Sunday, March 27, 2011

the woman at the well

When Sarah and I were living in Tucson I got interested in the idea of digging a well. We had city water; it was okay; we had to pay for it; everybody did. But I wondered - what if we had our own well? We could have all the water we wanted - drawn from the common aquifer, to tell the truth - without having to pay the city for delivering it. So I called a well driller - and he told me to forget about it. He knew where we lived - and knew it would be hundreds of feet through rock, busted up rock but still difficult to penetrate. He would have had to use special equipment, which he didn't even have. Just forget about it - it's not worth it.

The Samaritan woman did not have this problem. Centuries and centuries ago the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph had a well on it - somebody had dug down, maybe 130 feet or so, to the aquifer, the place in the earth where the water always (or almost always) flowed. The water that trickled down from the mountain, feeding underground streams or seeps, would give you what you needed - if you dug down to it.

And then they had put up a little wall around it, probably, just like in the movies - or the cartoons. The well was there, ready to use, for all the people of the city of Sychar. And out from that city walked a woman of the town, at the sixth hour of the day.

All she had to do was bring a bucket, and a rope, and let the bucket down, and draw up the water she needed for the day.

It was noon, strangely enough, and she was probably expecting to be alone when she got there to the well. But there was a man there, a stranger, and he asked her to give him a drink.

What are you doing? She said. You, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan (and a woman too), for a drink?

Don't you know we have nothing to do with each other? Don't you know that you Jews consider a drinking vessel that Samaritans have touched to be unclean?

If you knew the one who was speaking to you, he replied, you would be asking him for water.

What? Do you have some source I do not know about? Some source someplace I cannot see?

For he was promising living water - the kind you get from a river or a spring - flowing water, running water, living water, not the still water you would draw from a well.

It is so different it is like the difference between a cistern and a rain shower.

You want this living water. So did she. And so she asked.

And he gave her a strange answer.

You will thirst again, however often you draw water from this well. But if you drink the cup I am offering you, you will never be thirsty again.

It will rise up in you like a fountain, a spring, flowing forth from your own heart, forever.

Give me this water! I don't want to come back here again. I never want to be thirsty again.

Reality check: Go call your husband and come back.

I have no husband, she says.

True enough - you have had five (no reason given) and the one you are with now is not your husband.

Sir I perceive that you are a prophet.

(Compliment followed by obfuscation - change the subject quick!)

We worship on this mountain (where the water for the well comes from, by the way) but you worship in Jerusalem (on the mountain of David, the height called Zion).

The place where people must worship - he sweeps it aside. Soon and even now comes the hour when you will worship neither here nor there - it won't matter.

The true worship takes place in the heart - you will worship in spirit and in truth.

For God is spirit;

and the thin places - the holy places where the membrane between this world and the next is permeable, the threshold places where you can step across from mundane reality to the realm of spirit,

those places will be everywhere, in every heart.

They always have been, you know.

Do you think it mattered where God placed the burning bush? Do you think it mattered which rock Moses struck? There in the desert were thousands and thousands of rocks.

And God stood on every one of them, if you could see.

It was faith and obedience, trust and hope, which made Moses strike the rock.

And it was God who gave the water, the living water, that quenched the thirst (and quelled the anger) of the children of Israel, of Jacob, the children of that same man who gave you, Samaritan woman, the well you are drawing from today.

It was God who gave the water - to Jacob's children, the children of Israel, then and now.

Jacob himself encountered the living God on the bank of the river Jordan - and with the man, the strange man, he wrestled until daylight.

Now this woman wants to tussle with words, with the living God. But Jesus will have none of it.

And she listens to him - and - I know the Messiah is coming, she says. And he will tell us everything. He will proclaim everything. His word will be a living word.

He responds, "I am he" - but the Greek says more than this, in fewer words.

He says, ego eimi - "I am."

I AM says Jesus - I AM as the Lord said to Moses at the burning bush, so Jesus now says to this woman: I AM the one who is sent to proclaim all things.

At that moment the disciples came and broke up the party. She slipped away, back to the city.

Go and call your husband and come back, he had said. And she had replied, I have no husband.

So now she does go - and calls the whole city to come back with her and meet this extraordinary man, this stranger who had asked her for a drink, this prophet who had told her everything she had done. Could this be the Messiah?

Could it be true? Maybe he does have water to give us so that we may never thirst again.

He is the living one, the fount of all blessing - and from the rock and from the well and from the cistern and from the river flow forth the waters of God, the waters of forgiveness, the waters of salvation.

She will never again be thirsty.

She will never again be able to hide - "what you say is true - you have no husband" - but she never wants to. Never again.

For she has found the fount of living water, flowing up from within herself, as she, in the encounter with the stranger, gave him who was thirsty water to drink.

"When I was thirsty, you gave me drink."

When did we see Jesus thirsty and give him a drink? When was he the stranger, waiting at the well in the middle of the day, tired and hungry and dry in the throat? When we saw the least of these - the least of God's children - and treated them with the mercy and hospitality of the living Christ: as if they were he and we were his people, following him, proclaiming his kingdom, come in our actions, proclaimed and made to be.

May we let the water flow

Flow in us

Living water

Refresh our souls

that we ourselves

may refresh others

with the living truth

of your love.



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