Third Sunday in Lent
“Give me a drink.” ~ John 4:7
Martin Luther encouraged the preachers of his time that the best they could hope to do in opening the Word of God to God’s people would be to constantly remind their hearers of the worth of their baptism, of what that sacrament had worked in each of them. Though the water poured over each of us as we are baptized, whether as infants or adults, soon dries, the living water born within us at our rebirth continues to spring up within us for life.
Jesus and the Samaritan woman he met at the Jacob’s well together teach this lesson. The evangelist John provides us a dialogue between these two strange conversation-mates. It is a dialogue that – like the best of conversations – reveals who the speakers are, discloses what are their deepest hopes, and opens new truths that carry the dialogue-partners (and we the listeners) to a new place of insight and possibility.
As John 4 is read, you and I are present as unseen partners in the conversation. We are there too at Jacob’s Well. We come with our own thirsts. We have our own thoughts about what we hear from Jesus and the woman. Perhaps we follow her with curiosity back into town as she walks away without the bucket to draw water that she thought so valuable from her prior experience as she first arrived by the well that noonday. Perhaps we remain with Jesus as his disciples arrive back, confused at the end of the conversation as they hear it, disturbed that it took place at all, filled with bewilderment as Jesus speaks of the food he had even before they arrived.
In a few lines Jesus leads his companion in conversation from misperception to sharp perception, from misunderstanding to understanding, from a clouded vision of her own life – both its worth and its misfortunes – to a moment of insight such as she never knew before. It is a moment that sends her running in exaltation back to town, to invite others to experience the same. As unlikely a person to quote here as Malcolm Forbes said, “The best vision is insight.” As she left the well, that unnamed woman was seeing in a new way.
She was seeing herself in a new way. She was about to see her fellow townspeople in a new way as she encountered them, and had to shout out her news. She was seeing her personal history in a new way; knowing that none of the men with whom she had shared her life had actually been a genuine partner to her, and knowing that despite all that history, new water could and did now flow from within her heart and make her to be something and someone new.
She would be a new worshipper – in spirit and in truth. She would be a new believer – one who had met the Christ face to face. She would be a new evangelist – sharing the story with any who would listen, and likely chasing those who thought they would not care to listen. In short, she was newly alive, as alive as a person rescued from the desert becomes when water is poured into them in time and they are restored; as alive as an infant or an adult who has just come up from the waters of baptism.
We all have thirsts. Each of us has somehow stood with Moses in the middle of the desert, standing in front of a dry rock from which he intends to bring forth water. Many of us have ridiculed the possibility that water can rush forth into our existence anew, from the dry rock of the lives and the history we have assembled through the years.
But perhaps in our own pursuit of water, we may find ourselves in the noon of life standing by a well, with a bucket, and looking into the face of One whom we finally recognize as the source of life and new life; of nourishment and possibility. We might see in his eyes, there in the brightest light of day, that though we feel weak, he brings us strength; though we fear to die, he is willing to die for us; though we have given up hope, he inspires in us a new certainty that “hope does not disappoint.”
We do not know the name of the woman who met Jesus and talked with him at the well that day. This is just as well. She might carry the name of any one of us, or of us all. She is the patron saint of we worn-out, dusty, hopeless, disquieted, thirsty human beings. She is the emblem of what comes to be when we confess our thirst in the presence of the Source of living water.
John P. McGinty
25 March 2011