Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost
The Woman at the Well at first sees what is in front of her and she cannot imagine anything beyond that. To her credit though, the Jewish rabbi she is speaking to makes some pretty outlandish claims about things that are not to be seen in that moment.
After first asking for a drink of water from the Woman at the Well, Jesus then promises to give her living water. Jesus uses a word-play here. “Living water” in its colloquial sense just means running or fresh water. It is not a stagnant, mucky pond and it is even more fresh than the water that comes from a well. The Woman at the Well looks around, assesses the situation in front of her and sees that some things don’t quite match up. “Sir, you have no bucket and the well is deep,” she says, “Where do you get that living water?”
We may feel a bit like this woman at the well. Jesus has promised us Living Water in peace, justice, and resurrected life, but we look around the world and can’t help but notice that the well is very, very deep and there is no bucket in sight. Two days ago at least 128 people were killed in Paris by a well-coordinated group of murderers and 19 people were killed in a funeral bombing in Baghdad, and three days ago, at least 41 people were killed in a bombing in Beirut. How do we or how does God plan on healing after that tragedy? How does God plan on quenching their thirst for peace in the midst of grief? How does God plan on quenching our thirst to be free from fear? “The well is deep and you have no bucket.”
How do we or how does God address the deep pain and hatred that can convince so many people to brazenly snuff out so many lives? How can we build reconciliation with neighbors when such violence prevails? “The well is deep and you have no bucket.”
The problems of the world are so great and Jesus doesn’t even seem to have a bucket to get this water to us. How can we as individuals or even as a whole congregation address these incredibly huge problems? Would a few bucks in the offering plate or a donation to Lutheran World Relief or another relief organization make a meaningful difference? Does volunteering at Trenton Area Soup Kitchen for one day really address the monumental challenges of poverty and injustice that our county faces? Does setting the Communion table through altar guild address the deep sorrows and fears that we bring to the Communion table? Can Jesus bring us living water when the well of life looks so deep and we see no bucket with which to draw the water?
The Woman at the Well has good reason to be skeptical of Jesus aside from the fact that Jesus is speaking in abstract terms (using “living water” as a metaphor for God’s restoration of life and hope) and that he doesn’t seem to have the equipment needed to procure said living water. The Woman at the Well has been burned by life over and over again. She has had five husbands and now is being taken care of by someone else. We don’t know what happened with the five husbands, but now she is alone. Maybe they all divorced her, maybe they all died and left her a widow five times over. We don’t know, but whatever happened, it is tragic. I cannot imagine the barriers to trust that this woman must be facing after her spouses have been taken away from her five times over and each time she is on her own in a society where single women are given no good opportunity to provide for their own needs. How can she believe that this Jewish rabbi would offer her, a Samaritan woman, a cup of living water? Even a literal cup of water would be unbelievable, but the water of the spirit that satisfies all our thirsts is even more unbelievable!
But Jesus begins to tell her about her struggles and her pains. He knows that she has had five husbands and now she is being cared for by someone else. He is fully aware of the tensions between Jews and Samaritans. He tells her her life story in startling accuracy. Jesus proves that he knows her well and promises that one day all will worship together in truth and peace. She believes those promises and goes on to tell her whole village about this person who knows her and is the Messiah who will bring everlasting peace and life- who will offer the world Living Water that permanently quenches our many thirsts.
Jesus knows the pain of this Woman at the Well and he knows the pain of the whole world. He knows the pain of a couple going through an ugly divorce. He knows the pain of radiation therapy. He knows the pain of Paris, Baghdad, and Beirut. And Jesus has promised to heal those pains. To heal the rifts between Jew and Samaritan, man and woman. To bind the wounds of women who have lost their husbands five times over, of the sick, of the poor, of those in fear, and of those who mourn needless deaths.
When we experience that living water of God’s promised grace, springs of Living Water well up within us too. It is too good to keep to ourselves. The Woman at the Well runs back to her hometown and tells everyone there about the Messiah she encountered at a well. They get to hear Jesus themselves and as a result many Samaritans believe in Jesus.
I love how enthusiastic the Woman at the Well grows to become. She completely transforms in a matter of a few verses. At first she is skeptical of a stranger who might show her hospitality. She doesn’t get why this Jewish man would talk to a Samaritan woman like herself. She doesn’t believe that this lone guy without even a bucket is going to offer her miraculous Living Water that will permanently quench her thirst. But when Jesus shows that he knows her- including every doubt, fear, and pain that she has ever experienced, then she is overflowing in excitement. She really believes that she will no longer thirst as she has been and she can’t help but tell as many people as she can about this person who offers Living Water that quenches all thirst.
In college I had the opportunity to to study abroad in Israel and while I was there I got to see the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 400 meters below sea level and is almost ten times saltier than the ocean. The sea is fed by the Jordan River, but does not flow out anywhere else. The Dead Sea is the end of the line for water flow. It essentially collects salts and minerals from its immediate environment and has no place to send them, so that is why it is so salty. Because of its high salt content, you can float in it effortlessly and its actually pretty hard to get your feet back under you once you start floating. That is also the reason why nearly no life survives in its waters.
God’s promises, like Living Water, do not collect in one spot and stand still. Life does not flourish when the life-giving water stays to itself. Instead God’s Living Water is on the move nourishing all that it comes into contact. Ezekiel describes a vision of God’s life giving water flowing out from the Temple, the place where God is believed to reside, and out through the city of Jerusalem, into the deserts, and finally into the sea. Along the way the people of Jerusalem have fresh water to drink, the deserts are miraculously irrigated to become a rich, fertile growing ground, the salty sea is transformed into potable drinking water, enough fruit is produced to keep all from being hungry, and the leaves of trees that grow along God’s river can be used as medicine to cure all kinds of illness.
When we receive that life-giving Living Water of God’s promises, we soon find that a spring of God’s Good News wells up within us and we can’t keep it to ourselves no matter how hard we may try. God’s Living Water doesn’t like to sit still. God who knows our pains and fears gives us Living Water in a promise to never abandon us, to always love us, and to finally heal us. Like the Woman at the Well we find that we need to tell someone about this gift that we have received. “Come see the one who knows everything I have ever done!” she and we shout to anyone who needs to know that God has not forgotten them. We reach out to those who need to hear this Good News by telling them with our own words, by financially supporting groups and organizations that promote healing and refuge to those who are hurting, by serving the needs of others with our own unique talents, and by praying. We are all so thirsty for something- for justice, for peace, for companionship, for acceptance. God has promised us Living Water that will quench those thirsts for good.
Martin Luther is credited with saying that followers of Christ are “…mere beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.” In the case of the Woman at the Well she is a beggar telling other beggars where to find the Living Water of Christ’s steadfast promises. In the wake of the mass murder in Paris, Baghdad, and Beirut, the epidemic of war and violence that surges across the globe, the racial injustices of America, and the personal pains and fears we carry within ourselves, we are truly thirsty beggars in the presence of God who has given us a Living Water that quenches all thirsts. There are many other thirsty beggars looking for a drink. Let’s show them this Living Water.