In our passage from John, Jesus is heading back to Galilee from Judea to take a break from all of the challenge and controversy. But he needs to pass through Samaria to get to the Galilee. Now Samaria was not a friendly place for a Jew. The Jews and Samaritans disagreed on how to worship God and where to worship God. The Jews believed Godís temple had to be in Jerusalem. The Samaritans worship on Mount Gerizim in their own temple. Jews and Samaritans donít socialize. This division stems from their different interpretation of Israelite history.
The Samaritans exist to this day in Israel although they number only in the hundreds. Based on the Samaritan Torah, Samaritans claim that their worship is the true religion of the ancient Israelites before they went into exile in Babylon. Not all Israelites went into exile. The Samaritans are among those who stayed and preserved the ancient worship.
Jesus stops at a well to take a break from the journey. Remember the primary mode of travel was by foot. So we can imagine the need to take breaks now and then. It seems that Jesus rarely had a chance just to rest. So even now when he needs to just rest along comes a lone Samaritan woman to the well. And Jesus being Jesus couldnít resist breaking yet another barrier: he spoke to her.
Actually he broke two barriers: he spoke to a woman he was not related to and to a Samaritan. But he did not let these barriers Ė or his fatigue Ė keep him from ministering to this woman.
Just a short time before this episode, Jesus had talked with Nicodemus, a powerful Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. Nicodemus had come to Jesus in the dead of night to talk to him about his teachings. Nicodemus had too much social and political credibility to loose if he were seen talking with this street prophet and troublemaker. Yet his life was aimless. So under cover of night he went to Jesus to try to sort out his life. Jesus tells him he must be reborn and tried to explain to him what this meant.
We donít know from the passage in John (3:1-21) whether Nicodemus understood him at least at that moment.† But we know later Nicodemus would defend Jesus before the Sanhedrin (John 7:45-51) and after the crucifixion he would help Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesusí body for burial (John 19:39-42).
But now in the openness of day, Jesus meets an unnamed woman with no social credibility. She is a Samaritan. And she is isolated. Women typically went to a well in a social group. You wouldnít expect a lone woman to go. But this woman apparently lived a wayward life. She has had 5 husbands and is living with a man out of wedlock. Unlike Nicodemus who had a settle life but needed a change Ö a rebirth, this womanís life hasnít even been born yet.
Unlike Nicodemus, she had nothing to lose. She had nothing in the way of partaking of the living water that Jesus offered her. And she was so authentic about it and so excited that when she ran back to the village to proclaim Jesusí life the villagers came looking for Jesus to see what was the wonder. But what was this living water of which Jesus spoke?
We take water for granted by and large Ö unless we have an overabundance of it on our flood plains. When we have a ďdraughtĒ we have to stop watering our lawns, not do without water to drink and wash. But in the Holy Land and in Sinai water was often scarce. Water preserved life.
The Israelites had won their freedom from Pharaoh by fleeing Egypt. But in our passage from the Exodus, the Israelites have been wandering in the desert without water. Now they demand of Moses to call upon God for water Ö did he lead them into the desert to thirst to death? Better to be slave in Egypt!
But that earthly water, that H2O needs to be constantly replenished. We must come everyday to the well as the Samaritan women did in order to get what we need. Without the water we would shrivel up and waste away. You can go without food for many many days, but you cannot go without water for long. It is essential for bodily life.
But what is Jesusí living water?
It is the nourishment of our spirits that gives us that life long direction towards the divine. The living water is Godís grace and acceptance of who we are and what we are in this present time. God accepts us as we are. It doesnít matter whether we are men or women, citizens or immigrants, gay or straight, old or young. God will accept us as we are.
It doesnít matter whether our lives are put together or our lives are scattered. It doesnít matter whether weíve been able to rise above strife and live a good life or whether weíve been crushed. It doesnít matter whether we pass through trauma and hardship becoming stronger or whether we pass through them and are a wreck. God will accept us as we are.
But Godís living water goes beyond acceptance and grace. God doesnít just accept us where we are and then just leave us there. God gave us Jesusí way of living and thinking. It is a way to give each and everyone of us a divine purpose. Each one of us is accepted by God into Godís interrelated web of life to be a part of the Kingdom of God.
In God accepting us and with Godís grace we have the space and the opportunity to participate in the upbuilding of the Kingdom. And in this acceptance we can find spiritual healing from the brokenness and aimlessness of life.
I visited a client not too long ago. †His wife of many years had died recently and he was at a lost Ė not just of what to do with himself, but what to make of his life now. He mourned her deeply and found it difficult to find any joy in life.
He was doing a lot of make work around his house just to keep busy and basically exhaust himself during the days. He hired a housekeeper companion to help him around the house Ė but she was really more for companionship.
He wasnít going out much. He hadnít been at Mass for a long time. And he found himself at loose ends.
He wasnít so much religious as spiritual. He did believe in God and in the past had a relationship with God of prayer and devotionals. He viewed the divine though more abstractly as a sort of cosmic soul from which we all emerge. This relationship had sustained him in prior upsets. But losing his wife was deeper and more shattering than anything else that he had experienced. All of his speculations about the divine just didnít mean anything anymore.
I hadnít seen him for a while, but finally I called to check in on him. He expressed a desire to talk Ö he was spiritually empty.
When I arrived he was ready to talk. We sat for a couple of hours as he ranged over a number of topics. Among them he talked about giving away a nice set of womenís clothing to a charity. He wanted some of his wifeís possession to go to help people. He also mentioned that he had made a number of generous donations to charities for hunger and for child abuse.
I finally moved him toward talking about God. He said that he no longer felt Godís presence. Before his wifeís death he always felt the spirit of God in his life Ö like a constant presence in his mind.† He felt a comfort in that presence. But now it was gone.
He reported that in fact he questioned whether God was ever there. He wasnít angry at God, he just didnít think God was there.† Every so often he would segue into side topics and during this discussion he mused as to whether he could fill the hole in his life by tutoring underprivileged students in math. He had a solid math background and could put that to use. But he dropped that Ö he didnít have the motivation to move on.
Then he took a break, having said all he wanted to. Now it was my turn. I affirmed that there was a hole in his life and it would take time to heal up. I suggested that though he didnít feel God, he was still interacting with God in all the various ideas he had of helping folks. Just because he didnít sense call ďin his headĒ didnít mean God wasnít in his life. Indeed, he may want to expand out and spend time in soup kitchens or other similar projects. I suggested he would feel God there in ways he hadnít before. And I said to him it was ok to be angry at God Ö indeed it was probably appropriate since his wifeís death was unexpected.
When we concluding the visit, he reported that it helped and even now he was sensing Godís presence as he expanded his notion of that presence past the voice in his head.
I believe that in our discussion, he found living water in the acceptance for his struggle to adjust to his wifeís death and that it was hard and he shouldnít pressure himself to be done with it. And he began to embrace Godís grace again as he could see that he did have a future. And he had a glimmer that his future would have meaning. No longer would he be a breadwinner, but he could be a volunteer that provided needed services.
His journey would probably take time, but now he was being nourished in the living water of Godís grace and hope.
Each one of us can partake of the living water of acceptance, grace, and meaning in our lives. Like the woman at the well we need to be open to drinking that water. We need to be honest about where we are in our lives and be willing to listen to our faith community. We need to be open to the opportunities that God sets before us whether they are a change of attitude, a reconciliation with a family member, an outreach to those in need, or an entire life change of what we are doing with ourselves.
Godís living water is always available to us from the moment we are born to the day we cross over. God freely offers it to us. It is up to us to listen and to accept it.
Think about it Ö
Godís grace and love be with you Ö