Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
This was a sermon given at the Benefice Well Service at St. Helen's Well in Great Hatfield East Yorkshire in 2011- an ancient well which was opened through God's power and grace by St. Helen and the water of which has been connected to numerous miracles.
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered 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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
I have always loved this historical account of a conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well. Like so much of the Bible it is filled with deep, rich, and layered meaning. And seeing as we are at the Well service it seemed like a good passage to read. Many years ago before we had the joys of running water from taps – something that in the time of Jesus only the greatest Kings and Queens had the joy of – people would have come to this well to get their water.
And water is something so vital to life, the one thing that scientists insist must exist on an alien planet if there will be any chance life there. And water is used in many ways, but above all in two – to drink and to clean. Thinking about the famine and drought in Somalia and much of Africa at the moment we realise how lucky we are to have water to drink – and we need it, 90-94% of our human bodies are made of water! We need it to live, so we don’t dry out and die out. It refreshes us on a hot day, and in a cup of tea warms us in the coldest night.
And water is also used for cleaning, to clean cars, plates, glasses, clothes, and even, occasionally, our very bodies – we drink water to flush out all the toxic and nasty chemicals that get stuck in our bodies. Water cleans us inside and out, it gives us life and joy. And when we are sad and we cry we find that water wells up in our eyes. Water is there at every stage of our life, it is the stuff of life and the stuff of cleanliness.
And it is thinking of water like this – the one thing more important to life than the air we breathe – that this story is understood. And all of this makes Jesus’ reply to the woman all the more interesting:
“If only you’d known God’s gift”
When I read this I can’t help but ask myself that question – do I know God’s gift? What is the gift of God? Well Jesus says that this gift is ‘Living Water’ - water that never runs out and which makes us never be thirsty ever again, that is always running like a fresh spring inside us. Obviously he is not talking about some scientific breakthrough or alien water that is alive like we are. In fact, as you read through the Gospel you find that Jesus is the living water, Jesus is above all else God’s gift to us. He is the living water that never runs dry, that offers us a chance to never thirst again, that never leaves us no matter where or how we are.
Living water is what Jesus offers us: at the Cross Jesus takes all we have ever done wrong, ever will do wrong, anything that could possibly separate us from God’s love for us – and God does love us more than we could possibly imagine – and he washes it all away, he detoxes our lives and flushes out all the grime and hurt and makes us whiter than snow. And if the grime creeps back, as it always does, then He is there, always, to wash it away again and again and again and again, if only we ask. And He is the living water that refreshes us, that gives us life, joy, hope, indeed our very humanity in the truest sense of the word. He is the one who is there when we shout for joy or weep in sadness.
If our bodies are 94% H2O how amazing is the offer that Jesus gives us to have the love of God, God himself, like a spring welling up inside us, constantly refreshing us and cleaning us and giving us life! It is my prayer to be not 94% but 100% filled with that water, 100% filled with life, 100% filled with love, 100% filled with God’s Holy Spirit till it is overflowing out of me and spreading to everyone I meet as I tell them about this amazing Gift of God – Jesus the King.
And I hope that this is a prayer we can all share.