Third Sunday in Lent
John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42)
They said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of your speaking; for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’
Flight attendants have the responsibility of keeping passengers safe and comfortable during the flight. Everyone knows that this means their most important task is to serve drinks. Almost as soon as the plane is safely in the air, the flight attendants pull out the beverage cart and slowly make their way through the cabin to serve the passengers something to drink. Hydration is important during a flight because the cabin air is extremely dry, especially at high altitudes. It takes time to get a plane loaded and ready for take-off, so passengers often end up sitting for long periods of time. Thirst comes easily in those situations.
The drinks have other purpose. Those who do not like to fly look for comfort in a drink. Others need something to settle an upset stomach. Tomato juice is supposed to ward off thrombosis, a dangerous condition in which blood clots develop in the legs which can then be carried to other parts of the body and cause illness or even death. Some people prefer to order alcohol, which has a calming effect. I look forward to getting my drink, but it always seems to take forever for the attendant to get to my seat. The thirst builds as I see water and other beverages poured out for the passengers around me. Often, just as I think it will be my turn, the flight attendant turns to another passenger or takes a trip to the kitchen to restock. Thirst becomes overwhelming when there does not seem to be any relief.
The Israelites were on a difficult journey. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years, never certain where they were going or even why they were there. Though they had cried out for the salvation of the LORD in Egypt, they began to think that the life they led in slavery was better than the uncertainty of where they would get their next drink. If we think it is dry and uncomfortable aboard an airplane for a few hours, imagine what it must have been like having a million people camping in the desert with no source for water?
They began to grumble. I understand. I get pretty testy when I’m uncomfortable. I know what it is like to wish I was back at a painful place because at least it is familiar. The unknown is scary. The people went to Moses and asked, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” When we are uncomfortable, we believe the worst will happen; we are thirsty so we are sure we will die.
God heard their cries, just as He heard their cries in Egypt.
Sometimes it seems like God is nowhere near to us, but He is always near. Even though it seems like the flight attendant will never get around to giving me a drink, he or she always manages to get to me in time. As thirsty as I get, I do not get thirsty enough to die. God seemed to be far away, but He knew the needs of His people. They needed water, but they also needed to learn how to trust in Him. They were being led from one life to a very different life. The wilderness journey was not only meant to get them from one place to another, but to also help the nation transform into the people God was calling them to be. He was teaching them about faith, about hope, and about relying on He who would provide for their every need. They quarreled and tested God, but He still provided. This is good for us to know: even when we quarrel and test the LORD, He is still close by to meet our needs.
We might think that this story happened sometime during the forty years of wandering, but this was before they even arrived at the foot of Mt. Sinai, only weeks after they left Egypt. They were still being tested; they were still learning to trust in God. But at this point they have seen some pretty miraculous things. They saw the miracles in Egypt. They saw the column of fire at night and cloud during the day which led them on their way. They saw the Red Sea part so they could safely pass and then eat Pharaoh’s army. They saw the bitter water of Marah and Elim miraculously become sweet. They saw the manna and quails fall from heaven, to feed them with satisfying food. I never realized how many of these miracles happened in such a short period of time. How could they become so discontented so quickly? I thought that was a modern problem! Even after God had provided safety, escape, clean water, bread and meat, they were still afraid that they would die.
God answered their cries by commanding Moses go ahead of the people with his staff. tells Moses to go ahead of the people with his staff. “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb. You shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” This was not stale, murky water; it was clean fresh flowing water, good to drink. It was also a foreshadowing of the Living Water that Christ would give to the woman at the well. In that place, which Moses called Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and tested God, God stood on a rock. In later days, Jesus would be the Rock from which the water flowed.
Jesus was thirsty, and He was willing to seek the help of a strange Samaritan woman.
Have you ever really thought about how quickly Jesus moved in and out of people’s lives? Their experience was often a very brief encounter but the effects were long lasting. He healed their dis-ease and cast out their demons. He taught them about the Kingdom of God and forgave their sins. Their lives were changed by just a few minutes of conversation and interaction.
The text from John is a long reading, but it is a conversation that lasted just a few minutes. Her life was completely changed by the encounter, as she realized God’s promised Messiah was the man Jesus. Her faith, built on just a few questions and answers, was shared with many in her village and then spread among the people of Samaria. When the disciples dispersed into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry, they found that Samaria already believed because faith in Jesus was established during this brief encounter.
Jesus had that kind of impact on people because He spoke words that were powerful and true. Jesus told the woman at the well that He could give her living water. This was significant to the woman, whose noontime trip to the well would produce stale and muddy water. See, she was outcast from the rest of the village, perhaps because of her living arrangement. We learn during the conversation that she had been the wife of five husbands and that she was currently living with a man who was not her husband. Whatever the reason, she waited until the heat of the day to go to the well. The best time to draw water is in the early morning; during the night the silt which is stirred by the buckets settles and the water is a little cooler after the night.
The trip to the well was more than a chore for the women, though. It was a time to socialize, to gather gossip, perhaps trade recipes. It was a time for the women to bond, to complain about their husbands, to share their hopes. Not only did the woman at the well have to deal with dirty water, she missed the companionship of the other women. Did she go later in the day because she was unwelcome? Or was she embarrassed by her circumstances and chose to avoid the women? Either way, I doubt she was interested in meeting a man at the well, especially a man like Jesus.
On this day, though, she was given a gift. She met Jesus and He changed her life. The living water of Jesus would not quench her thirst, but it would quench her need for relationship, first with Him and then with others in her community. Despite being an outsider, the people believed that she may have met the Messiah for whom they were waiting. They believed her story enough to go out to the well to meet Him, too.
Her faith did not come easily. She was hesitant at the beginning. He reached her by asking her for the one thing she could give, water from the well. There is such joy and fulfillment in doing something for others, but she was probably not given many opportunities to help her neighbors. She seemed uncertain about whether or not she wanted a relationship. She was defensive, perhaps embarrassed because her life was in shambles and afraid that He might treat her poorly.
I wonder how she felt when she neared the well and saw Jesus sitting there. I wonder if she thought about turning around. Yet, the well was a long way and she would have wasted so much time. Did she try to avoid his eyes? Did her body language speak to the walls that divided the two people who shared a common need? After all, the Jews and the Samaritans did not share anything. She was also a woman – it would have been improper for them to speak. He should not have asked anything of her or taken anything she might have offered.
She did not turn around; she went to the well to get her water. Even if she tried to avoid His eyes, Jesus spoke to her. “Give me a drink.” We don’t know the tone of her voice when she said, ““How is it that you, being a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” Was she shocked or frightened? Were the words challenging or was her tone of voice submissive? There may have been a sense of compassion; after all they were two people who shared a common need: water. Jesus’ request opened the door for conversation. He was waiting by the well because they had a divine appointment. He was there to share the kingdom of God with her but she needed to be invited into the conversation.
Jesus answered, “f you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Now, Jacob’s well was an ancient well, perhaps two thousand years old. It obviously still had water or else she would not have been there. Although well water is cool and relatively clean, there is nothing better than flowing water. When Jesus talked of living water, she probably thought he was referring to a spring. She wanted to know where He found such water. It had to be close, He had no bucket and he could not get into the well. She said, “Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his children and his livestock?”
Jesus and the Samaritan woman shared a common ancestor and the question may have changed the atmosphere at the well. Samaritans were half-breeds; they were Jews that had mixed with other nationalities. They were put down by the Jews, cast out of the religious fellowship that was their birthright. They had established a religious home of their own, founded upon the life of Jacob. Jesus was offering something better: living water. She must have been taken aback that He, who was out of His element, was insinuating that He was better than Jacob.
Then she heard about the water. “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” This is definitely better water, because it means that she will never have to return to the well or carry heavy buckets of water to her home. She said, “Sir, give me this water.”
The conversation began with Jesus stating His need for water from the woman who had the ability to give it to him, and then it was turned around to the woman stating her need for the water which Jesus had to give. She still thought it was water that would satisfy her physical needs. Jesus had something different in mind.
To receive this living water, she had to be honest about herself. Jesus said, “Bring your husband.” She didn’t lie by saying that she had none, but she did not fully reveal herself to Jesus. He answers, “You said well, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands; and he whom you now have is not your husband. This you have said truly.” Her perception of this man at the well was changed by Jesus’ comment. She no longer saw Him as a stranger or an enemy, but rather now she saw that He was a prophet.
They have a common ancestor, but they do not worship the same. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” She wanted to know what made them so different. Why were there two places to worship God and two ways to do so? Why are they outcast; why were they set aside and rejected from fellowship with other children of Abraham? Why would the conversation Jesus was having with her make a Jew unclean? Why did the Jews think they were better than others?
Jesus told her that worship is not about where or who you are, but rather it is about knowing the One whom you worship. The Samaritans had lost touch with the God of their Fathers. They only held to the Books of Moses. They only knew the Law; they did not know the prophets. They did not know about the salvation that was to come from God. He answered her questions with the promise that the day was coming when the walls that divide the people of God would be torn down because God would bring reconciliation to His people. “But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such to be his worshipers.”
According to this story, the woman had some knowledge of the Messiah but she did not fully understood what the Messiah would mean to the world. However, they too - the Samaritans - were waiting for someone to teach them and help them to make sense of the things of God. Jesus answered, “I am he, the one who speaks to you.”
This is an incredible revelation and she was the first to hear it proclaimed. She was startled by the return of the disciples who quickly challenge her presence. “What is she doing here?” She left so quickly she forgot her water jar, and she went into the city unconcerned about what others might think. “Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Christ?” Many in that town believed and they went out to meet Jesus. He stayed with them for two days and taught them about the Kingdom of God. In the end they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of your speaking; for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
The disciple were confused by the interaction between Jesus and the woman. Why was He talking with the woman? Why wasn’t He hungry? Surely He had not eaten some food she might have given Him. Jesus continued to break down the walls between people, separating flesh from spirit. Worship and obedience to God, had nothing to do with the rules they had established for themselves. Rather it was about rejoicing and praising God together that the work of God was being accomplished in the lives of His people. There was something more important than meeting the physical needs of people happening in Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus drew her into the relationship by offering her something greater than He was asking from her. Slowly, but surely, He developed a connection with her that was based on far more than her ability to serve Him. She was everything that He should have hated: a Samaritan, a woman and a sinner. Jesus saw beyond the surface and met her deepest needs. She took His grace and shared it with the people of her village, people who had made her an outcast. They believed her and then believed in Jesus.
There are places where you can go to hunt for treasure. Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas is one of those places. For a few dollars, everyone can go dig through a field that has been known to produce some of the most beautiful diamonds in the world. You get to keep whatever you find. It isn’t easy. We spent hours digging in the dirt one time and found just a few pretty rocks. However, we did not try very hard. To do a thorough search, you have to dig up buckets of dirt and take them to a sluice to wash because they are often covered with dirt. It takes patience and water to find the gemstones. We might have even had a diamond in our hands without knowing what it was. Nothing we saw looked like the diamonds we find in the jewelry store, the ones that are cleaned, cut, and polished. A diamond in the rough might get tossed away because it does not look like we might expect.
We are diamonds in the rough. We are like buried and worthless treasures that are dug up by our Lord Jesus Christ, who finds us and cleans us and then takes us through the process of making us a beautiful jewel. It is hard sometimes. We are tested. We fail. We won’t be perfect in this world. But Jesus doesn’t throw us away. He keeps with it, polishing, cutting, forming, always moving forward. The process might be like the wilderness journey of the Israelites, with testing and suffering and doubt. It might be like the conversation with the woman at the well, with questions and a change in understanding. However our faith journey appears to the world, it is a faith journey because God travels with us.
Paul wrote about peace in today’s epistle lesson. For some many of us, peace comes when everything is perfect. When we are safe, healthy and comfortable, then we will have peace. We see the blessed life as one filled with good things, just as they did in Paul’s day. Too many preachers suggest that if you appear successful, then God’s hand must surely be on you. They see suffering as a sign that something is wrong between man and God. However, Paul gives us a different perspective. He says, “Not only this, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope: and hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. We don’t end with peace, or gain peace when everything is perfect. We begin with peace (verse 1), knowing that God has justified us through grace which we have through Jesus Christ. Having that peace does not mean we will never experience anything that is bad. As a matter of fact, the suffering we face in Christ will actually strengthen us. As we persevere through our suffering, the world sees our character and our character gives them hope. People are amazed by those who still believe in the midst of great suffering. They see hope in the life of the faithful and they see God in that hope. Though some might question the integrity of a Christian in suffering, it is the very peace they experience in the midst of suffering that stands as a sign of their faith to the world.
What is most amazing about this is that we are really very small and inconsequential. While most of us are able to recognize that we are a just a tiny spot on the face of the earth, we also forget our insignificance. There are times when we think that the entire creation revolves around us. This is especially true when we are in the midst of some sort of suffering. The Israelites in the wilderness knew nothing but their thirst. They did not remember their suffering in slavery or God’s deliverance from Egypt. They knew only that they needed water. At Meribah and Massah they were reminded of God’s presence and His grace. In the midst of their suffering, God was there ready to meet their needs.
I have been awed by the endlessness of water, land and sky. There are times and places where they seem to go on forever. To experience the vast wilderness of earth is enough to make a person feel very, very small. I am even more awed by the fact that everything was made by God. And though God made the heavens and the earth, though He created the vast oceans, the land and all that lives, though He controls it all with His hands, He also knows my name. He gave me that name, child of God, daughter of the Most High. As I sit here feeling rather insignificant, I realize that through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior, the God of all creation has given me a share of His eternal kingdom which is even more awesome than anything I can see on earth. We are reminded that even though we are little more than a speck on the face of this earth, no matter what our circumstances that God is near and that He is ready to meet our needs.
As we live in God’s promises, even when we fail to be faithful, we can rest in the knowledge that He will never fail. He is faithful even when we are not. There we find peace. It begins in the waters of baptism and continues as Jesus floods us with the living water that sanctifies us during our journey through life in this world.
Those who do not trust in God do not know the peace He has given through Jesus. When we look to God as the rock of our salvation, we can be reconciled to one another and to God by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. Moses tapped the rock and water flowed, but Jesus is the rock from which the Living Water flows. We can live in the hope He gives through faith. We can partake of the living water which is so much better than the water that is left to stagnate and poison our souls. We can share that flowing water with others because Jesus has broken down the walls that have divided us for so long. “Let’s come before his presence with thanksgiving. Let’s extol him with songs!”
The psalmist recalls the experience of the Israelites in the first lesson, reminding us not to harden our hearts. Instead, we are invited to sing to God and praise His name. He is able to make springs of water flow out of rocks, to give living water without a bucket. He is with us, ready to offer us the entire Kingdom and all of creation to meet our needs. He has even given His Son for our sake. “For Yahweh is a great God, a great King above all gods.”
Jesus went to the well for a divine appointment that changed a life and a city. He called out to the woman and relieved her fears, answered her questions and offered her something better than she had. God has done the same for us. The difference between God and man was too great for human beings to overcome on our own. We have sinned against Him in our own grumbling, testing, and demands. We have not trusted in His Word or waited for His promises. We never deserved the grace He came to give; we deserve only death. Yet, as Paul wrote, we are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus. “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
We have joined the Israelites in their desert wanderings during our forty days of Lent. We thirst, but good, sweet water is not always at hand. We can respond in two ways. First, we can harden our hearts; we can let the experience of suffering and pain make us angry, bitter and resentful. We can blame others, like the Israelites did. We can even blame God. We can complain and provoke Him, demand justice and expect that He will do our will.
Or we can respond as the woman at the well. She began confused, angry or afraid, but with a willing heart she experienced God’s grace and found peace. Suffering can have a positive effect on our lives, because it helps us turn to God and seek His help. God promised that He would be near. He didn’t say our life would be perfect, but He promised He would be near. He is always much closer than we expect. He is listening, waiting, preparing to meet our troubles with His grace. Our hearts can be hardened by a lack of trust, but if we trust in God’s faithfulness, we’ll experience peace even in those times of trouble. We can go forth in joy to share the Gospel with others so that God’s grace will transform them into the people God is calling them to be.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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