By Paul Koch –
Think back to earlier this morning, think back to when your alarm clock went off and you eased out of bed. You gently put your feet on the floor and sat on the edge of the bed for a moment, not sure if you are excited to be up and moving or if it would just make more sense to roll back under the warm covers. It is a Sunday morning. The plan is to go to church – but for a moment you ask yourself, why? And I don’t mean some great philosophical inquiry into the meaning and purpose of religion, I mean why bother going this morning? Will it be that big of a deal if you just slept in? Would anyone miss you? Is it really all that important? After all, there is always next week or the week after that. It’s not like the church is going anywhere. Why do you go through the process? Getting up and showering, grabbing a cup of coffee and a quick bite to eat, getting the kids ready, rushing through one delay after another to gather in a house of worship… is it really all that important?
Imagine that when you arrived at church, what you found was a scene unlike anything you had expected. Instead of the usual group of people standing around talking quietly and politely as everyone filed into their usual spots, everything was cleared out of the sanctuary. No pews, no pulpit or lectern, no altar or communion rail, just a wide-open space. And it he middle of it all, right in the center of the space, there was a stone well. Upon closer examination, you see that it isn’t all that big, perhaps only a few feet in diameter. But looking in it seems quite deep. You can see some of the light reflecting off the water as you look down into it. There is a jar there sitting carefully on the side of the well. An unattractive and basic jar that is full of water but for some reason it is left sitting there. Who would go through the trouble of drawing the water from the well to just leave it behind?
Wells throughout most of the world are quite simply a source of life. When travel was done mostly by foot, a system of getting water from wells along the way was the difference between a successful journey and dying of thirst in the wilderness. As sources of life they were also center points for communities. In the morning before the heat of the day or in the evening when things cooled down the local women would gather around the well to draw the water needed for the day. There they would talk and confide in one another and then head off to commence with their various vocations. But at one particular well in a small town called Sychar in Samaria, not in the morning or in the evening but at three in the afternoon in the heat of the day, a woman comes to the well to draw water. But she doesn’t find the well vacant as she had expected for Jesus is sitting there. This experience will change her life.
Right at the beginning of their conversation you see that things are not following along in the typical run of the mill way. Just the fact that Jesus says, “Give me a drink” prompts a surprised response from this woman. “How is it that you a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” she says. You see the Jews and the Samaritans aren’t exactly friends. In fact, the Jews despised the Samaritans calling them half breeds and often treating them no better than a stray dog. The fact that Jesus asks for a drink is shocking. The separation between them would have been evident to anyone standing around. But Jesus speaks of overcoming separation as he directs this unnamed woman to his own identity and to the gift he brings. He says, “If you 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.” Living water is used throughout the Old Testament as a means of cleansing. It is not dead or stagnate water but it is fresh and renewing, a living gift.
Now she wonders about who he is. Is this man greater than Jacob who gave them the well? After all, the well is deep and he has nothing to draw the water up from it. How can he say that he can give living water? Ah, but it is not the water of the well that he is speaking about. Though the well means life in the wilderness, though it is necessary to endure physically on the earth, he is speaking about something greater. He says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Now think of this, this woman shows up at the well during the heat of the day to get some water and here our Lord is declaring that he can give a greater water, a water that will never dry up, a water that will form within the person a new spring, a living spring of water that will lead to eternal life.
Of course, how could she resist such a gift? She wants to have this water. She wants to stop coming to the well each and every day. And Jesus says, “Go, call you husband, and come here.” To which she says, “I don’t have a husband.” And Jesus replies that he knows she doesn’t have one, in fact she’s had five and now she is living with a man out of wedlock. In other words, we see now why she is coming to the well in the middle of the day instead of the morning and evening with the rest of the women. She is ostracized because of the way she has conducted her life. She is separated from the rest of her people. Our Lord brings to the surface the depth of her sin. She cannot hide it from him.
Her whole life is one mired in death. She is of an undesirable minority who has a life marked by sin and failure and she isn’t even sure where it is to seek true worship: on the mountain or in the Temple in Jerusalem? Yet here she is talking with Jesus. Here around this well she finds something new. Her nationality hasn’t cut her off. Her sinful past hasn’t cut her off. Her confusion about where to worship or how to worship hasn’t cut her off. She can still drink of the living water from Christ himself and so receive the unending blessings of the eternal God.
And so it was in the days of Moses as the Israelites moved through the wilderness. They find themselves without water in a place where they would die of thirst. They begin to cry out to Moses to save and provide for them. That is just what God does. In the midst of death, he brings forth life. At the command of God, Moses strikes a rock and out of it flows living water.
Living water isn’t found by what we produce. It has nothing to do with how well we draw the water or what time of day we do it or what building we go to drink it in. Whether you are wandering in the desert beginning to doubt the love and protection of your God, or whether you are hiding your sin coming to the well when no one else will condemn you, Christ still provides the rich and life giving water of life for you. The gift he gives is ever flowing, it cannot be exhausted. This is why he says it becomes a living spring within you. His gift of forgiveness and life actually bubbles up within you. You who have heard the Gospel, who repent and cling to the saving words of Christ alone for eternal life are given this gift of living water. And it is more than you need. There isn’t part of you, part of your life, or part of your history that isn’t quenched by this water. In fact, it is such a spring that it flows out of you into the lives of others.
Doesn’t it boggle your mind that you can hear the forgiveness of Christ proclaimed into your ears and you can head back out to try and live your life better? You can try and get it all straightened out. You will have some success, you will make some changes, you will start to get out there to draw your own water for a change to have your own control over things. But every time something goes awry. Just when you think you’ve got one thing straightened out, another thing seems to come undone. You finally get ahold of one particular sin and another one springs up. You think you’re controlling your lust, but your pride begins to go crazy. You think you’ve got ahold of your tongue, but your silent judgments go through the roof.
And so this is why you get out of bed in the morning. This is why you come to church. This is why you gather in Spirit and truth to hear the proclamation of the Lord. For you come to drink deep of living water. Here we gather around our Lord’s unending blessings and find life in the midst of death. Together we find a word that says to you today, “You are forgiven all of your sins. You are the holy ones of God and because of his gifts within you now is a spring of living water.”
In the end the woman says, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things.” And Jesus says, “I who speaks to you am he.” And she leaves her water jar there at the side of the well. She leaves her shame and failure. She leaves her efforts to do it on her own. She leaves it in the presence of our Lord. And she heads off to tell others the good news, for now there is a spring welling up within her.