A traveler stops his car at a small restaurant along a desolate highway; no one else is there, it must be past the time when all the locals stop for their morning coffee and donuts. The waitress, seeing how exhausted he is, comes over and asks, “What would you like to drink, coffee –regular or decaf, with sugar, cream; or tea – hot or iced; or soda – Coke, Pepsi, 7-up or root beer?”
Those choices at that out-of-the-way stop remind the weary, thirsty traveler that today’s drinks are no longer simple decisions between water, coffee, or tea, and now each one comes in varieties of flavors. There are drinks to meet every person’s preference, but everyone knows when it comes to quenching thirst, the best choice is just plain water.
And so, before the traveler announces his choice, the waitress automatically puts some ice in a glass, fills it with water and places it on the counter in front of him. As he drinks, the two begin to talk, which is what often happens, a quenched thirst invites conversation.
Push that scene back into today’s Gospel setting and the counter becomes a well, the weary traveler becomes Jesus, and the waitress becomes a Samaritan woman at the time of noon… with two changes; Jesus must ask for a drink, and their conversation is filled with tension and false impressions.
The tension is Jesus is a Jew speaking to a woman (a taboo for a Jewish man who only speaks to his wife in the privacy of the home) and worse than that, the woman is a Samaritan, an arch-enemy of Jews and vice-a-versa.
Yet, Jesus asks her to draw Him a drink from the well, and, as can happen, He starts the conversation about well water versus spring water as He says,
'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.’
Jesus knows, even as He drinks to satisfy His physical thirst, she has a much deeper thirst that the well’s water cannot quench. It’s obvious in her coming to draw at high noon to avoid the villagers who fill their jugs in the early morning. She wants to escape their shunning her, gossiping about her, twisting her life into a sordid, scandalous story, when it is really a story of one tragedy after another – that many preachers continue to turn into a sermon to pronounce judgment on those who are “that kind of woman!”
I must confess, in years past, that is how I labeled her as I misread her having had five husbands and not married to the one with whom she is living. (vs. 18) “Had five husbands” – that means she has been widowed FIVE times, and without a roof over her head, food on her table, clothing to cover her body, might she have had to let
herself be taken in at a price!
Is it as a servant or an arrangement the man will not legalize? We aren’t told. (Reference: David Lose, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN) All we do know is that her plight has her drinking from the bitter cup of tragedy,
which only Jesus sees and knows all the wells in the world cannot quench the thirst of her mind and soul. She knows it too, as she begs,
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty,
or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
And Jesus answers, “I am he, the one to whom you are speaking - “living water.”
He is offering her the drink beyond all drinks. Her plea is carried forward in people, usually young adults, who come to our church office asking to do volunteer service to work off hours for a DUI arrest. My heart aches for them. Most are victims of drugs and alcohol taken to self-medicate mental agony or a personal crisis and ongoing failures in finding work.
It is obvious what they need is to drink from the spring Jesus freely offers, and the joy is to see how many find their way to that spring when our parking lot is filled on Friday nights as people come to the AA and ALANON meetings,and extend the story of the Samaritan woman who “left her water jar and went back to the city” where she shouted, “Come and see!” Her invitation to them becomes their own celebration, ‘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.’
Jesus Christ, God coming in the garb of our humanness to be living water, not well water. Well water is still, in the language of the Gospel story, “well” also means “see” (to look into), water that serves as a mirror, mirroring the face –and the inner life that hides beyond that image, and so, even its coolness and whatever we now add to flavor it, giving us almost too many choices, only entertains and satisfies our taste buds for a moment.
There is the need to come again and again, and still have an unquenched, unmet inner thirst of mind and soul.
God in Christ offers Himself as “living water” like a spring whose flow doesn’t sit and stagnate and become a breeding pool for whatever will be harmful to body, mind, and soul.
I think of His offer whenever I pass a small pond by the side of Swamp Pike across from Limerick Garden of Memories. In the summer it turns green and becomes a breeding site for mosquitoes and no one cleans it up.
That pool serves as a constant reminder to keep the spring of worship and teaching and preaching open for the flow of Jesus’ life to turn us into people who become like those Samaritan villagers, confessing, ‘we believe…we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’
For, remember, when the woman saw her reflection mirrored in the water in the well, she also saw Jesus standing beside her; the same Jesus who stands beside us today offering Himself to us and all the villagers of the world to savor the drink beyond all drinks, and confess with the poet: (H.W. Farringtom)
I know not how that Bethlehem’s Babe could in the Godhead be;
I only know that Manger Child has brought God’s life to me.
I know not how that Calvary’s cross a world from sin could free;
I only know its matchless love has brought God’s love to me.