I chose to have us hear the Gospel today as readers’ theater for two reasons. One, it is a long text, the longest recorded conversation we have between Jesus and anyone else in scripture. And two, I think there is a benefit to hearing this passage in different voices. It allows us, perhaps, to hear things we might not have heard, or notice things that previously went unheard.
We are now in week three of our Boot Camp for the Soul, we have acknowledged the need for change, recognizing with Jesus in the wilderness that the pursuits of power, wealth, and abundance are not what we need to be seeking. Last week we spoke of the need to reset, to begin again as newborns in the faith, setting aside the old way of living and joining Nicodemus on the road to new life.
Today we are invited to Hydrate, by none other than Jesus himself.
Hydration is important, one could, without exaggeration say essential. We have all heard the admonition to drink 8-10 glasses of water a day to maintain hydration levels. I might add here that this does not mean 8-10 8oz glasses of any liquid, for when it comes to hydration all liquids are not created equal.
In fact, our desire to drink things other than water has helped us become dehydrated. Many of you will remember that, in the late Summer/early Fall of last year, I asked for prayers for my mother. She had been attending a football game in Arizona and passed out in the stands. Doctors determined she has severe dehydration. This was a shock to both of my parents.
You see, Linda is rarely found without a beverage in her hand, usually a route 44 cherry Vanilla Doctor Pepper from Sonic. When she’s not nursing one of those, she is drinking coffee or hot Tea. There are always multiple cups around her home in some stage of being consumed, and even the odd opened and sipped from Dasani bottle.
She consumed a lot of liquids, but these liquids were not the ones that bring hydration, they did not sustain life.
In our scripture for this morning we find a tired and vulnerable Jesus. John does not tell us of his lowly birth, his precocious childhood, or even his temptation in the wilderness. Up until now we have had the rock star Jesus who has taken the countryside by storm. But in this moment, we see a man, sitting alone tired, thirsty, human.
It is the heat of the day, a time when no one would be coming to the well. Women did this back breaking chore early in the day and prayed they did not have to return until the cool of the evening at the earliest. Women and children all over the world still gather in the cool of the morning to get the water they need from wells such as this. No taps, no bottles, now water treatment facilities. Unless you are the mother’s in some areas of Flint Michigan, who still gather daily for bottles of water because the water from their taps is unfit to consume.
A woman comes to the well, either because she ran out of water and needed an emergency fill up, or because she was avoiding the other women of town. She sees this man and in their shared vulnerability, they have a life changing conversation.
They speak of thirst, of need, of loss. She openly questions Jesus’ motives. She’s used to men giving her the run around. Jesus answers her and offers her something more than the stagnant well water. He offers he living water, flowing streams of water that renew, and refresh consistently.
Jesus speaks to her about her life. Without judgement, there is no mention of sin or repentance in this passage. Just a statement, “I know where you are coming from, I’ve seen what your life looks like. I’m offering you something different.”
This is an invitation. An invitation to imagine that even our most cherished practices matter little if they do not facilitate a relationship with the living God. An invitation to recognize that it is the very Messiah and Son of God who is speaking to her and affirming her worth and value. An invitation to leave behind her burdens and share with others the joy she has encountered in their meeting. These invitations are surprising in that the come from a man to a woman, a Jew to a Samaritan, and a rabbi of relative power and authority to someone who had neither. They are also surprising because each invitation also involves challenge – the challenge of getting over one’s piety as an excuse for keeping a distance from God; the challenge of accepting the new identity Jesus offered; and the challenge of imagining that God could and would use her to share the good news. Invitations aren’t devoid of challenges, and challenges can themselves be empowering when offered out of regard, acceptance and affirmation.
The woman leaves Jesus, and her jar, at the well. She runs out into the community. She doesn’t need a jug to carry this later. The living water of Christ is bubbling up within her. She is now the vessel carrying good news to others!!
The disciples return to Jesus and beg him to eat something. They want to keep him strong and healthy, after all. But Jesus knows something they do not know. Jesus knows that man does not live by bread alone. He is also fed by the word and will of God.
Jesus gives them these words:
"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."
Jesus is speaking about bread, but also the sustenance that can only be found in the word of God. He’s talking about the feeding of the 5,000 from a few barley loaves, and the feeding of the world through his own flesh and blood.
Jesus is showing the disciples that here, yes even among the Samaritans God has already been at work, the harvest is ready, the seeds have been sown. This is significant! God is at work even outside of the people of Israel. Seeds have been planted and they are ready for the living water of Christ so that they can be harvested.
There is a seamlessness in this story between symbolic and physical sustenance, an unbreakable connection between metaphor and the material. An experience with Jesus, my friends, has real world consequences.
In the Eastern Orthodox church this woman is called Saint Photina. She is the first evangelist, the first to share the good news that Jesus is Lord. Her belief in Jesus changes her life in radical, real ways that impact her entire community. She is held up as an example to follow, because she accepted the invitation to drink living water.
Not all liquids are created equal. Some lead us into a false sense of security, perhaps like the relationships that had promised this woman, Saint Photina, security over the years. The things that we choose to turn to for sustenance can instead do real damage. Things like unhealthy relationships, addictions, the prosperity gospel, pride, these things lead to a dehydration of the spirit.
May we instead turn to the living water, and may we become vessels sharing that water with the whole world!