Looking for the Thirst Quencher

John 4:5-26                                                                Lent 3: March 12, 2023


Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

I often wake in the night with my mouth dry as sand and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. Without a drink, this thirst will take over and keep me awake. Our bodies are a finely calibrated system to regulate water. If you are dehydrated, your brain will lower blood pressure and kidney functions to preserve the internal liquid. I was once dehydrated from illness, and my fingertips and toes started to numb. I knew I would die if I did not get to the hospital for IV fluids.

Our bodies contain about 60 percent water on average, peaking at 75 percent. A similar amount of water covers planet earth. Water helps our bodies regulate temperature. It brings all the necessary nutrients and oxygen to every living cell and carries away waste products. Water protects our internal organs and keeps our mouths and eyeballs moistened.

Water is life. H2O is a great regulator that keeps the body balanced and healthy. Without modern plumbing, our time and energy would be more focused on carrying water.  Access to water is becoming a leading source of war and conflict.

No wonder water is held sacred in religion. We are initiated into the church by the act of baptism. The Bible compares spiritual life to thirsting for God dozens of times. Psalms 42:

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

The prophets proclaim that God will bring water to the thirsty. Providing water is a sign of restoration and justice. Just as water helps the body regulate itself to be healthy, God will meet the thirsty and restore society that thirsts for equilibrium. Amos said:

  • Amos said, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:8
  • Isaiah calls God the thirst quencher 13 times, “For I will pour water on thethirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; Is. 44:3
  • In the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Jesus later says that the righteous person is the one who gives the thirsty a cup of cold water to drink.

John’s story of this encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is grounded in this rich spiritual metaphor. We thirst, and God gives us the water of life.

Wells were essential to the social life of a community. Everyone needed water from the same place, and women went to the well in the morning to get what their families needed for drinking and cooking. Just like the water cooler at the office, people lingered to hear the flow of news and gossip.

John gives us multiple clues that this is an unusual conversation. First, they both show up at noon when no one is around. If a woman is getting water at noon, she either doesn’t want to see people, or she has a late night and is only rising. Jesus sent his disciples away and perhaps thought he would have solitude at the well at noon.

So, a man and a woman are talking alone at the well. Jesus is breaking social customs just by speaking to this woman. Would you blame her for being on guard, alone with a strange man?

“Give me a drink of water,” Jesus asks. That’s forward. He doesn’t say, “Hello, I’m Jesus of Nazareth. Do you come here often?” The woman brushes him back, “Why are you asking me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” Now we have another reason showing this is an unusual conversation. (We will return to the issues between Jews and Samaritans.). Jesus says,

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

She might think, “Typical privileged, egotistical male. He thinks he is God’s gift to women, offering me living water instead of well water. Hey buddy, you don’t even have a bucket, yet you think you are greater than Jacob himself.”

“Oh, I have living water, and anyone who drinks it will never thirst,” Jesus responds.

This guy won’t give up. OK, I’ll bite. Give me some of this water, so I never have to come back to this stupid well.

Jesus says to bring her husband, but she doesn’t have a husband.

“That’s true; you have had five husbands, and the one you are with is not your husband.”

Jesus sounds rude! The woman masterfully avoids the bait and quickly changes the subject. “I see you are a prophet. Which mountain is the right one for worship, here at Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem?” Now Jesus has the conversation he wants. Let’s talk about religion and politics. “The day is coming when people won’t worship at either mountain but will worship God in spirit and truth.” Now Jesus has her attention. He reveals her thirst for something deeper and brings her to a meaningful life. This unusual encounter leads to a dramatic change of heart, and this Samaritan woman becomes the first of many evangelists of Jesus’s message.

While this story is about a transformation, it’s not just a conversion story.  The story isn’t about a random woman but a stigmatized Samaritan.  If we thirst for God’s love, we must overcome social customs and prejudices that work against love and dignity.

Jews and Samaritans had several centuries of hostility. The Samaritans were Jews from the northern kingdom, conqueror by Assyria. The Assyrians sent colonists from other nations to dilute the population. When Jews exiled in Babylon returned to Jerusalem, these groups conflicted. The Samaritans saw the Judean returnees and interlopers, while in Jerusalem, they viewed Samaritans as half-breeds and not real Jews. If a Judean called someone a Samaritan, it implied worshiping false gods.    In Jerusalem, the returnees were building a new Temple when the Samaritans had a perfectly good temple at Mt. Gerizim. The Samaritans wrote the Persian emperor to complain, telling Antaxerxes that Jerusalem Jews would build a temple and then a wall, and then they would rebel and stop paying taxes. So, the Persians stopped construction.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus reminds everyone that we drink from the same well. We all have bodies that thirst and drink the same water to survive. We must drink from the same well, Jews and Samaritans, Israelis and Palestinians, black, white and brown, gay and straight, male and female and nonbinary, Democrat and Republican.    If we continue to play the “us vs. them” game, we will thirst.

When people who are supposed to be our political leaders say things like “the other political party hates America and wants to destroy our way of life,” they poison our communal well. When we carelessly call others the Neanderthal Right or the Woke Left, we muddy our collective waters, and everyone will thirst.  Political speech threatening to “eradicate transsexualism” or promising, “I am your retribution” is dangerous.  If we are silent, then justice will not flow like water, and we will become a dry land.

If your enemy is thirsty, give them a drink. (Proverbs 25:21) If they persist, throw a bucket of cold water on inflammatory and hateful rhetoric. Thirst for more, long for something better.

Like Jesus, we need to meet at the well for unusual conversations that break the barriers of hostility.  How do we make God’s love real without fueling the culture war around us?

Since we are talking about living water, the story which comes to mind is from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. In 1969, Fred Rogers invited Officer Clemmons, the neighborhood policeman (who is black), to cool his feet in Fred’s wading pool. They removed their socks, soaked their feet, and talked briefly. This polite chat broke racial barriers when many towns had white-only pools. When the Supreme Court finally ended this discrimination in 1971, some towns decided to fill their pools with cement rather than have an integrated sharing of the same water. Better to suffer in the heat than admit equality. On the 50th anniversary of the show, many people wrote stories about how that moment opened their minds to equality. After all, hating on Mr. Rogers is like strangling puppies. A significant encounter at the pool, or a well, can be transformative.

I wonder how our pool needs to be more inclusive.  I heard Holly Stover say at the bell concert fundraiser last Sunday, “Everything we do at CRC seeks to reduce stigma and shame so people can be a part of the community.” Help includes not just the food bank or the Fuel Fund, but dignity.  Where in our community do we need to carry the water?  The challenges of grief, mental illness or addictions are often buried and shamed.  In the face of hateful rhetoric how do we demonstrate love?  Is it time for a PRIDE March in Boothbay?  What is welling up in you today?

 Jesus said,

Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up with abundant life.”

We become like a spring of water.  Friends, follow your thirst.  Meet the stranger at the well.  Drink deeply from the waters of life in the spirit.

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