Thirsty (Samaritan Woman)
There’s a hymn that begins, “We are all hungry people…” We could just as well say that we are all “thirsty” people, in spite of the abundance of water presently all around us. For water to drink is a physical necessity—we can survive longer without food than we can without water. But we have other thirsts, deeper and less obvious than our thirst for water. Some of us thirst for acceptance, for intimacy; for forgiveness or reconciliation, for a way out of our rut; others for reassurance from our fears; for relief from pain; for healing for one we love; for peace from the emotional overload to which our daily responsibilities subject us; for justice and wrongs made right. Some of us know we thirst, but we’re not quite sure for what we thirst. Others of us describe a thirst for God.
The psalmist writes of his deepest thirst this way: “O God, you are my God. I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land, where there is no water.” In another psalm thirst is imaged this way, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?”
Tired of his journey, hot because it’s mid-day, Jesus is thirsty and asks for a drink from the woman at the well. During lent, we are reminded of another time Jesus is thirsty. On the cross, as related in the Gospel of John also, before Jesus gives up his spirit, he calls out, “I thirst.” Does he thirst merely for water, for relief from his torture, or for death, which at this point would come as a friend? Does he thirst for some word of human love or affirmation? For divine intervention? Or is his thirst now for union with God?
We all thirst, for different things at different times, depending on our life circumstances. Sometimes our thirst is so great it is as though we are stuck wandering in a desert, in a
dry and weary land with no relief in sight. And other times our cup is full, we are brimming with life and spirit, filled to overflowing. But consider for a moment—what are you thirsty
Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well and brings her the gift of living water. Consider some of the extraordinary elements to this encounter…The woman is a Samaritan. It’s odd that Jesus, a Jew, would have chosen to travel through Samaritan territory, when there was such enmity between Jews and Samaritans. Strange too, that he would break religious, social, and political boundaries to engage this woman in such a lengthy and serious conversation. That she comes to the well at noon, in the heat of the day, suggests that for some reason she is not gathering to draw water with the other women in the community who would come in the cool of the day. So she appears to be an outsider. This passage has often been interpreted moralistically, with the suggestion that this woman is a prostitute—she’s had 5 husbands and now lives with a man who is not her husband. We really don’t know why she has had 5 husbands—it could be that she has had a very hard, sad life, losing husbands through death or divorce or some combination of such. She may presently be living in a male relative’s home, dependent on that male for her survival and well-being. Women in Jesus’ time were very dependent on the security of a male household, so as not to be reduced to begging or prostitution for survival. Note that nothing is said in this passage about the woman’s sin or about repentance.
The extraordinariness of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus is that Jesus accepts her so fully even though as a Samaritan, she is considered an enemy of his people. That he engages her in discussion and speaks to her of God, though she is a woman. That he offers her his blessing though she is bold to question him. That he treats her with such respect and dignity, that he accords her such worth and acceptance, that the living water of God’s love spills over her and changes her life forever. How do we know her life is changed and transformed? Because we are told she leaves her water jar and runs to her community, the community from which she had been separated, to tell everyone what she has experienced and whom she has met. And the Samaritans come to Jesus, and ask him to spend time with them.
Don’t we all yearn to be known and accepted in the way the Samaritan woman was by Jesus? “He told me everything I had ever done!” It’s been suggested that the deepest healing in the world comes from being heard and understood. Or as someone has said, “Sometimes being listened to is so much like being loved, it is impossible to tell the difference.” (Barbara Pine—Kate Huey SAMUEL) Jesus offers the Samaritan woman the gift of truly seeing her and understanding her; offers her the gift of his Presence, so life-giving, like water gushing up from a spring.
I believe what made this year’s “Best Picture” The King’s Speech so compelling was its portrayal of the intimacy between Prince Albert and Lionel Logue. magine the loneliness and self hate Prince Albert or Bertie must have known—his father beat him, his nanny humiliated him, his brother mocked him, and beyond that, there was all the formality and custom that established distance in royal interactions. To whom could Bertie really be close, besides his spouse? Beyond the speech therapy and the speech exercises, what Lionel, Bertie’s speech therapist, offered him was a beautiful friendship—a gentle knowing acceptance of all Bertie was….Even as Lionel worked with Bertie’s weakness, his stammering, his low self-esteem, he believed in Bertie and thus helped him find not only his voice, but his identity as a King. Lionel offered Bertie the living water of an intimate friendship. Presence. That experience of being known and seen, and fully accepted. Having one’s identity given worth and validity.
We are all thirsty people. Yearning to be known and heard and understood. And the text of the Samaritan woman at the well proclaims that Jesus brings the gift of living water. That God knows us and loves us at our core; knows our wounds, our failures, our strengths, our brokenness, our giftedness; and wants to shower us with grace. Can we believe that? Or these words of the same sentiment from the 14th century poet, Hafiz: “I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astounding Light of Your Own Being.”
If we are thirsty, then what keeps us from this living water, or, as someone put it, what keeps us from turning on the tap? The story of the woman at the well could have gone a different way…if either Jesus or the woman were not willing to overlook the differences between them. We resist God’s grace when we are not willing to look beyond what separates us from other people…when we are not willing to look beyond our prejudices, our assumptions, our first impressions, our comfort zones, our ego needs for status through our education, or income level or achievements or whatever. We also may miss the life-giving encounter if we are unwilling to share resources—we can assume that the woman in her mercy gave Jesus a drink, and look at all that happened next. We also may miss the experience of living water flowing over us if we are reluctant to engage in conversation about our faith and our doubts, or unable to meet another with non-judgmental love. As Mother Teresa has said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
In the story about the Samaritan women, we find this living water of God’s grace as we let go of some of our resistances, open ourselves to new experiences, and as we seek God in prayer and in worship, and in personal encounter with others.
An important facet of this story of the Samaritan woman is that a personal encounter between Jesus and the woman turns into a communal event. Or, as the last verse from
this morning’s anthem goes, “Since now I am in grace immersed, set free, forgiven, whole,
I share with those who are athirst…”
The woman goes back to her own community to share her experience of Jesus…and later, Jesus comes to the Samariatan community, and they all have the joy of knowing him. Boundaries have been broken and bridged…what new life will emerge from their encounter with the Jew Jesus, and for that matter, from Jesus’ witness to his own disciples about speaking to a Samaritan and a woman no less….
But the point is, she has experienced the transformative power of love….The living water of God’s grace has washed over her, and now she goes forth to bless others. To bring life to them. Her personal encounter with God, with being filled to the brim, enables her to share life and hope and strength with others. As it has been shared with her.
We are all thirsty people. Thirsty to be known and loved for who we are. We are promised grace sufficient for our need, living water for our deepest thirsts. But we need to turn on
the tap—to open ourselves to God, to those we encounter along our way, to prayer, and worship. Perhaps this week’s constant showers were as good a metaphor as any for
the abundance of God’s grace all around us. Longing as we are for the sun, this is my suggestion: when the next sprinkle or downpour comes, tilt your face to the skies, and
feel God’s love showered upon you. And then, consider, who it is God is calling you