Third Sunday of Lent – morning
Sunday 15th March 2020
Lent 3 – morning
Exodus 17. 1-7
John 4. 5-42
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
It is ironic that on the Sunday when we are told we can no longer offer refreshments of any kind at Church events and when even the Common Cup is to be withheld from the congregation, we have readings all about the importance of water for our survival.
Actual water of course when we are thirsty … even though we have had rather too much water falling from our skies this winter season; and the living water which is the person and teaching of Christ – just as necessary for our spiritual wellbeing.
I am told that we can survive for approximately three minutes without air to breathe; but without water you die in three days. Water is the source on which all life depends. The cry of the Israelites in the desert as they complain to Moses, “Give us water to drink” echoes the millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa; Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya, crying desperately for fresh, clean water in regions that have experienced months and sometimes years of drought. Even in Australia – although now the fires are mercifully extinguished I believe, we have seen the dreadful effects of prolonged drought on the resilience of the land and its animals. And wasn’t it good to see those pictures from Terry Braithwaite of the pump working in Nigeria – bringing water to the school about which he told us and which you have so generously supported.
For the Israelites under Moses, it’s not merely a physical or economic issue. It’s a religious matter, raising the question, “Is the Lord with us or not?” And if we think that providing water is God’s responsibility, we have to reckon with the fact that in our Gospel it is Jesus himself who is in need of a drink. He is tired, and while all of the disciples have gone off to buy provisions he rests at Jacob’s well. If you visit the Holy Land, you can visit it to this day – or at least, you could before all the travel restrictions!
It is astonishing that Jesus is there at all. Jews would normally avoid any contact with Samaritan territory – but to avoid it would mean a lengthy detour, and presumably Jesus and his companions are in something of a hurry, so they take the dangerous short cut that takes them into enemy territory.
But Jesus does not only enter in where Jews fear to tread, he even engages directly with the natives, and not only does he talk to a Samaritan, but a woman, and not merely a woman but one of questionable moral standing! You could not imagine a more unlikely scenario.
The woman herself is astonished. Coming to the well in the heat of the noonday sun, she is avoiding even her own community – presumably because she is tired of the insults and backbiting comments that would come her way because of her checkered marital history. And now suddenly this stranger – a Jew – a sworn enemy is being polite, taking a real interest in her and even seems – miraculously – to know something of her back story before she even tells him!
But she has something he needs. Not just the bucket with which to draw water in the middle of the wilderness, but she is the key to unlocking contact with her whole community. And he is thirsty. Not just for water to slake his parched throat, but for people to listen to his message and believe.
In asking this woman for a drink, Jesus broke through all the barriers of race, religion, ethnicity, gender and morality. Here was someone who did not stereotype people, not as a woman, nor as a Samaritan nor even as a sinner. He saw her as a person who had come to draw water, but was herself in need of much more than Jacob’s well could provide.
And as the travelling rabbi speaks to her, the living water about which he is telling her, begins to well up inside her; the water that alone can really address her need, the water of inclusion, and embrace, and generosity and hospitality, the water that cannot be contained.
You can probably tell by now that this is one of my favourite passages in John’s Gospel! And I could carry on far longer, but what happens next is even more amazing. The woman returns to her community minus her bucket, but full of new water, bubbling over with renewed confidence. Once more walking tall, unafraid to speak out. She goes boldly to tell her neighbours the good news about Jesus. Even though these were the very people who had been ostracizing her. And we are told that many believed because of her testimony. The one that they marginalised, has become the one through whom they find faith and they press Jesus to remain there.
Jesus was to acknowledge his thirst just once more. Hanging on the cross he cries out, “I thirst”. The one who is the source of living water cries out not only on his own account but on account of all of us. All who have ever turned to God in despair or questioning, feeling dry, arid and unfulfilled.
So how are we feeling this morning? Anxious, fearful, annoyed at the new restrictions? Well here is good news for all of us. Whatever we face, God is thirsty for us and as John’s Gospel says, “out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” We need to be a force for irrigation of our own world and community. Caring for those who are vulnerable, helping each other through the next few weeks that will undoubtedly be challenging and difficult.
Soap and water – they are the main defence we have against the danger threatening us all. I am sorry I cannot offer you refreshment as usual this morning, but at least we still have access to that living water. Make the most of it! Amen.