Sunday, March 15, 2020

Living water, eternal life

Sunday, March 15, 2020

John 4:5-42



I spent a lot of time this week wondering about this woman Jesus talks with. She has long been described as undesirable, that’s why she goes to the well in the middle of the day. Yet, at the end of the story, she runs to tell everyone about Jesus, and they welcome her, responding to her by believing her. So, why does she come to the well at midday instead of in the cool of the morning?


I suspect it is because she has had a difficult life. Perhaps she married young, and her husband died after a few years. Then, she married again, and another husband died. And again. Finally, she is tired of burying husbands, and chooses to live with a man who offers her a place to live. She is filled with grief. Perhaps she has also never been able to have children – more grief.


Going to the well in the morning exposes her to all the young moms and their children, and the grandmas. Every one of them is a silent reminder of what our woman has lost, even though they warmly welcome her at the well. So, she chooses to avoid the happy crowd and go by herself to the well later in the day.


Sychar is a town in Samaria. At one time, Jews and Samaritans were one people, just different tribes of Israel. But, at Jesus’ time, they were different enough to despise each other. They have different religious traditions, different views on Scripture and Commandments. The two groups of people usually avoided each other. Jews normally travelled around Samaria instead of through it, adding miles and hours to their trip.


I lived for a few years in the 1990s in St Joseph, Michigan. It is a mostly white, middle class to upper class community. Across the river is Benton Harbor, a mostly black, mostly lower class and poor community. The two cities are at the mouth of the river where it joins Lake Michigan. It is a beautiful area, with beaches, parks, rivers, and woods surrounding the cities.


At one time, Benton Harbor was the place to be, a tourist attraction, with large hotels downtown and beautiful mansions along pleasant roads and along the rivers. Manufacturing and nearby Lake Michigan kept things hopping and successful.


But things changed. Industry failed, moved south, or around the world. Some of them became superfund sites. The mansions became multifamily homes, then run-down homes, and finally, unlivable buildings. Downtown Benton Harbor lost its businesses and looked like a wasteland, in comparison to St Joe which continues to thrive.


To get from St Joe to Benton Harbor, there are several bridges. One goes from downtown to downtown, others go through suburban or rural areas. I know many people who would drive ten or fifteen extra miles to avoid driving through downtown Benton Harbor. It was a response to the rumors of danger. It was a response to a racist attitude many St Joe residents held toward the people of Benton Harbor.


I think this is what it must have been like for the Jews who chose to avoid Samaria; fear and racism kept them apart.


Yet, Jesus intentionally chooses to travel straight through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. A lot of the area is desert, wilderness, long distances between towns, so Jesus is literally thirsty. While the disciples move on to get food for them all to eat, Jesus stops to talk with this woman who is at the well.


It’s important to remember that men did not speak directly to women not in their family. Especially, men did not speak to foreign, Samaritan, women. Last week, we read the story of Nicodemus, the Pharisee, who comes to Jesus in the dark. They have a theological conversation and Nick struggles to understand what Jesus means.

This week, an unnamed woman speaks openly with Jesus, and works to make sense of what he is telling her. When she gets that he knows her, the depths of her wounded heart, she begins to make the connections. Jesus is not talking about putting a well in her backyard. He is talking about being a well in her heart. This well is filled with living water, water that gives meaning to her sad life.


Jesus describes this as eternal life.


We are familiar with thinking of eternal life as the life we will have with Jesus after we die. We climb the stairway to heaven and live there forever. We are promised that there is some sort of life after our earthly death, though there is no specific description of just what it will be like. 


Jesus adds another meaning to this term. Eternal life, for Jesus, means having a relationship with God while we are alive, long before we die. Eternal life is rich, quenching our thirst for meaning by remembering that God is always present, remembering that we are God’s beloved children.


The Samaritan woman recognizes that Jesus must be the promised Messiah. She is so impressed with him, she leaves behind her water jar and runs to tell the people in the town about him. Many people come to meet Jesus, and he stays with them for two days. They believe him, and they believe in him. 

This woman has become known as an apostle called St Photina because of her belief in Jesus and her willingness to share the good news of Jesus with her community.


This week, while you are home staying away from the Covid-19 virus, I hope you will spend some time thinking about how having Jesus in your life can quench your thirst for meaning in your life. Whenever you drink some water, remember that Jesus is a well gushing up inside you, giving you life, giving you hope, giving you love. And, while you are at it, be like the Samaritan woman, and share some water with someone who is thirsty for some good news.