One past August, I went on a work related trip to Scottsdale Arizona. It is desert there. It is dry, very dry, there. The heat was around 100 degrees (a cool Temperature for that part of the world at that time of the year) and the humidity was about 0, none. We are talking dry.
Some respite could be found at sidewalk restaurants. Pipes are run overhead and sprayers shower mists of water down on sun baked travelers, cooling and soothing. Yet, as I sat there I was amazed. I could see the water. I could feel the cool effect. But, no matter how long I sat under it, I did not get wet. It was fascinating how I could be so close and yet still be dry.
Jesus and the disciples walked in the heat. The dry, hot journey from Judea to Samaria had taken its toll. They arrived, mid day, at Jacobs well. No one was there. Those who had needed water for the day had long since left, hiding from the noon heat. Earlier that day, the well had been busy, as it would that evening, with towns’ folk filling their jugs, skins, and buckets with water for the next day’s needs. The task was no doubt coupled with chatter about the life of family, shop keeping, travelers, and the daily socializing of a thriving community. The well was one of the meeting places, a place of nods and smiles, and a place of conversations and caring that make-up much of what we know of and need of community. The well was a place of refreshment not only of body, but of spirit, community.
Jesus sat at the well alone. His traveling companions had continued into town. Time passed. A woman approached, alone. She, an outcast of the community, chose to arrive when the others where gone. Perhaps she had been forbidden access to the community at the well. Maybe she simple could not withstand the taunts, sneers, or worse, the silence of others as they judged, ridiculed and condemned her. The exchange between them is recorded in John 4: 7-26.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)* 10Jesus answered 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.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you* say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,* the one who is speaking to you.’
Their conversation reveals two thirsty people: one parched from the desert heat, another from a cracked and broken existence. Jesus’ exchange with the ‘woman at the well’ drives our attention from physical need to spiritual lack. It is amazing how close we can be to refreshment and still be parched. Yet, there is more.
The image of these two can do a wonderful job at reminding us that there are two very real levels of need for the human existence: mission and forgiveness. The woman arrives needing healing for her broken life. Forgiveness and acceptance goes a long way to empowering us to rise from our brokenness. And, if we look a bit further, we find that forgiveness is only part of what heals.
It is interesting to note the exchange upon the disciples’ return.
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,* can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving* wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.’
Here we find Jesus as the one who speaks of being refreshed by a spiritual food. His life, his very spirit has been enriched by his giving to, his caring for another. “It is in giving that we receive.”
Giving and receiving. By this shower of being we are refreshed. By the touch of godly actions on our lives we are transformed. By touching others with our charity, we are enlivened.
What need brings us here today. Do we sit burdened by the judgments of an ungracious community? Are we taunted by the fire of our broken self-esteem? Do we simply lack that quickening of spirit to bring zest to our lives, our relationships, again? Or, are we compelled by compassion to seek guidance today? Have the images of death, destruction, and chaos from the world around us caused us to arrive here and ask, “What can be done? Is all lost?” Have you, like me, been so assaulted by the images from the disaster in Asia that you almost fear to turn on the TV, or listen to the radio? What is the death toll in Asia following the tsunamis now? 150,000? Who knows how many will still die from starvation, infection, or disease before the disaster gives way to some new normal way of existence, again?
Perhaps our message of hope here today is the same. The deepest, aching needs of human life are met by God, in Jesus Christ. We meet at the well this day and are offered the gifts of forgiveness and mission to begin the healing of our community, ourselves. It is amazing how close we can be to the refreshment we seek, and still be in such need.
So, the question remains: Are YOU thirsty? Yes?
13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’