Exodus 17:1-7 Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11 John 4:5-42
The Savior of the World brings water.
When I was in high school, Frank Herbert’s novel Dune was very popular. It is the story of life on a desert planet, where hallucinogenic sand spice is mined and traded. Yet on that desert planet, water was an even more precious commodity. The people wore suits which collected and recycled the water in their breath. Early each morning, the peasants would collect the tiny drops of dew; they could not afford to squander even the most minute amount of liquid.
Our own planet seems to be moving toward desertification. One of the consequences of global warming may be the increased possibility that people will fight over water. In a world that values the “them that gots get more” way of thinking, the rich will get water while the poor die of thirst.
In a world that values scarcity, competition, survival of the fittest, life is a zero sum game. If you have something, I don’t. If you lose, I win. It’s a world defined by limits and by what is mine (it’s not yours).
The woman comes to the well from such a world, a world of scarcity and argument and lack of security. This is a woman on the margins: the Jews shun the Samaritans because of centuries-old religious differences. She does not have the protection of a husband, and has somehow run through five of them. Men like Nicodemus, the proper and pious man we met in last week’s gospel, would have nothing to do with a woman like this. But remember: men like Nicodemus, even though they seek what Jesus has to offer, don’t get it. Men like Nicodemus, circumscribed by propriety and piety, stay in the dark, in the world of limits and scarcity, a world of ordinary life, and ordinary water – when Jesus offers living water and eternal life.
Both the story from Exodus, of getting water from the rock, and the conversation Jesus has with the woman at the well, use water to make two points.
The water is everything God has to offer: it is pure grace, never-failing love. It is profligately abundant. It refuses to be limited or channeled or controlled or dammed-up. The eternal life Jesus describes is as miraculous and surprising as the water springing from the rock in the desert. It is a water that will quench all thirst for all time.
Such living water – such eternal life – is a gift which has nothing to do with worthiness. It is not something taken from the categorically “bad” and given to the “good.” Receiving it does not depend on your lack of sin. God did not save the children of
The Samaritan woman, who came from a group who broke every law the Jews held sacred -- laws they lived by so they could be closer to God – even these Samaritans, Jesus said – especially these Samaritans and people like them on the margins of proper society – these are the ones who understand that this living water leads to eternal life. This woman at the well “gets it” so strongly that she becomes the first missionary. She runs back to town and tells everyone that this man she met comes from God, that this teacher delivers the goods – the message that answers every question they ever had, the salve that soothes every wound, the water that fills every heart to overflowing. And these poor people, on the margins of
In these two stories from the Gospel of John – that of Nicodemus and of the unnamed Samaritan woman – we are meant to see what gets in the way between us and God. Things we cling to get in the way, things we are afraid to lose. These two stories contrast someone who has much to lose, and so chooses to stay in darkness, with someone who recklessly leaves everything behind to tell the good news of what she has seen and heard. So often, like Nicodemus, we let complicated things get in the way. The reality of God’s love, God’s presence, God’s living water is far simpler and more straightforward than we often allow. That is Paul’s point in his letter to the Romans. God comes to us in our human condition – in our sinfulness and suffering, in our ordinariness, in our shortcomings, in our failures. It is nothing we deserve; God just loves us.
So drink of the living water. There is plenty of it, for all eternity. It has nothing to do with success or how much money you have or what street you live on. Your daily life might be measured by these things, meted out like drops of water on the planet Dune. The spring of living water is different from that. It gushes and rushes, it is wasteful and profligate and never comes to and end. From that fountain we can drink to our hearts’ content.