I think we all know the importance of water. Water is the most basic of human necessities, we are lucky that where we live water is easily accessible, in our daily life we do not necessarily have to worry about having enough water to drink. But we are also in the middle of a drought here and we know the importance of the water we use.
Water is the most basic symbol for life. In last week’s Gospel Jesus told the Pharisee Nicodemus that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” Nicodemus does not understand this, but this week we hear more about water both in the Old Testament reading and the Gospel. In Exodus the Israelites are lost in the Wilderness and are starting to regret their freedom as they get more and more thirsty. God tells Moses to go to a certain stone and strike it with his staff and out pours a spring of water. In the Gospel Jesus speaks to a woman at Jacob’s well and tells her about a water that will quench her thirst forever.
The idea that Jesus speaks to a woman at a well may not sound all that shocking to us, but the early Christians would have been amazed by this story. Jews and Samaritans did not talk to each other. As far as Jews were concerned Samaritans were heretics, and were considered unclean. And Samaritans thought the same thing of the Jews. And what was worse, this particular Samaritan was a woman. Women had no place in public life, they were not allowed to worship with men and in general Jewish men did not have much contact with women in public, particularly if the woman was a stranger and a Samaritan. Now of course we know that Jesus did not think much of these social rules.
But this particular woman was also an outsider from her own community. John makes a point of saying that it was about noon when Jesus stopped by the well. Women usually went to the well together in the morning. It gave them the opportunity to socialize and gossip as they did their chores. But this woman went to the well alone in the middle of the day. As Jesus talks to her he reveals to her that he knows why she is an outcast, she has had several husbands over the course of her life and she was living with another man who wasn't her husband.
So when Jesus turned to this woman and asked her to give him a drink of water he broke every social expectation about how a Jewish Man and a Samaritan woman were supposed to interact with each other. So Imagine her surprise when this Jewish stranger looked up and asked her for water. She knew that by accepting water from her, Jesus would be breaking Jewish laws of purity. So she asked him “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” But Jesus is not fazed by her reaction and says that if she had asked, he would give her living water. Like Nicodemus Last week, the Samaritan woman does not understand at first what Jesus is talking about. She thinks he is talking about normal, everyday water, but we know that the water that Jesus offers her is different, like the new birth Jesus tells Nicodemus about, the living water that Jesus offers to this woman is Spiritual in nature. When Jesus offers the Samaritan woman water that will quench her thirst forever, she does not really understand, but she knows this living water is something she wants. But Jesus does not seem to give her anything, nor does he try to explain to her what he means by living water. Instead Jesus suddenly seems to change the subject, and instead of giving her water he asks her to go get her Husband. What was Jesus doing? He tells her about living water, but when she asks for some he starts to talk to her about her personal life.
We all have emotional barriers around our hearts that we build up to protect ourselves from pain, but the problem with barriers is that they tend not to be too discriminating about what they let in and out. We turn our hearts to stone so that we do not get hurt, but then what good is a heart of stone? So when Jesus asks this woman to go and get her husband, he struck a blow right to the heart of the woman. The fact that she was living with a man who was not her husband was the very reason she was an outcast within her society. What did she think was going on when she admitted to Jesus that she didn’t have a husband? Did she think she was about to be scorned and rejected by yet another person?
But Jesus does not reject her. He starts to tell her exactly what she is hiding, without any judgment he reveals to her that he knows the source of the pain and shame that she is trying to protect herself from. Jesus let her know that he truly saw her, with all of her faults, and he did not reject her.
And suddenly her heart was broken open. Like Moses in the Old Testament, Jesus struck the rock that was this woman’s heart and out flowed a spring of water. Step by step Jesus takes down the Samaritan woman’s defenses.
By telling the woman about herself, Jesus showed her who he was. By confirming her true identity, he revealed his own identity to her. But she was still not quite ready to believe. The Samaritans worshipped on Mount Gerazim and that was where they believed the Messiah would appear, but she also knew that the Jews thought the Messiah would appear in the Temple in Jerusalem. If this Jewish man who seemed to know her so well was truly the Messiah, how could he also be the Messiah for the Samaritans? But Jesus calms her fears and tells her that soon it will not matter where you worship. “I know the Messiah is coming,” she says, “when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” And in response to that Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
In that instant her life truly did change. The man she was speaking to was not just a rebellious Jewish man who wanted a drink of water. This was the person they all had been waiting for. And the living spring of water flowed inside of her. She was suddenly not a lonely outcast, but an evangelist. With this new life-giving spring flowing inside of her she was fearless, armed with the knowledge that she was known and loved, she was suddenly compelled to share that love with everyone. It didn’t matter that this was the very society that had made her hate herself, she had a spring of life giving love inside of her that had to be shared.
So she ran into her village saying, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” Jesus told her everything she had ever done, and showed her that she was loved. The same living spring can be found in each of us if we let our hearts be broken open by our faith in God’s love. We do not need to fear droughts or the inaccessibility of Christ’s living water. It is in us and while our bodies still need physical water, God’s love for us is our true strength, our true courage, our true refreshment.