Water. We are surrounded by water. 71% of our planet’s surface is covered with water. Human life begins and flourishes in amniotic water. Even as adults almost 50% of what makes up us, is water. An average person can’t live much past 3 days without water. Surely water is the thing of life.
We know this. Especially if we live in a desert. Especially if there might be a possibility of a storm, or outages. Especially if someone has to go, every day (or even several times a day) to draw water from a well or a river. Water is something we crave, something we need, something essential to life. No wonder this story of Jesus as living water, offered freely to all, strikes a nerve in every corner of our globe.
As I said last week, we are in the gospel world of John, a very different world than Matthew, Mark and Luke. I have a confession to make. I have a difficult relationship with the gospel of John. I don’t particularly like the way John has been used by some Christians. I know the references in it to “the Jews” have inspired much anti-Semitism—as if they were some group of “others,” rather than a part of the community John is having an argument with. And that ubiquitous John 3:16 passage, which often gets quoted by someone whose world view thinks they know exactly who is “good” in God’s eyes and who is “bad.” Those are all difficulties about the gospel of John for me. But, on the other hand, the gospel of John gives us spectacular in-depth vignettes. So rich, with so many layers of meaning, that that we could spend night after night after night with Jesus, talking and asking questioning about them.
So here’s my musing for this day and this time.
I never noticed before that this story says Jesus “had” to go through Samaria. “he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria” (John 4:3-4). Now, of course, this is not a totally factual statement. Palestine in Jesus’ time was split into three regions, Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judah to the south. And it is true that the easiest way to get to Galilee from Judah would be through Samaria. But we know that some pious Jews (who felt that Samaritans were unclean, lesser beings) would go east, cross the Jordan river into the region of Perea, go north, then recross the Jordan river once they were across from Galilee.
So why does Jesus “have” to go through Samaria? In John’s world there is truth (literal, surface truth) and there is a deeper truth (let’s call it God’s truth). This story is filled with these differing levels of truth. Take the most obvious one for example. We all need water—who better to know that than this woman who has to go to the well to collect it. And so she is excited when Jesus suggests she can have water that will quench her thirst permanently. But quickly both she and we realize this living water has little to do with H2O (our literal water) and everything to do with Jesus (God’s life-giver).
So, if Jesus “had” go to through Samaria and we know this isn’t a surface truth, it suggests John feels it is a God truth. Jesus had to go there--to do one of the important “signs” found in John. Imagine how that sounded to John’s community—Jesus, at the very beginning of his ministry, reaching out to the outcast, the outsider, the foreigner, the despised—on so many levels. Samaritan. Woman. Despised (or at least shunned) in her own community. That is the surface truth of the woman we meet today.
But in God’s truth what was she? Open. Strong. Thirsty. In God’s truth she drinks of the living water and becomes “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” And through her many Samaritans met Jesus and believed in him.
Why did Jesus “have” to go through Samaria? Maybe because it was important to have Jesus not just “say” things, but to “do” things. In the previous chapter in John it says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17). Maybe it was important for Jesus to be interacting with “the world”—as these people would know it. The world of
not like us,
not even liked by us.
God so loved the world (a God truth).
I think there is a case to be made for this within the story itself. What is the last comment from these Samaritans who have met Jesus because of the woman at the well? “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know this is truly the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42)
Savior of the world—and yet that isn’t what the woman has called him. She calls him Sir. And then she calls him prophet. And then she questions whether he might be the Messiah. But where did Savior of the world come from? From the story-teller. From our own remembering of John 3:16. Here in John the disciples have not yet identified Jesus as “the Holy One of God” (that happens in chapter vi), but the Samaritans know (in chapter iv) this is the “Savior of the world.”
Why did Jesus “have” to go through Samaria? Because that was where he would first become known as the Savior of the world.
All because of water. Both the kind that we drink, and the kind that Jesus offers. How appropriate that the Savior of the world would use a universal symbol—water—to make his point.
Water, that all people need, each and every day. Water, that moves over much of our home, and makes our planet one full of life. Water, living water, that gushes up and splashes on all.
Don’t we want to drink?
Don’t we want to know?
Don’t we “have” to open ourselves to the world?
Don’t we yearn to become
a spring of water gushing up to eternal life?
Isn’t that what life in God is all about?
May it be so. Amen and Amen.