(John 5: 5-42)
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The LORD said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The 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.) Jesus 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “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 them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The 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.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “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 said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”
The Gospel according to St. John is well known for the stark contrasts in both its words and imagery between the physical world and the spiritual world. We saw a prime example of this contrast last week in the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus about spiritual realities and intangible truths of God’s kingdom; and, Nicodemus was struggling to understand and place them into the context of the tangible “real” world of his earthly life experience. I suspect some of us may be having similar struggles as we are navigating through our Lenten season of reflection and self-discovery. It can be difficult for us to appropriate the various aspects of our daily living into the proper physical or spiritual compartment. After all, we are physical human beings, and we have very real physical needs like hunger, thirst, and rest, that require our attention. Yet, we also spiritual people who are in relationship with our God, as God has been revealed to us through Christ Jesus. We need to equally honor and nurture our spiritual selves and lives by devoting appropriate time and attention to them. Therefore, as Christians, we are continually striving to live out Jesus’ call for us to be temporary sojourners in this world, those who live in and interact with the world, and yet recognize that we are not of the world.
The two scripture lessons we read this morning speak well to this dichotomy regarding the natural and spiritual components of our human lives and needs, and they reveal how God makes provision for us to meet both. Let’s begin by examining more closely the story of Moses and the people of Israel during their time in the desert wilderness. We will recall that life for the Israelites in Egypt under Pharaoh was oppressive and intolerable. God sent Moses to the people to free them from Pharaoh’s grasp. Moses led the people of Israel through the Red Sea and into the wilderness. There, the people complained because of their physical thirst and hunger; and the Lord provided clear, sweet water to quench their thirst, and manna from heaven and quails for the people to eat. As they continued to venture on, the people again suffered from and complained about their thirst. God provided Moses with a staff with which to strike the rock and produce fresh water for the people to drink. This lesson reveals that during their wilderness time, God was steadfast in providing for the needs of people of Israel, to calm their fears and quarreling, as they journeyed in stages through the wilderness toward their promised homeland.
Our gospel lesson for today recounts for us another familiar story, the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman he met at Jacob’s well. Many wonderful messages can be derived from the Jesus’ conversation with this woman, and from her response to him. For today, I would like to center on this encounter as another example of how John contrasts the literal aspects of our human life with those that are spiritual. In this particular encounter, the object of Jesus conversation with the woman he met at Jacob’s well is water.
Jesus was on his way from Judea to Galilee, when he stopped in a city of Samaria called Sychar. Jacob’s well was located there, and Jesus stopped at the well to rest. That is where Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman who came to the well to draw water. It was about noon, and that time was the heat of the day. For the people of Jesus’ time, this situation would signal that this woman was an outcast of her people. Women of good repute and standing among their people would not be out to draw water in the heat of the day. Yet, here she was. Jesus asked the woman for a drink of the water. This is another flag that it is important for us to understand, for the woman quickly recognized that Jesus was a Jew, and Jews did not usually mix with Samarians due to religious differences. Hmm…sound familiar to anyone? Recognizing the woman’s life circumstances, and her surprise that he, as a Jew, would even ask for a literal drink of water from a Samaritan woman, Jesus moved the conversation directly into a discussion of the woman’s spiritual need. “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.” He continued, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks 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.” “Sir,” the woman said, “give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Obviously, Jesus was talking about giving the woman the gift of the Spirit that lives and works within us to become a spring of living water “gushing up to eternal life.” “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth,” Jesus proclaimed to the woman’s observation about the difference in religious practices between Jews and Samaritans. Of course, as is typical of John’s gospel, the woman clung to her human understanding of water, and to her understanding that it is the Jewish Messiah, the one who is yet coming, that will bring and proclaim all things, all truths to them. Then, Jesus proclaimed to this woman, as he did to Nicodemus during their encounter, “I am he.” This truth astonished the Samaritan woman, and she became perhaps the first gospel missionary, running to tell her people about Jesus, who told her all she had ever done.
So, just how are these great and familiar Old and New Testament Bible stories still relevant and meaningful to us today? First, dear friends, they remind us that God has been with us throughout the history of our coming to faith. From the days of Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob, who provided the land for the well of his namesake in our lesson, to the time of Moses and the law, which convicted us of our sinfulness in failing to be able to keep it, God was with us. In the fullness of time, God sent us Jesus, the Messiah, so that everyone who believes in him will receive the gift of the Spirit, the spring of living water that gushes up in us and leads us into eternal life. Second, and I think this is critical to our generation, these stories remind us that God, and not we ourselves, is the source of everything that meets both our physical and spiritual needs. We live in a society in which most of us have accumulated earthly wealth. We can come to take our comfortable lifestyle for granted, forgetting that everything ultimately comes from God. I recall that during my health crisis last year, I became extremely aware that every single breath I took proceeded from God. Not a single thing I owned could save me. Only my faith in the work Christ Jesus, my Messiah and Savior, accomplished for me on the cross provided the water of life that gushed up within me unto eternal life. Like the Apostle Paul, I was able to proclaim that whether I was alive in my body or absent from it and present with Christ, I belonged to him. Brothers and sisters, God knows each of us, knows our good intentions and our failures and sins. God still calls us to receive the living water that will gush up within us to eternal life. I challenge you this day, will you ask of Jesus, and so receive the living water that gushes up within you unto eternal life in his kingdom? It is my hope and prayer this Lenten Season that you will. Amen.