John 04:05-26 / Lent 3A / 27 March 2011 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
She came for well water; she found living water. She came to quench her thirst; she found the cleansing of her sin. She came to Jacob’s well; she found Jesus, the source of living water.
She was a Samaritan, this woman who came to Jacob’s well with a water jug balanced on her head at high noon. I picture her with lipstick just a little too red; hair dyed just a bit too much. Maybe cracking gum. Living in a double-wide trailer on the other side of town. Quick wit, sassy smile, a few too many lines around her eyes. They write country songs about her. By the conventions of her day, she had three strikes against her: she was a woman, she was a Samaritan, she had been married five times and was shacked up with number six. Three reasons why any respectable rabbi would not have given her the time of day. Yet Jesus addresses her: “Give me a drink.” We don’t know if Jesus ever got his drink of water from her. It doesn’t say. But we do know that she got a lot more from Jesus that she could have bargained for, or hoped for.
The scene is Sychar in Samaria, near the field that Jacob had given to his favored son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, supplying water for the town. The Samaritans were proud of their holy sites. Though the Judeans viewed them as half-breed Israelites and heretics, the Samaritans had the lion’s share of the tourist attractions, including Jacob’s well.
Jesus isn’t so much interested in a drink of water as He is in 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.” Jesus didn’t need her glass of water, but she needed Him. And so He starts off a conversation with this sassy Samaritan girl over the well of Jacob. Well water and living water. Well water you worked for, as she worked for it, every day. Every day she came to the well with her water jug expertly balanced on her head. Every day she lowered the rope and then hauled up the water. Every day she carried the water on her head back to the town. Work, work, work. That’s what well water is all about.
No so with living water. Living water is flowing water freely flowing, water on the move from its source to you. You do nothing, the water does everything. Living water flows in the way of faith, with you at the receiving end. Jesus is that Source of living water, a stream that was opened at His death when water and blood flowed from His side to supply the Sacraments. Living water. A fountain of forgiveness flowing from Calvary to you in a baptismal stream.
The sassy Samaritan is curious. “Sir, you don’t even have a bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get this living water? Are you great than our father Jacob? (You bet He is!) He gave us this well and drank for it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Samaritan pride kicks in. They had Jacob’s well. How cool was that? Centuries of Israelite history in that water. What could Jesus offer that was greater than that?
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.” That’s how it is with our work. Every day the same grind. She’d be back at noon tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give hi will become in hi a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Wow! Now that’s something new! No more thirst. Such a deal! “Give me some of this water,” she says, “so I won’t thirst again.” No more trips to Jacob’s well. No more balancing water jugs on her head. But of course that’s not what Jesus has in mind. She’s thinking earthly things; He’s speaking of heavenly things, just as with the conversation last week with Nicodemus.
And so back to earth. “Go, call your husband, and come here,” Jesus says. It wasn’t socially proper for a man to be speaking to a woman in public anyway, so better to call her husband. Only one little problem. She doesn’t have a husband. It turns out our sassy Samaritan is shacking up with a man who is not her husband. And she has a record. A long record. Five husbands and now a live-in. The live-in is not surprising when you realize that the rabbis usually wouldn’t go beyond three marriages. Now it doesn’t say she was divorced five times, so don’t go reading too much into this. She might have been widowed five times. We don’t know. We really have no idea what her past was, though our beady little minds love to fill in the blanks. Only Jesus does, and He’s not saying.
She changes the subject. “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” He’s that and more, but it’s a start. So as long as she has a prophet on the line, how about answering an age-old theology question. Which mountain should we worship on? The Jews say Jerusalem, the Samaritans say Gerazim. What say you, Jesus?
And now things get good. “Woman (and Jesus is being polite here), believe me, the hour is coming when you’ll worship neither on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know. (Is that possible? I guess it is. Jesus just said it. You can worship in ignorance!) “We Jews worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Hmmmm. That’s not terribly seeker-sensitive now is it? First He calls her ignorant, then He says that salvation comes from the Jews not the Samaritans, so they have it all wrong. But that’s just to clear the deck for what’s coming. Jesus doesn’t have much patience with religious debates. He’s about rescuing sinners from Sin and Death.
“The hour is coming and now is. Now is. Now in her hearing. Now also in yours. Now with Jesus standing there in front of her. The time now is when true worshippers, that includes you and me, will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.” And you should capitalize those words Spirit and Truth because they are not some sort of abstract spiritual nonsense, but the other Persons of the Holy Trinity. True worshippers of the Father worship the Father in the Holy Spirit and in the Truth, namely Jesus the Son, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
God (the Father) is spirit. And those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth. No one comes to the Father except through the Son. No one comes to the Son except by the Holy Spirit. Worship, true worship, is not about this mountain or that mountain, this temple or that temple. God is spirit, and He is worshipped ultimately and finally not in a temple built by human hands, though He was once worshipped that way. The hour has come, with the coming of Jesus, that God is worshipped wherever and whenever God is running the signs, the marks of His working: the living water of Baptism, the body and blood of the Supper. That’s where true worshippers are found. Those are the worshippers the Father seeks and the Word and Spirit create.
“I know that Messiah is coming and when He comes, He’ll explain everything to us,” the sassy Samaritan says. And here’s the kicker: “I AM, the one speaking to you.” That’s what Jesus literally says. “I AM is the one who is speaking to you.” I AM, YHWH, in the flesh, is speaking to you.
And the story doesn’t end there. For that sassy Samaritan, the story begins there. She leaves her water jug at the well and runs back to town and tells all her friends and neighbors about this guy “who told me everything I ever did and might actually be the Messiah.” And the whole town went to meet Jesus and they believed Him too, all because of this sassy Samaritan with a messed up life who met Jesus at Jacob’s well one day at high noon and started talking about water.
So what about you? It’s a fun story with a very colorful character and great dialogue, but what does it have to do with you? When you read this story and ponder its details, you begin to realize a few things. You realize that Jesus actually came to save sinners. Real sinners. Sinners with messed up lives that are beyond cleaning up. I’m sure that Samaritan woman was reminded of her messed up life every day as she walked to Jacob’s well and the men stared at her and the women gossiped behind her back. And here she meets this Jewish rabbi who dares to ask her for a drink and offers her living water of eternal life, free of charge.
You realize that our life under the law is a lot like that Samaritan woman’s daily drudgery. Pulling water up from an ancient well, carrying it home. Day after day, the same grind. But Jesus offers something different: living water. A flowing refreshing stream of life and Spirit from Him to you. It flows from His spear-pierced side to your baptismal font. Living, Holy Spirit-ed water bringing you the new birth from above, making you a new creation, joining you to Jesus’ death and life. This isn’t water you work for, it’s water that works for you, a washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit, a washing of water with the Word.
In hearing this story, you realize that true worship is not about this mountain or that mountain. It’s not about worshipping God in the sunset or the mountains or the desert or the beach or some lovely forrest setting. Nor is it about grand cathedrals and gothic temples and whatever else our hands have built. True worship occurs in that tiny gather, as few as two or three gathered in the Name of Jesus. True worship occurs where the Word of Jesus is, where the Spirit of Jesus is, where baptismal waters flow, where Jesus is giving out His body as the bread of life, His blood as wine to gladden our hearts with forgiveness. True worship occurs when the Word of Christ is preached and heard and believed.
True worship happens when sinners gather around Jesus who truly knows everything we have done, as He knew that Samaritan woman’s life, and the wonder of it all is that He forgives us. He wipes the slate of our lives clean with His own blood. He takes the mess of our lives and redeems it, makes good out of it. He turns that sassy Samaritan with the shack-up boyfriend into a one woman evangelism committee. Not exactly our idea of an evangelism chairman, but then we’re not the Lord.
She is a shining example of what St. Paul wrote in this morning’s epistle, and it’s worth hearing a second time. “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but god shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. His forgiveness comes ahead of our repentance and our faith. Like a spring of living water that has been flowing long before we showed up for a drink, long before we knew our thirst, while we were sinners, enemies of God, God made peace in Christ and forgave us.
Are you thirsty? Then come and drink. Do you thirst for righteousness? There is a spring of living water flowing to you. Do you wish to worship God in Spirit and Truth? Then you have come to the right place. For where Baptism, Body, Blood and Word are, there Jesus is, there the Spirit is, there the Father is, there His true worshippers are.
In the name of Jesus,