Some experts predict that the next Great War will be fought over water. The simple and ominous truth is that on our overcrowded, over-burdened, and terribly abused planet, there is not enough fresh, clean water to go around. The World Health Organization reports that in 2017, 1 out of 10 or 663 million people lack access to safe water. And human-induced climate change will only exacerbate that. The future of the human race is tied to our access to water.
Jesus was in search of fresh water. He had been on the road with his disciples, traveling north from Judea up to Galilee. In between those two regions was a place called Samaria, inhabited by Samaritans - the descendants of those Jews who had inter-married with the invading Babylonians centuries before. Not only had they intermarried, but they had also accepted some of the culture and customs of the Babylonians. So, in the eyes of the purists, the Samaritans were collaborators and pagans. And Samaria was to be avoided at all costs.
In fact, many religious Jews making the same journey that Jesus did that day would have walked an extra nine hours in order to walk around Samaria. But true to form, Jesus walked right into the midst of the uncleanness.
About noon, with an unforgiving sun beating down on his head, Jesus stopped to get a drink in the city of Sychar where Jacob’s legendary well was located. But without a bucket, and with no one in sight, he was out of luck. Where was everyone? Well, most folks drew their water in the cool of the early morning or in the cool of the evening. But as grace would have it, a solitary woman appeared, bucket in hand. And when she got close enough, Jesus asked her for a drink. And this was a scandal.
Respectable religious leaders and men in general never spoke to an unrelated woman in public, under any circumstances. This prohibition was so ingrained in society that some of the more pious Pharisees were known as “The Bruised and Bleeding Pharisees” because when they saw an unrelated woman approaching, they would close their eyes even if it meant walking into a wall and breaking their noses.
Well Jesus not only looked at her, he seemed to look into her. “What’s he looking at?” she wondered. Maybe it was from the way he was dressed or his accent, but she knew that he was a Jew. And she knew, from a lifetime of societal scorn, that Jews considered Samaritans unclean. And so she was understandably defensive. “Why are you asking me, a Samaritan, for a drink of water?” And Jesus replied: “If you knew who it was who was asking you for a drink, you would ask him to give you living water.” Well, she didn’t know what that was, but it no doubt sounded better than having to tote those buckets everyday under the blazing sun. And so she pressed the point about where she could find it. And Jesus replied: “Everyone who drinks this well water will be thirsty again. But the water that I give becomes an internal spring, gurgling up to eternal life.” “Well, that’s what I want!” the woman replied.
Then Jesus told her to go get her husband. And at that request, he saw the pain in her eyes “I don’t have a husband,” she said. “You’re right,” Jesus replied. “You’ve actually had five husbands and the man you have now, you’re not married to.” We might assume that the fact that she hadn’t had a successful marriage was the source of her pain. Maybe. But more than that, her failed marriages made her an outcast among outcasts. She was doubly scorned. – a Samaritan and a loose woman. She was, no doubt, the subject of daily gossip at the village well. Maybe that’s why she came to draw water in the hottest part of the day, when she could be sure that no one else would be around to mock and judge her.
This is the longest recorded conversation that Jesus had with anyone in any of the Gospels. Why? Well maybe because it perfectly captures the heart of the Gospel: dignity, not denigration; empowerment, not exploitation; affirmation not marginalization. So how is it that so many churches have become part of the oppression? How can we abide the bitter irony of a government claiming to be guided by Christian principles even as they actively oppress the Samaritan women of our time?
So this story perfectly captures the Gospel as liberation. But it’s not just a story about that. It’s also a story about what Jesus gave this woman that completely changed her life. Jesus offered her something called “living water” – agua de vida. The woman asked it where she could go to find it. But Jesus said that it was much closer than most of us ever imagine.
Listen again to what he said to her: “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." This living water is internal. And springs never run dry. Jesus primes the pump with his words of life and acts of mercy, but its source is actually inside you. “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." This statement is akin to Jesus’ oft-ignored and revolutionary teaching that the Kingdom of God is already inside of us. The gifts of God – the kind that can change the world - are already right here.
When this despised and lonely woman understood that this strange rabbi did not judge her or despise her like everyone else, that realization changed her. To use Gospel language: she was born again. And maybe for the first time ever she was able to image that another life is possible.
Last week at the Lenten social justice presentation on domestic abuse and prison sentencing, we heard from a woman named LadyKathryn Julien, who is herself a survivor of domestic abuse and an unjustly long prison sentence. Like the woman at the well, LadyKathryn had lived a difficult and misunderstood life. But like the Samaritan woman, she had also come face to face with Christ and discovered the living water. After her release from prison, she found a new life and a new purpose as an advocate for other abused women. LadyKathryn is now a Recovery Peer Specialist at the Fortune Society and, as she proudly reported, very close to finishing a Masters degree in Public Administration. She is drinking deeply from the spring of living water that bubbles up in her. She has discovered that another life is possible.
Another life is possible! Do you know how many people are so thirsty to hear that? And we, who have drunk so deeply of the well of God’s love and acceptance, how can we keep such knowledge to ourselves? We who are concerned about growing this church, how can we stop from saying to anyone, everyone: “Come and see!”