffice it to say, we are reminded that the gospel was not intended for the Jews alone.
Seeing the Samaritan woman with a bucket, Jesus asked her to give Him a drink of water. We need to realize that if Jesus asks something from you, it is not to say you are in trouble, but it is to say that your life is getting ready to be radically changed. That was true then, and it is true now. So, the trap is set, when the woman asks Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?”
If you remember last Sunday’s sermon, you will recall that in John’s gospel Jesus has a way of saying things that are cryptic at the very least, meaning they are spiritual. We heard how Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again of the Spirit, leaving old Nic scratching his head as to what that meant. In this morning’s reading we heard where Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “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.” Like Nicodemus the Samaritan woman is baffled by Jesus’ words. She asks, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?”
Though the meaning of Jesus’ words seems unclear, His words from last Sunday offer some insight. “[W]e speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” Jesus is speaking of heavenly things when He tells the Samaritan woman, “[God] would have given you living water.”
There are several important themes in this morning’s gospel. The first is that both the woman and Jesus are thirsty for water, H2O. The woman’s need to quench her thirst, however, is probably not as immediate as Jesus’. She is at the well because it is her daily routine to collect water for her family. Obviously, there is no running water. Jesus and the woman share a common need for water. They have found themselves at Jacob’s well in order to satisfy their need for water without which they would die, without which, you and I will die. Needless to say, water is essential to the continuation of our physical bodies.
So the larger context underlying and driving today’s gospel is found in the theme of thirst. We all thirst. We all need water to survive. Furthermore, we thirst for more than water, do we not? We thirst for any number of liquids which are water-based. The common soda, wine, beer, milk, and many others are all water-based.
We thirst, however, for more than water or some liquid. We thirst for attention, love, success, good health, relationships, and wealth. We thirst; we crave for whatever it is. Addiction is a thirst that has lost its self-restraint. The thirst has now become a compulsion.
Jesus reminded the Samaritan woman of what she already knew. “Everyone who drinks of this water (from Jacob’s well) will be thirsty again.” The same, of course, might be said of the other thirst we strive to quench— the thirst for attention, love, success, good health, relationships, and wealth. We will thirst for them again, perhaps wishing we would not, wishing we would not need them again.
Jesus, though, does not leave the woman panting. He tells her, “14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” This is a startling revelation to the woman. She would like nothing more than to be relieved of the daily burden of carrying that heavy bucket of water in the broiling heat of the day. It was about noon as St. John tells us—the hottest part of the day.
We empathize with the woman. We all would like nothing more than to eliminate some arduous chore from our daily schedule—washing the dishes, cooking, cleaning house, or certain aspects of our jobs or some other task. “We might pray, “Jesus, give me enough money so that I can pay off the mortgage. Jesus, make it possible for me not to have to work, or remove this unpleasant situation in my life.” Can Jesus do that for us? We would like to think that He would. We pray for as much, only to discover that is not what Jesus is about.
Indeed, the Samaritan woman believed Jesus might make her life easier by eliminating the unpleasant burden of carrying water, as she heard Him say, “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” She said to Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus’ response to her request for this ultimate, thirst quenching water might surprise us. Surely, it did the woman. “Go, call your husband, and come back.” What has her husband got to do with this water that would make it possible for her not to thirst again? Surely, we have had similar experiences with Jesus. We ask Him for one thing and He responds in a way totally unexpected.
As noted earlier, “if Jesus asks something from you, it is not to say you are in trouble, but it is to say that your life is getting ready to be radically changed.” So, Jesus continues to set the trap (It is a trap of grace, incidentally) for this woman. She is caught off guard. She did not see that request to call her husband coming, nor did we. We empathize with her. We know the feeling of suddenly having to come clean and reveal something about ourselves that we would rather not. Jesus had seen through the woman’s façade into the very depths of her personal life. “I have no husband,” she tells Jesus.
Jesus, though, does not leave it there. He says 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.” The woman is bound to have thought to herself, “This man Jesus has gone from preaching to meddling.” (Nobody likes that.) Surely, her defenses must have gone up. Wouldn’t’ ours? What Jesus has begun to do, however, (Listen because this applies directly to you and me) is to get her to identify her real thirst and it is not just for water, H2O.
This Samaritan woman had been married how many times—five and she is currently living with a man who is not her husband. Something is seriously wrong there, is it not? There is a thirst here that goes beyond any need for a glass of water. We do not know whether she was divorced from those five guys or whether some had died. Regardless, there is a real issue here for her, a deep pain, and a very dry place in her heart that was longing for relief. The Samaritan woman was thirsting in the most unimaginable way possible. Her interpersonal life had been a total disaster—a dry, parched desert.
Some commentators have suggested that the reason she was the only one at the well at the hottest time of the day was because her numerous marriage failures had made her the object of public scorn and ridicule. She had been ostracized, shunned. Jesus, though, (this is important) did not ostracize her; He did not keep her at arm’s length; He did not ignore or avoid her. Unbeknownst to her, she had a divine appointment with God in Jesus, no less than we have and do.
This appointment was more than any annual physical.
If we put on our psychologist hats, we can imagine that her failures at marriage, at relationships had surely dragged her down. She certainly had every reason to be depressed, lack confidence and self-esteem. Think about it. When it came to marriage, she was an absolute failure. Do you hear me? Her sense of brokenness must have been extraordinary and her sense of guilt gold-plated. Surely, she had prayed about it. She had asked for help from the god of her understanding. We heard her say to Jesus, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain.” She had some kind of faith, though incomplete.
Notice, though, that the woman went “theological” on Jesus. What did she say to Jesus after His comment about the five husbands? “Sir, I see that you are prophet.” Jesus had gone straight to the heart of her thirst, five failed marriages, and she started talking about religion. Really! It is a defense, of course, but not an unusual one. I’ve come to learn that when people call St. Elizabeth’s looking for money that they often start talking about God and God sort of things. They are trying to justify themselves. They are trying to justify their failed lives, whether in part or in whole, by talking religion. They are trying to justify their need. This, in spite of the fact that the gospel tells us that religion gets us nowhere. No one can be good enough. This is why we need Jesus through whom we are fully justified regardless of how failed our lives have been.
Frankly, it is quite laughable, when you think about it. The Samaritan woman has the audacity, temerity to engage Jesus in theology. If she had known, would she have gone there and discussed theology with God Himself? It would have been easier for her to face the truth about herself—how dry, how thirsty she was.
It did not take Jesus long to bring the woman up short in her attempt at theological distraction. “I know that Messiah is coming,” she tells Jesus. In a way she was saying in contemporary parlance, “Well, we both believe in God. There is nothing for us to disagree about. We are both okay.” Sound familiar? Jesus though drops the hammer on her. “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” I am he; I am the messiah; I am God.” Checkmate, ball game! Before, we can hear how the Samaritan woman responded to Jesus’ “I am” statement; suddenly the disciples returned, interrupting the conversation.
It is a small detail, but a very profound one. It would be a mistake to believe that John included it merely as part of the scenery. Listen again to verse 28, which follows after the disciples returned. “Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.” Did you catch it? She left her water jar. She dropped her water jar and ran back to the city to tell the people about Jesus.
Something had happened to this dry, parched, thirsty woman, who had failed at five marriages. Jesus had indeed given her that living water, wherein she would never thirst again. What was the nature of this living water? In chapter two of John’s gospel we read where Jesus turned water into wine. In other words, He made the water something much more; He made it wine. Might this living water be the Holy Spirit of which Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in chapter three of John? Had this Samaritan woman been born again of the Spirit as Jesus spoke and ministered to her? The answer is yes and maybe. An encounter with God within the deepest recesses of our hearts and minds (that divine appointment) is life-changing.
In the context of today’s gospel reading, this divine encounter is thirst quenching, ultimately thirst quenching. What was the result? The Samaritan woman no longer needed to fill that water jar by which she had desperately tried to quench that dry place in her heart, called five failed marriages. Jesus had ultimately filled it. She had been healed, psychologically, spiritually, and perhaps (in that body and spirit are not really separate) physically as well.
The question then comes to us. What are the dry places in our lives, which we have tried to quench? We have daily toted our bucket to the well of acceptance, accomplishment, success, relationships, eating, drinking, sex, or whatever, only to discover that at the end of the day, we still thirst. The pain, the suffering, the depression, and the anxiety are no less than they had been before. Here’s a secret: Repentance is a matter of acknowledging that the wells we have been going to will not satisfy our thirsts. Only if we turn to God in Jesus, will our thirst be satisfied.
The message to us is clear. Whatever may be the dry, parched place or places in our lives, Jesus is at our well waiting to quench our thirst. We, too, have a divine appointment with Him. He offers us that water which will never leave us thirsting. We have only to ask Him. The words of the Samaritan woman work for us as well. “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Don’t we want that? Wouldn’t we love to no longer thirst for affection, success, meaning, purpose, and all the rest, and still be unsatisfied?
Let me suggest, as we come forward for Communion, that we bring those dry, thirsty places in our hearts and minds to Jesus and ask Him to give us that living water which will leave us never thirsting again. It worked for the Samaritan woman and it will work for us. Then, like the woman we too will run back to the city to tell others what Jesus has done for us. As we heard Jesus tell the disciples as well as us, “look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting.”
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.