If you read the gospels closely, you’ll discover that Jesus often dealt with communication barriers. This is especially true in the Gospel of John, where John often pictures Jesus confounding his conversation partners with irony and double meanings. In John, at least, all of this seems to be intentional. But whether intentional or not, it always seems like Jesus has to explain himself.
The conversation begins when Jesus goes up to this woman and asks her for a drink of water. This simple request leads to further discussion – something that normally didn’t happen. That’s probably whey his request takes her by surprise. Jews don’t talk to Samaritans and men don’t talk to women – you see the barriers that are present. Some are tribal some are gender-related, and others are theological.
But the most important question has to do with the meaning of living water. What she heard was "clear running water." She thought that Jesus knew of a kind of water that would whet her thirst for ever. One drink and you don’t have to ever have another. You can understand why she’d be interested in that kind of water – she was an outcast who came to the well at noon, the hottest point of the day, because it was when no one else would be there. The only problem is that Jesus isn’t talking about this kind of water. Instead, he’s talking about the kind of water that satisfies our spirit.
The water Jesus offers her quenches that inner thirst for communion with God, the thirst described by the Psalmist:
As the deer pants for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God the living God. When can I come and stand before him? (Ps. 42:1-2, NLT)
Ho, everyone that thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. (Is. 55:1).
Finally, after she begins to catch on, this social outcast returns to her village and tells everybody about her encounter with Jesus. She may not have understood everything about Jesus, but she knew that he held out for her the promise of forgiveness and grace. And that was enough.
There is, of course, a moral to our story. Even as we drink from the water that satisfies our deepest longings, like the woman at the well we will begin sharing this faith empowering experience with others. But, as this story reminds us, there are barriers that must be overcome. Our attempts at communication can get hung up on misunderstandings. And so we must be attentive to those "issues," whatever they may be. As we do this, we will see that deep in the hearts of our friends and our neighbors is that same thirst for the Living Water that will never run dry. Yes, we’re all looking for the Living water that satisfies the human thirst for God’s gracious presence. And as we hear Jesus’ invitation to the woman, so we hear our own invitation to drink deeply from this well.
Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA 93105
3rd Sunday of Lent
February 24, 2008