Scripture: John 4:5-29a
Hymn: God Will Take Care of You
She rode in the back of my police cruiser. After she had threatened to attempt suicide, a family member called police and now I was transporting her to Dominion Hospital where they specialize in mental health concerns. For the entire ride she cried. When she was finally able to calm down, this is what she said: “No one understands me, and no one seems to care.”
As I continued driving, she started sharing the sordid stories from her past. She told me how she had hung out with the wrong crowds, was abused by her boyfriend, and began taking drugs to numb the pain. She felt embarrassed about her past mistakes, and just wanted to end it all. She worried that if she revealed all her problems and pain to her family, she would be rejected. After all, none of them really “understood her;” none of them ever bothered to listen to her.
People like her are far too common. Not so much in regard to attempting suicide, but rather not being understood or heard by someone. This is the same story that we see in our Scripture lesson. The Woman at the Well is story of us. Rev. David Sapp believes the dark side of our hearts is bigger than anyone knows. No one would be able to understand if we told them. No one would want to spend the time hearing our story. No one really “gets us.”[i]
Male or female, rich or poor, prominent in the community or unheard of, this condition is no respecter of persons. Jesus met such a person at Jacob’s well, located deep in the territory of Samaria. His encounter with her was so significant that when the Gospel writer sat down to record the events of Jesus’ life, he included this story.
When the woman came to the well, Jesus was sitting beside it, tired from his morning’s travel. He had nothing with which to draw water, and so he asked her to draw him a drink. She, being a Samaritan, was stunned.[ii] Since she was a woman, Jesus was expected to withdraw to a distance of at least 25 feet, indicating that it was both safe and culturally appropriate for her to approach the well (Social distancing is nothing new. It was very much a part of the culture in Biblical times). The Samaritan woman asked how he, a Jew, could ask for water from her, a Samaritan woman. Later, the Gospel of John tells us that his disciples were astonished that he was talking to a woman, Samaritan or not.
In that culture and time, Jesus should not have understood this woman at all or have taken time to talk to or listen to her. They shared nothing in common. Regardless, he heard her and he turned the conversation from the ordinary (a drink of water) to the spiritual. He said to her, “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.”[iii]
This peaked her interest as she wondered what he was talking about. In the common language of their time, “living water” meant flowing water as in a river or spring, not the well water they were discussing. But Jesus told her that his living water was different. He said the living water hewould give would come “gushing up into eternal life.”[iv] She had been drinking water that satisfied only for a time, but now Jesus spoke of water that would never again leave her thirsty.
And so, she asked for this water; and in the conversation that followed, he peeled back the layers of her life right before her eyes. Moving boldly into the darkest places of her heart, he told her that she previously had five husbands and was now living with a man that was not her husband. When at last she left him, she went into the city and told anyone who would listen, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.”[v]
The Wesley Study Bible says, “Her conversation with Jesus shows that she is bright, clever, and hungry for spiritual reality. But she is also a social outcast, a person well acquainted with rejection.”[vi] Yet, he knew! He understood her! She had a need to be heard and he took the time to hear her story. He knew her problems, her concerns, and her failures, and still he loved her anyway. He offered her hope, salvation, and eternal life. In other words, he gave her living water.
This is the point I believe the Gospel of John is making in this story. We are like this woman. “Fortunately,” says the Wesley Study Bible “no one has ever been cast out so far as to be beyond the reach of Jesus Christ.”[vii] Here is the good news: Nothing is too lost or too far gone to be found or restored. Jesus has the power to change the flood of despair, hopelessness, and misery. He has the power to dispel your fears and anxieties in this time of uncertainty in our world and offer you life’s deep well of possibility. Jesus hears you and is willing to offer you “living water….gushing up into up to eternal life.”[viii]
If we open our lives to this encounter with Jesus, then he gives us living water. The wells from which we have been drinking lose their luster and we realize that they give only water that satisfies for a time. We have been seeking understanding in all the wrong places. In our selfish pride, the esteem of our community, in our earthly possessions, or any of a thousand other things, and none of them has satisfied. They have left us empty, yearning for something more, but not knowing quite where to find it.
In the movie Urban Cowboy, Johnny Lee sings “I was looking for love in all the wrong places; looking for love in too many faces.”[ix] Like the woman at the well, we have spent a lot of time looking in all the wrong places. But Jesus sees and knows, and in the very fact that he sees our hearts, we begin to experience the power of living water. When we drink deeply of it, it satisfies our thirst. When we draw from it, there is always more.
When Jesus looks into our souls, sees our dark side, knows our secrets, discerns our motivations, and loves us anyway, is this not the living water that renews and remakes us? When Jesus tells us everything we have ever done, is this not living water to our parched, dehydrated souls?
One more thing about the woman at the well: After Jesus’ vision had pierced her soul, she was never the same again, and so she told the people of her town: “Come, and see a man who told me all that I ever did.”[x] In essence, she became the first female preacher. Kenneth Bailey says, “In her hurry she leaves her jar behind….She came to draw the water that will quench thirst for an hour or two. She returns to the village without the water. Instead she carries a witness to the water that quenches the thirst of the spirit-forever. She becomes a spring for others, even as Jesus directed.”[xi]
Tom Garvey is someone I met at my brother Mark’s viewing. He stood in the doorway to the room where our family gathered to receive family and friends. My father and I went over to introduce ourselves. He said, “My name is Tom and I worked with Mark.” Tom had been sick with an infection and was sent to Baltimore shock trauma where he almost died. Here is what astounded my family: my brother Mark ministered to Tom. Mark went and spent hours with him as he healed. No one else did, only my brother Mark. Mark went to the well, so to speak, to listen to Tom when no one else did. No one understood Tom. No one heard his concerns and no one bothered to care. Tom needed living water and my brother Mark gave it to him. My brother became the hands and feet of Christ to Tom. Tom was moved by what he had experienced through Mark. We can do what my brother Mark did for others. We can be there for someone who needs life-giving water. There is no better time to do that than in this moment. Even though we have to keep our social distance from one another right now, I ask you to think about how you can be living water to someone who feels isolated or lonely and then act upon it.
If you are the one that needs to be heard, once you have experienced Jesus, your life will never be the same. Ask the woman at the well, ask Mary Magdalene, ask St. Paul, ask Martin Luther, ask John Wesley…Ask my brother Mark’s friend Tom, ask someone in this church.
Finally, Jesus revealed himself to the woman whom he found at the well. The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”[xii] From that moment on, a Samaritan was able to begin a new relationship, one that was eternal, because Jesus understood and accepted her. No longer was she seen as an outcast and her life was never the same again.
When Jesus encounters us, he opens the door for us to be in relationship with him. This relationship is the “living water.” Jesus was not offering self-help or free advice to the woman at the well. He was offering himself. Take heart, Jesus will listen to you. Lay all your cares upon him. He understands you. You are never beyond his reach. Will you drink from this living water?
March 22, 2020
[xii] John 4:25-26.