Are you Thirsty, My Friends?


John 4:5-42 - So Jesus 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.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 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.”Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

A recent advertising campaign followed the daring and alluring exploits of The Most Interesting Man in the World. If you have ever seen the commercials, I bet you can repeat the catch phrase with me: “Stay thirsty, my friends”

I remind you of this not to make you want a beer, but rather because I think this catch-phrase is getting at a very deep spiritual reality of human nature: the condition of persistent longing.

The ads glamorized this condition – trying to make us believe that our longing can make us fascinating if only we refuse to be satisfied by the ordinary. But the truth is, we don’t need a silver-haired actor with a fancy accent to tell us to stay thirsty – we are thirsty regardless. That soul-deep thirst is always there somewhere, underneath all the things we try to cram into the emptiness of longing.

  • Some of us do, indeed, try to meet the need with alcohol, or with drugs, or with food. Sugar is my mood-altering substance of choice;

  • Some of us choose money, or possessions, or maybe gambling;

  • For some of us the urge drives over-work, seeking ever higher status or the next ego-stroking accolade;

  • Or maybe it’s the need to surround ourselves with protection;

  • Or maybe it’s the desperation to be loved the way we want;

  • Or maybe we just try to fill the emptiness with mindless distraction – from television, or facebook, or candycrush.

Author Jennifer Louden calls these things “shadow comforts” – all the things we use to try to numb the sense of need that we all have, rather than admitting that it’s there. But we know it’s there. It’s too nagging and uncomfortable to consistently ignore.

I think this sense of deep need might be what was behind one of the “questions for God” you all wrote down during Advent: “Why is it necessary to experience earthly life in order to dwell with God in the kingdom?”

If I understand this question, it is asking “why do we have to endure this life of need? Why couldn’t we just be born into heaven and skip the whole mess? Why do we have to experience thirst?

It’s a natural question, one that we all probably ask when we are at our most honest… our culture teaches us to prize efficiency and to value end results over process. If eternity in heaven is where God really wants us in the end, why can’t we just skip all the angst on the way there?

Today’s gospel offers a powerful response to that question, but it offers that response in the inefficient, meandering, process-heavy form of a story. The encounter between Jesus and this unnamed Samaritan woman happens at a well, a place you come for WATER… a very relevant focus for thirsty people.

Catholic theologian Richard Rohr talks about waters as a “codeword” in scripture for “God’s constant and gracious invitation to union, God flowing out toward us, God choosing us before we ever choose back.”[1]

Water – whether it be the well God opened in the dessert for Hagar and Ishmael,[2] or the water from the rock at Massah and Meribah,[3] or the waters for which Elijah prayed to end a three-year drought,[4] or the waters of the Jordan where God’s Spirit descended on Jesus[5] … Water has always been God’s way of saying: “I see your need, and I will respond to it. You don’t have to stay thirsty.”

And so, it is at this well, where Jesus sees the need of a woman who came to draw water in the heat of the day, when no one else was supposed to be there.

Jesus saw the need of someone on the margins of society…

Someone who had been shunned by her community, and abandoned, by husband after husband, probably because she was barren… and thus worthless in their eyes.

Jesus also saw someone whom he was supposed to ignore – for reasons of gender, and religion, and nationality.

But Jesus sees not her shame, or her difference, but her need… and so he offers her WATER.

Not just any water, but thirst-quenching water, water that brings eternal life, water that never runs out because it opens up a spring that gushes up all the way up to God.

The God from whom water is a “constant and gracious invitation to union, God flowing out toward us.”

It’s an amazing invitation… but she doesn’t accept it right away.

Maybe life has taught her not to trust a man whose offer seems too good to be true.

Or maybe she just hasn’t been trained by an immediacy-culture, and she knows that understanding takes time… and requires questions.

Whatever the reason, I appreciate her hesitancy, because it gives Jesus a chance to demonstrate that this offer is not snatched away when the recipient doubts.

She questions, and Jesus answers her …HER -- A woman, a suspect foreigner, disposable and vulnerable – Jesus treats her like an equal, someone who deserves a deeper answer.

And because she pushed back, this Samaritan woman gets to hear something that none of the disciples had even heard! She hears Jesus’s first self-declaration on his true nature.

“I AM”

Our English translation modifies the statement to “I am he” to try to fix the grammar, but this changes the meaning. What Jesus actually says is “I AM” – the sacred Hebrew name for God – the one who is existence itself and needs no modifiers. The one who IS, the spring of living water bubbling up to eternal life, able to quench even the most desperate thirst.

Jesus sees the thirst of an ostracized, abandoned, friendless woman who is supposed to be his enemy, and instead of blame, or apathy, or enmity, he offers her WATER... and when she questions him, he offers her the chance to know the SOURCE of the water.

And because of that conversation, this woman is not only the first to know Jesus for who he is, she is also the first to proclaim him. She goes to the people who daily treat her with disdain, and she tells them what just happened to her.

Now, this part of the story is wonderfully reassuring, because she doesn’t do it perfectly. She hasn’t been transformed in an instant. She hasn’t gained all the confidence that her life’s story robbed her of.

Instead she asks a question: “he cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

But he can! He is! And because of her imperfect witness, the people came to see for themselves… they came to try a taste of the living water… and they believed.

The story at the well is a many layered story, and it has so much to teach us.

It can teach us about how to treat our Samaritans:

  • those we think are our enemies;

  • those we despise for their poor life decisions;

  • those we think are beneath our notice.

It could be that these people will be able to tell us about God.

The story can also teach us about the importance of questions:

  • about the honesty of voicing our doubts;

  • and the blessed vulnerability of exposing our need;

  • and the value of pushing for the deeper answers, instead of settling for an efficiency faith.

But most of all, I think, this story can teach about the kind of water that can actually quench our thirst.

The Most Interesting Man in the World tells us to “stay thirsty” – as though unsatisfied longing were the pinnacle of human experience. But Jesus says “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.”

God made thirst part of our nature because that thirst is what teaches us that we need God.

C.S. Lewis wrote about how this need is what brings us to God. He said: “our whole being by its very nature is one vast need; incomplete, preparatory, empty yet cluttered, crying out for (God).”[6]

We are thirsty because nothing except God can ever quench out thirst.

And the good news – the incomparable news – is that Jesus came to bring us living water, so we never have to be thirsty again.

I don’t have a perfect answer to why we have to be thirsty before that thirst can be quenched. I can’t explain all the pain and need in our lives and in the world, and I will not try to justify them.

But I do have this story – a story about being thirsty for so many things, and meeting the source of living water – and recognizing that source… hesitantly… questioningly…imperfectly… but still, recognizing, and being changed from an outcast into a witness.

Are you thirsty, my friends? Jesus offers you living water. Thanks be to God. AMEN

[1] Things Hidden, p. 45. Quoted from Girardian Lectionary, http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-a/lent3a/

[2] Genesis 21:15-20.

[3] Exodus 17:1-7

[4] 1 King 18:1-45

[5] Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11;

[6] C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

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