A Drink of Living Water

(John 4:4-42)

Have you ever thought about what it is in your relatively short span of life that has a true and lasting value?

I suggest the answer is love, and I suggest love because this is what God is all about, his love for us, a love that lasts. And if you consider the two greatest commandments, "Love the Lord your God" and "Love your neighbor as yourself," they support this notion. Last week you might remember that from our scripture reading we read that God so loved us that he sent Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sin.

But I find it interesting, if love is the one true thing of this life with lasting value it seems to me anyway to be the one thing we tend to spend very little time nurturing.

Most human beings spend a whole lot more time and energy pursuing things like power, possessions, property, position, popularity, and prestige; all with the hope that these things will bring lasting satisfaction.

It seems to be endemic (common) to human nature to hunger and thirst for those things that lie beyond our reach. As it also seems to be in our human nature to take what we already have for granted. It's become rare for someone to recognize the good in what we already have, and to have the wisdom to treasure it and give thanks to God for it. Well, as we consider our scripture reading this morning we hear of a Samaritan woman who discovers something of true and lasting value and then shares her discovery with others from her village.

Much of the power of our scripture reading this morning begins with having some understanding of the context in which Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well.

  • We need to understand that in the days of Jesus no self-respecting Jew would set foot in Samaria, but Jesus did. Scripture tells us that Jesus had to pass through Samaria to go from Judea to Galilee. The Samaritans were viewed by Jews as unclean people; they didn't worship God in the right place; they didn't perform the proper religious rituals; and in their past they intermarried with non-Jews. The truth is most Jews would plan their journey around Samaria rather than take the shorter route which would require them to go through the land of the Samaritans, but Jesus did.
  • No Jew would plan to ever receive anything from a Samaritan. Jews were constantly reminded of the rabbinic saying, "better to eat the flesh of a swine than to eat Samaritan bread," but again, Jesus did.
  • Also, no Jewish man would stoop so low to speak to a woman in the street, never mind a Samaritan woman. "Better to bury the Torah than to entrust it to a woman," the rabbis were fond of saying, but Jesus did.
  • And it was a woman, a Samaritan, whom Jesus asked for a drink. No honest Jew would speak to any Samaritan, especially one who was a woman, and particularly one who was a social outcast because of her questionable reputation, but Jesus did.

In our scripture reading Jesus challenged the societal barriers present in that day and broke with all the cultural norms. We experienced the same in this country as women were eventually given the right to vote, and African-Americans were freed from slavery and segregation. It took people who were willing to stand up for justice and to challenge what had become the norm for our culture, just like Jesus did.

Now Jesus did the unthinkable and asked for a drink from this woman, and then he gave the Samaritan woman a drink from the living water that he came to bring, the living water that he was.

Something happens to the woman in her conversation with Jesus. Here she is standing in front of Jesus a Jew at Jacob's well, again something unheard of "back in the day" as they say. Now she must be wondering if this man is thinking that she's unclean and detestable, after all this is what the folks of her village had been telling her and convinced her of.

But to her surprise Jesus doesn't respond in the typical Jewish fashion, of the men of that day, or the way those in her village typically responded to her. Jesus recognizes that this woman is marginalized, exploited, oppressed, and considered contaminated by a culture more concerned with the purity of law than with God, and Jesus wasn't playing that game.

Jesus recognizes that this woman is desperately thirsty herself; she thirsts for life, a life that her culture denied her; a life she had to literally struggle and make for herself in a culture that is unforgiving in its giving of value, purpose, and self-esteem. And Jesus knows that she struggles to draw life for herself, just as much as she struggles to draw water from the well by herself in the hot noonday sun.

So Jesus keeps pressing the woman and says, "If you truly 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."

Now the woman is pretty intrigued by Jesus words, especially when Jesus goes on to say, "Those who drink of the water I give them will never be thirsty. The water I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life."

Well by this time the woman becomes very interested in what Jesus is saying, so she puts down her jar and says, "Sir give me this water so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water."

At first the woman misunderstands, taking what Jesus is saying literally, much like Nicodemus did in last week's scripture reading. And it isn't until Jesus asks about her husband that the light bulb goes off and she begins to understand. It's at this point she realizes Jesus knows everything about her, and she begins to see him as more than a Jewish man or teacher, she sees him as a prophet.

It's now that Jesus is ready to reveal to her the truth of who he is, because the woman's heart and soul are now ready to receive the truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who knows and proclaims all things.

In affect Jesus is saying, "I know who you are, and now you know who I am; I am the Messiah and you my friend are a precious child of God."

This is true of folks today. People won't receive the living water from Christ until their hearts are ready to receive it. Our role as disciples is to help these folks become ready to receive this divine drink, by planting the seeds of hope within their hearts through our witness to Christ in our lives, through our faith, through prayer, and by exhibiting compassion to others, in other words to faithfully live the two greatest commandments.

Again, in this scripture Jesus is breaking down all cultural norms and is demonstrating in a most profound way that God is for all people, and that God sent Jesus to be the living water for all people, regardless of race, social status, gender, popularity or position.

In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God delivers and redeems people from all walks of life and makes them whole again.

  • Just like the people of Jesus day how many people today, how many of us, have fallen victim to a life defined by the values and expectations of our families, friends, and culture?
  • How many of us focus more on what others say about us, rather than what God says about us? You know God doesn't create junk. All people are of sacred worth, and have a purpose under heaven!
  • How many of us blame others for the consequences of our lives, rather than taking responsibility for our own actions and choices? Now I'm not speaking of those born or raised in desperate and what seems to be hopeless situations, I'm speaking of those who make the choice to ignore the living water, choosing instead to fill their own water jars.

We can be so tempted on a daily basis to center our lives on things other than God. We focus our energies searching for security and hope in our social status, financial position, and good health, to the point we choose to quench our own thirst, ignoring the living water being offered to us.

Before too long we lose our way and we need to hear again the invitation of Jesus to accept the gift of God, his living water. We can learn a lot from the woman at the well. This Samaritan woman heard the invitation from Jesus, she accepted it, and was so excited to tell others about it that she ran back to her village leaving her water jug behind. She ran ahead to the village with the news of the living water Jesus offers, leaving her jar of water at the feet of Jesus.

In her joy, through the experience she had with Jesus, she gave up trying to make a life for herself from the culture she lived in; she now had received the life she thirsted for, true life as a gift from God. She was set free from the bondage of a culture focused on status, geographic location, and sin, and was received openly into the arms of her loving creator who never let her go in the first place.

As she left the well and rushed back to her community she proclaimed life to all who would hear her. And when the Samaritans heard her words they came and spent two days with Jesus, their Savior, and their thirst was also quenched. You see their hearts must have been changed too, other wise there's no way they would have listened to this woman they had already dismissed as an outcast.

This convinces me that God can soften even the most hardened hearts. According to John, this woman was the very first evangelist in Jesus ministry. How many of us come today, this third Sunday of Lent, with our water jar under our arms full of the life we desperately try to draw from the world of success, power, wealth, health, and self-interest, and yet we're still thirsty.

You see, what we thirst for is the water only Jesus can give. We need the life that only a follower of Jesus can share, the life of faithful discipleship. As our Lord invited the woman of Samaria that day, he invites us today to leave our water jars at the feet of Jesus, and to receive our true life back from him as a gift, a gift of grace. So I ask you now, have you found life in Jesus Christ, so much so you're willing to leave all your struggles and burdens at the feet of Jesus?

Have you found such a life in Jesus that you want to go and tell others about it, are you ready to invite others to come to the well of the living water? You know there are people in our community with water jars filled to the brim of everything the world can ever give them, but they're still thirsty. You and I are called to lead them to Jesus; we are called to invite them into a relationship with God's hope for the world, Jesus Christ.

Just as the Samaritan woman did, all we need to do is invite people to come to the well where Jesus is already waiting for them. And if we exhibit a deep genuine compassion for others they will come, and then Jesus will take it from there. As we approach our Easter celebration in a couple of weeks I encourage you to leave your water jugs behind, and bring someone with you on Easter Sunday. Just get them to the well on Easter because Jesus is already here waiting, he's waiting for all of us. Jesus our living water will quench our thirst and give us life-everlasting! Amen.

In addition to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Bible the following resources inspired and/or were used in part in the preparation of this sermon: Lectionary Homiletics, Vol. XIX, Number 2, February 2008/March 2008.

Read other messages by Pastor Wade