(sermon here: 01-30 sermon note)
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.’
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 worshippers 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 for 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.’
This morning’s rather long reading reminds me of the one about a church janitor who was cleaning the large overhead ducts from the inside when he noticed a nun praying by herself and decided to have some fun. With the echo and a booming voice he proclaimed, “Your prayers have been answered!” but the nun didn’t even flinch. He tried again, “My child, your sins have been forgiven!” and again, no response from the nun. Thinking she might be deaf, he tried one last time, “I, Jesus, will lead you to salvation!” after which the nun firmly responded, “Shut up, I’m talking to your mother!”
Silly Catholics, always putting disproportionate importance on the mother of Jesus! I mean, yeah, we can’t have the human Jesus without his mother. And we can’t have a miraculous birth without the virgin Mary. And our faith can’t get any stronger than the faith of Mary. But does our salvation come through Mary or through Jesus? Of course, it comes through Jesus and a belief in all that he did for us and continues to do for us. Salvation comes through Jesus alone so to place priority on anyone else, Mary included, would be foolish. Unless salvation isn’t what you’re seeking after all. If you’re seeking anything other than salvation, then there are many other people or things to seek out. Alas, Jesus owns the sole rights to salvation…
Indeed, that nun is not all that unlike the Samaritan woman at the well in today’s reading. Both women went to the well seeking something other than salvation and it was only the woman at the well who received it because the nun was too focused on receiving from the mother of Jesus instead. Both women had opportunities but only one took advantage. I suppose the janitor couldn’t have given the nun salvation anyways so she really didn’t have an opportunity after all. At the heart of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus is her salvation. Though she didn’t confess it, she was a woman in dire need of salvation. She was a woman reduced to gathering water during the hottest part of the day, when no one else would be found at the well for such a task. Why? Presumably because of her having had five husbands and her living with a man to whom she wasn’t married. Her community had shunned her and she was alone, eking out a miserable existence. Oh yes, she was a woman in dire need of salvation! And yet she didn’t go to that well expecting to receive it, certainly not from a Jewish man traveling through the region. But Jesus seized the opportunity to save her and show mercy to her. He taught her about his “living water,” water that fully and completely satisfies, so much so that she would never have to return to gather it from him again.
What an interesting concept, “living water.” Jesus doesn’t really explain what he means by living water other than that it is a water that forever quenches a thirst within us. So what does it consist of, how is it different from regular water, and how is it able to satisfy so completely? Jesus never answers these questions so we’re left answering them for ourselves. I guess the easiest way to answer them is to deduce what it isn’t. Water is a substance that everything living needs to survive so the expression, “living water,” has kind of a double meaning. Not only does it provide life but it also sustains life. Life lives in it and life lives from it. Now then, all water is either used or dries up and disappears. No water lasts forever so perhaps Jesus was using the expression figuratively. Is there anything that exists forever that needs to be provided for and sustained? Our souls, of course! Jesus provides that which quenches our souls! And do our souls need physical water to survive? No, they need the love and wisdom and mercy and grace of God to survive. Jesus’ “living water” provides for and sustains our souls and it consists of love and wisdom and mercy and grace. These are unending gifts for the soul. They keep our souls alive for all of eternity.
So the “living water” of which Jesus speaks consists of gifts that sustain our souls. But they’re also gifts that rely on one very vital thing: faith. We can’t receive them without faith. Faith is key to the salvation and preservation of our souls. Recall the words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (2:8-9) Faith is a gift from our gracious God. Not all of us receive it, not all of us accept it, but all of us are given it through the Spirit. The Spirit gives faith to us all and because of this we all have an opportunity to be saved. Jesus said in Mark, “the one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.” (16:16) I realize Jesus added on the need for baptism but I think the more important requirement for salvation in his statement is belief or faith. Hence, why only disbelief leads to condemnation, not a lack of baptism. Friends, faith is the key to salvation.
Faith in anything? No, faith in Christ and Christ alone. Recall the words of Jesus who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (14:6) Jesus himself is the living water. He IS the way and the truth and the life for our eternal souls. Again, if you’re looking for anything besides salvation, then anyone or anything besides Jesus will do. But if you’re looking for salvation, there’s only one person: Jesus Christ. I realize salvation isn’t something that everybody is looking for for their souls. Some of us believe we don’t need salvation. Jesus isn’t for you! For those who feel a need for salvation, Jesus is your man! Put your faith and trust in him!
Incidentally, most of us come to the salvation of Christ unaware and unexpectedly. The Samaritan woman at the well stumbling upon it is not unlike how most of us stumble upon it. Let us be glad that he seeks us out and makes his living water known to us. Our God is truly a good and gracious God. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.