S. Lent 3.17 “Water, Spirit, Truth” John 4:5-26
She does better than Nicodemus did last week, this Samaritan woman. She lets Jesus start the conversation and introduce the subjects to be discussed. That’s good. She asks some questions that start out somewhat polite, but degenerate into snarky, and then descend all the way into outright arguing with Jesus. That’s not so good. But they are important questions and she is quite honest about her doubts and struggles which is also quite good. Because Jesus is not a thin-skinned Messiah. He can handle some sarcasm and incredulity as well as he can dish it out. Fortune favors the bold, it seems, with Jesus, because it works out as well for the Samaritan woman, in the end, as it did for Nicodemus. And she walks away without ever giving Jesus the drink he was after, for which, style points, I think; because Jesus did say she needed water from him more than he from her..:-)
Water is the issue here from the start to the finish. And while Jesus is just as thirsty at the end of the episode as he was at the start, the woman is onto something, sees a path to Ponce De Leon’s fountain of youth, a spring of water whooshing up to eternal life. And that’s something to be after now, isn’t it?
It starts off with Jesus demanding a drink of water from Jacob’s well. He’s traveled a long way. It’s noon. He’s tired, thirsty, hungry too, as the disciples have gone out to try to track down some lunch because they are ever forgetting to bring it along, it would seem. The Samaritan woman is a little taken aback at the request (Jesus does not say the magic word “please” I notice. Just “give me a drink”. But I don’t think instructing Jesus on manners is a great idea. If he doesn’t say “please” and “thank you” and doesn’t wash his hands before eating, then maybe it’s our ideas of manners that need to change? Kids, “you’re welcome”. Parents, “I’m sorry” 🙂
She goes “Whoa. A Jew asking favors from a Samaritan. How interesting!” Jews and Samaritans were not much into sharing with each other. Jesus shoots back “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 rises to the challenge. “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well and with his sons and flocks drank from it? Because uh, I think he had a bucket…” Nice! I’m liking this lady a lot so far, and I think Jesus is too. She’s spunky.
Jesus is super cool. “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 him a fountain of water springing up into eternal life.” Which makes me wonder how much Jesus really wants a drink from the well or how much he just wants to provoke this Samaritan woman a little bit? Like he’s steering the conversation to make her (the one with the bucket) ask him (the one without a bucket) for a drink!
Which she does, right on cue! “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” I hear the irony, the tinge of sarcasm dripping from her words, don’t you? Not, I would think, a sincere request. But Jesus has plenty of room in his kingdom (it would seem!) for hypocrites, cynics, and the sarcastic lovers of irony. He’s not above tricking someone into asking him for favors because he delights in doing favors, maybe especially for the spunky, the plucky, and the slightly irreverent?
He’s not above a little irony, a tinge of sarcasm himself either. He shoots back “Go, call your husband, and come back.” Family values! Jesus wants the whole clan on living water, and doesn’t want even the appearance of impropriety in his dealings with this woman. She goes, “I have no husband.” And Jesus goes “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 without missing a beat goes: “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”
And I’m liking this lady a whole lot! When someone introduces evidence of your moral failings, change the subject(!) and start a theological argument; because those just go on and on—perfect distraction! And there is no better or more contentious theological subject over which to argue than worship practices, the proper liturgy, the rite (sic) setting… Nice! Jesus likes her too, I think, and sees what she did there. He goes: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when we will get beyond the tired arguments about worship (though, point of fact, the Jews are right and the Samaritans are wrong, and pg. 15 will always be king 🙂 in fact, the hour is coming (the ideal service time, it seems, is right around an hour for Jesus 🙂 when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him…” She goes: “Well, the Messiah is coming; and I’m sure he’ll sort all that out.” And Jesus goes, “He! Ta-da! I AM, speaking to you!”
My takeaway is that it’s all about worship, always has been, always will be. Jesus himself says it’s the point of all he comes to do—to draw us into genuine worship of the Father, in spirit and truth. All the rest of the stuff we get so worked up about in the churches today: politics, morality, theological hair-splitting, doesn’t matter. It’s the worship, stupid! If that is right, everything else will come right. If that is wrong, nothing else can be right. Jesus didn’t come to plant a lot of correct, theological propositions in our heads, or to get us to behave better in following a bunch of moralistic precepts. Nah. He comes to draw us into the worship of the Father in spirit and truth, which is his joy and delight always, already…
And it’s the water that gets you there. Where does the living water springing up in us into eternal life come from? That is a great question! And John answers it in chapter 19 of his gospel. Jesus has just bowed his head, yielded up his spirit, and died. And a Roman soldier with orders to break the crucified’s legs, sees Jesus is already dead, so thrusts a spear into him, instead. And John says “blood and water(!) flooded out!” There is your living water, right there!
It is a most delightful irony that the water of life only comes from the crucified and dead body of Jesus. Life and death with him are drawn into a most paradoxical and delicate dance. It turns our heads inside out. It is a mystery that cannot be comprehended, like Noah’s Flood that kills in order to make everything alive…
Baptism immerses you in living water, crucifying, burying you with Jesus in his tomb, raising you up new with him at last. Out of his pierced side, comes the water of life flowing with his blood. In the Lord’s Supper, we eat and drink his body and blood, so that we have that life in us. And by his holy word, the word of the cross, like a Flood, we are swept into a whole new world of worship of God, in spirit and truth, which has no end to its joys. And Peace surpassing understanding guards our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.