Living Water

Romans 5:1-11

 Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have[a] peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so we boast[b] of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast[c] of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope. This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.

For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose. It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. But God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! By his blood[d] we are now put right with God; how much more, then, will we be saved by him from God’s anger! 10 We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son. Now that we are God’s friends, how much more will we be saved by Christ’s life! 11 But that is not all; we rejoice because of what God has done through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has now made us God’s friends.

 

John 4:1-26

The Pharisees heard that Jesus was winning and baptizing more disciples than John. (Actually, Jesus himself did not baptize anyone; only his disciples did.) So when Jesus heard what was being said, he left Judea and went back to Galilee; on his way there he had to go through Samaria.

In Samaria he came to a town named Sychar, which was not far from the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the trip, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.)

The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan—so how can you ask me for a drink?” (Jews will not use the same cups and bowls that Samaritans use.)[a]

10 Jesus answered, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water? 12 It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well; he and his children and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?”

13 Jesus answered, “Those who drink this water will get thirsty again, 14 but those who drink the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring which will provide them with life-giving water and give them eternal life.”

15 “Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.”

16 “Go and call your husband,” Jesus told her, “and come back.”

17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.

Jesus replied, “You are right when you say you don’t have a husband. 18 You have been married to five men, and the man you live with now is not really your husband. You have told me the truth.”

19 “I see you are a prophet, sir,” the woman said. 20 “My Samaritan ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we should worship God.”

21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the time will come when people will not worship the Father either on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans do not really know whom you worship; but we Jews know whom we worship, because it is from the Jews that salvation comes. 23 But the time is coming and is already here, when by the power of God’s Spirit people will worship the Father as he really is, offering him the true worship that he wants. 24 God is Spirit, and only by the power of his Spirit can people worship him as he really is.”

25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah will come, and when he comes, he will tell us everything.”

26 Jesus answered, “I am he, I who am talking with you.”

 

On the face of it, the text seems pretty simple. Jesus and his disciples, his friends, are making a little trip from, Judea in the south Israel up into the North of Israel to Galilee.

In-between Judea and Galilee is the land of Samaria, so it make sense when the text says that they had to go through Samaria.

A straight line from Jerusalem up to Nazareth goes right through the middle of Samaria.

 

But what the text doesn’t tell you that in Jesus time Jews didn’t take the quickest route from North to South. There actually was so much enmity between Jews and Samaritans that most Jews spent five days walking instead of three days walking.

 

They actually went east from Jerusalem and crossed the river Jordan and walked up the east side of the Jordan till they got passed Samaria and then crossed over the Jordan before the seas of Galilee and went into Galilee.

 

The feud between Jews and Samaritans had gone on for hundreds of years. You see, after the Northern kingdom of Israel was defeated and most of the Jew killed or taken into captivity, the Jews left in the region of Samaria intermarried with all the different races of people brought in by the Assyrians, until basically a new group of people were identified as Samaritans. They were sort of part Jewish and part something else in their genetic heritage. And over the years even though they believed in God, they created their own holy mountain different than the Holy mountain, Mount Sinai of the Jews.

When the Jews came back to rebuild Jerusalem after rather exile, the returning Jews who were more pure quarreled and fought with the Samaritans, over issues of racial purity, theology and land.

They became enemies, and although they were not at war at the time of Jesus, Jews considered Samaritans unclean.

 

So when the scriptures say that Jesus had to go through Samaria, it may be a theological statement about the nature of Jesus.

 

Anyway, Jesus and the disciples are on their way and they come to a well. Actually, it is a famous well. It is the well of Jacob, one of the Patriarchs of the Jews.

They sit down and Jesus rests while the disciples go into the nearest town to get some Big Macs from Mcdonalds.

 

And while Jesus is sitting there a woman comes by herself around noon, to draw water and Jesus asks her for a drink.

 

To us it might seem normal, but to Jews this would be shocking.

This would be offensive. Even the woman was shocked, because she even asks him. How is it that you, a Jew, would ask me for a drink, because Jews don’t have anything to do with Samaritans…

And because any utensil a Samaritan touches would be considered unclean.

 

Surely Jesus knew the Rabbinic saying: “Better to eat the flesh of swine than to eat Samaritan bread.

 

And his disciples are away getting Samaritan bread…shocking…

 

Jesus wants to defile himself not only by dealing with a Samaritan but by putting his lips to a Samaritan cup.

 

 

And it is even worse than that, because this Samaritan is not only a Samaritan, but she is a she.

 

Jewish men didn’t talk to women in public. They didn’t even talk to their wives in public. Often the wife was to walk behind them in their proper place.

And you certainly didn’t talk to women about the law and things of God. That was for men.

“Better to bury the Torah, that entrust it with a woman.” Was another Rabbinic saying. An yet another.

“Better to teach your daughter lust than to teach her the Law.”

 

Well, maybe you say that we have come a long way baby. And yes we have. But we have further to go.

 

At least I have taken out of the liturgy of weddings that part in the service where it used to be said: “Who gives this woman to married to this man?”

 

What up with that? Notice nobody gives the man away. This comes from an understanding of woman more as property than equals with males.

 

You know we haven’t even had a 100 years in Canada with women considered persons.

 

We are just over 50 years of women allowed to be ordained as elders and ministers in the Presbyterian Church and there are still churches who will not let women preach or be ministers, pastors or priests.

 

We still have a long way to go with equality and rights for women.

 

So She is. Samaritan.

And she is a woman.

That is two strikes against her.

 

And she is a bad woman.

 

Now don’t get me wrong. Jesus doesn’t say she is a bad woman. Jesus treats her as a peer or even a friend, but there is an inference to this fact that some in her community would see her as a cursed or bad woman, but the fact that she has had five husbands and the one she is living with is not her husband.

In Jesus day, she might have been extremely unlucky and five men married her and died. If so, she would be considered cursed. She might have had five husbands divorce her and in a small town if she had five husbands divorce her, the gossip would be about that there is something wrong with her.

She has come alone in the heat of the day to draw water, so one could make the conclusions that at the very least, she is not accepted by the rest of the women, who would go together in the cool of the day.

 

So again at the very least she is an outcast from most of the people in the village…

And so you can understand when she wants the water that means that she will never have to come back and draw water again.

“Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.”

Don’t you here the longing in her voice.

 

The disciples return on the scene and they are as amazed as anybody that Jesus would be speaking to a Samaritan and a woman, but the text said that nobody had the courage to ask him “What the hell do you think you are doing Jesus?”

 

Even though they are thinking it.

 

And the woman leaves, but you know what. She goes around town preaching about Jesus.

Hey everybody, there is a guy up at Jacob’s well and he must be a prophet or something.

Because not only could he see right through me, he didn’t judge me, he spoke to me as an equal, he respected me and he was so, so kind…and he is a Jew…

 

Some scholars say that this Samaritan woman was the first evangelist. They also say that the first one to hold Jesus was a woman. The first one at the empty tomb was a woman, and the first one to talk to Jesus after the resurrection was a woman…

And we still have people wondering whether women should be in the pulpit, or should be equal to men.

 

And so, she preaches to the people of the town and a bunch of them come out to see Jesus and Jesus and his disciples stay with those unclean Samaritans eating and drinking with them for two days.

 

And probably not the upper crust. Probably other outcast sand losers and sinners and ne’er-do-wells.

 

And when she comes back she doesn’t mention the drink, the living water again does she?

 

But she was an unclean person, a Samaritan and Jesus treated her like a human.

 

She was a women and Jesus treated her as and equal.

 

She was an outcast or had a bad reputation and Jesus treated her with respected.

 

You see that is to be given the drink that wells up to eternal life.

 

In 1966, an eleven-year-old African American boy moved with his parents and family to an all-white neighborhood in Washington, D.C. He wondered what would happen: his parents sheltered him as completely as possible, but nevertheless he had heard frightening stories about what happened when black people crossed what was known as the “color line.”

 

One morning shortly after the family settled in their new home, he sat with his two brothers on the front porch. People walked by on the sidewalk, looked directly at them. No one smiled. No one said hello. It confirmed all the stories he had heard. Years later he wrote, “I knew we were not welcome. I knew we would not be liked. I knew we would have no friends here.”

But then a white woman walking home from work, on the sidewalk across the street, did the most amazing thing. She smiled. She said, “Welcome.” She disappeared into her house and emerged a few minutes later with a tray of drinks and cream-cheese-and-jelly sandwiches. She brought them across the street and offered them to the anxious, frightened children sitting on the porch steps.

 

That moment, he wrote later, changed his life. At a critically tense moment in his formation, at a moment of difficult race relations throughout the United States, a simple gesture showed him that a black family could feel at home in this new place, that relationships across the wide gulf of race were possible. He never forgot that moment that changed his life.

The little boy is now a law professor at Yale. His name is Stephen Carter, and he has written a book about what he learned that day. The book is entitled Civility, and in it he discusses the loss of civility in contemporary society and concludes that religion could be part of the antidote, the healing. The woman was Sara Kestenbaum, “a religious Jew who was simply doing what her religion told her to do,” Carter wrote.

“To this day I can close my eyes and feel on my tongue the smooth sweetness of the cream-cheese-and-jelly sandwiches that I gobbled on that summer afternoon when I learned how a single act of genuine and unassuming civility can change a life forever” (cited by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in To Heal a World: The Ethics of Responsibility, pp. 44–45).

 

That boy received the drink that wells up to eternal life.

 

 

That’s what Jesus did for a Samarian woman one day long ago.

 

And it is the basic Christian message, the promise that comes across twenty centuries to you and me this morning.

 

No matter who you are—self-confident or not sure you are acceptable to others or to God for whatever reason; no matter your upbringing, your lack of a degree from an elite university, your modest job you think is unimportant, your modest income and monetary worth, the color of your skin, your gender or sexual orientation.

 

No matter where you are on your spiritual journey—regular church member, comfortable with your spirituality and beliefs, or not a member, not sure what you believe, searching, but you’re really here because someone told you the music is great.

 

No matter what you believe or find you cannot believe.

 

No matter what you are doing with your life at the moment—working or not working; parenting or not parenting; married or not.

 

No matter what, the radical, unlikely, and absolutely unique message of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ, God crosses all the boundaries and borders of our life and comes to each of us, wherever we are, whatever we are doing, whoever we have been in the past and who we are now.

It’s like those cream-cheese-and-jelly sandwiches.

 

Living water—to know that you are loved and accepted by God in Jesus Christ

 

You know a lot has happened from that day to this.

 

We don’t usually have to worry about Samaria. We think Samaria is far away, and we build fences and gates, and border walls to keep the Samaritans out.

 

But the one thing is the same today.

 

We all have our Samaritans…

The ones we think are not good enough,

Holy enough,

Pure enough…

Who work the wrong job,

who have the wrong religion,

the wrong theology…

or the wrong morals

or the wrong lifestyle

or the wrong sexual orientation…

 

or who identify in a gender we don’t like…

of who vote for the wrong person, or who have the wrong political ideology,

or the wrong stand on the environment, or one’s right to die…

or the wrong whatever…

 

I have my own Samaritans, don’t you.

 

 

I have standards about who is acceptable and who is not acceptable, don’t you?

 

So, I don’t want to go to Samaria…

I won’t go into Samaria…

I don’t have to go to Samaria….

 

Except…

Except if I want to follow Jesus.

 

Because Jesus walks right smack dab into the middle of my Samaria and your Samaria…

And says to those unclean lowlifes….

 

You want a drink?

You want a drink of love?

You want a drink of forgiveness?

You want a drink of acceptance?

 

You know a person could be crucified for that?

 

I suppose the only way we can follow Jesus into Samaria is the fact that while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us and gave us our very first drink of living water.   Amen.