“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.”
Water is a prevalent and pregnant theme in the Bible generally and in John’s gospel specifically. In fact, the Bible begins and ends with passages about water, water that comes from one definite place and from there spreads out in all directions bringing life and blessing to all that it touches.
For example, in the second chapter of Genesis we are told, “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches,” (2:10). And each of these four branches flow out into different lands where they bestow life to what would otherwise be dry and arid soil. Likewise, at the end of the Bible in the very last chapter of Revelation the angel of the Lord shows John a vision of a river, and this river is “the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb,” (22:1). And the risen and living Jesus speaks: “let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift,” (22:17). Friends, are you thirsty?
Do you know who was thirsty? The Israelites; they were thirsty. In our reading from Exodus this morning we find the nation of Israel journeying through the wilderness having just been liberated from slavery in Egypt. And do you know what they were doing? Complaining! “Give us water to drink,” (17:2). “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” (17:3).
No sooner had God liberated Israel then they were longing to be back in Egypt, longing for the security and comfort of what they knew, never mind that what they knew was slavery.
At any rate, they’re journeying through the wilderness and they thirst. But Moses has nothing to give them, so he prays to the Lord and the Lord provides: “take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink,” (17:5-6).
The Apostle Paul, reflecting on this passage writes: “and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ,” (1 Cor 10:3-4). And the rock was Christ. If Christ is the rock what is the living water that flows forth from him?
In our gospel reading this morning we’re dealing also with an account of thirst. It is mid-day and Jesus is tired and thirsty. We find him sitting at a well. Wells are where people who are in need of water go. They attract thirsty people.
Are there places in our society and culture where thirsty people gather? Are we present there, waiting, listening, asking?
It is also worth noting that this well in particular, Jacob’s well, is significant because it is associated with God’s saving work amongst Israel. By this well Jacob, the great patriarch, provided water, the basic element of life, for his people. But as we are about to see, there is a greater thirst in human creatures that extends beyond what water from this well can satisfy.
There is much in this story that we could focus in on. This morning, however, I want to draw our attention to the one piece that is central to the story. That is, the nature of the living water that Jesus gives to satisfy our thirst, for good.
“Everyone who drinks of this water,” Jesus says referring to the well, “will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty.” Water, ordinary water, can quench your thirst but it cannot prevent thirst from rising again.
The living water that Jesus gives, however, it goes straight to the heart of the matter, it addresses the deepest and most profound longings of human creatures.
Human beings have longings and desires. Some of the most significant are our desires for intimacy, for transcendence, for acceptance, ultimately, for love. There are some “waters” that can temporarily quench our thirst, good things that are a part of God’s good creation: friendship, work, art, sex, wine, food, recreation, and so on. But while these things may satisfy our thirst for the moment they cannot satisfy our thirst for good. Indeed, these things can become profoundly harmful even, when they are sought as ends in themselves. This is what the Scriptures mean when they talk about sin—seeking God’s good gifts over or instead of God himself. Another way of saying this is that we are creatures made to worship, but the temptation is to worship the wrong things. Is it any wonder that there in the middle of Jesus’ discourse with the Samaritan woman is a conversation about worship?
And so when we are lonely, or taken by a beautiful piece of music, or desirous of sex, or tempted to drink too much we would do well to pause and remember that these longings are signs, signs that we are thirsty creatures, and that no other created thing can ultimately satisfy our deepest yearnings. That alone, God can do.
Jesus Christ meets this woman at the well. Not only a woman, but a Samaritan too. Not only a Samaritan woman, but a Samaritan woman caught up in sexual sin. Today still, Jesus Christ encounters real people at real times in their lives. That is why you are here this morning, is it not? Because Jesus Christ has encountered you, he has come near to you as your contemporary, as one who is familiar with your weakness. Who knows what it is to be tempted though was without sin. And he comes to us still and speaks his word to us, making himself known as the One who is for the world, for human creatures, for you. And he claims you and I and makes us partners in his covenant and participants in his work, and cleanses us of all our sin. “I know that Messiah is coming,” said the Samaritan woman.
And Jesus said to her, “I am he.” And he would say the same thing to you this morning: I am he. He who made you for myself, he who has drawn near to rescue you, to liberate you, to give you living water.
“And the rock was Christ,” wrote Paul. If Christ is the rock we still have yet to determine what the living water is, that flows from the rock to bring life and blessing. A little later in the gospel Jesus will give us the answer: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me. And let the one who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive,” (John 7:37-39).
The Holy Spirit is the gift of God that flows continually from the rock that is Jesus Christ. As the river flows from the garden in Genesis and from the throne of God in Revelation, bringing life and blessing to all that it touches, so too the Holy Spirit, the very life of God, flows from Jesus Christ out into the world bringing nourishment and new life to the dry and barren soil of our hearts and minds.
Furthermore, this is living water, meaning there is no danger of the Holy Spirit drying up or running out. God gives himself to us in abundance, a perennial fountain that wells up within us and that will never cease until we are brought to perfection in Christ.
“Sir, give me this water.” May this be our prayer also: Give us this water! Give us your Holy Spirit! Fill us! But how does one drink of this living water? How does one get to the well and draw from it? “And let the one who believes in me drink.” Faith in Jesus is the way we drink the living water, the way we drink life that is no longer threatened by death. Trust him, believe in him, cast all of your cares on him, and you will never go thirsty.
The Samaritan woman was moved to faith as a result of her encounter with Jesus. At first she saw only a thirsty man, then a Jew, then a Rabbi, then a Prophet, and last of all her Messiah. In a similar way Jesus can open our eyes to see him as he really is, to see his beauty and his grace. Such an encounter is transformative.
The woman leaves her water jar there at the well and runs back to her town with a word, with a testimony. And many of the people in her town believed in Jesus because of her testimony (4:39).
When we encounter Jesus and are transformed by him he gives us a testimony, a word, a witness. What is the word that Christ has given you, that you can share with others, by which you can bear witness to the goodness of Jesus?
I have a proposal. What if sometime between now and the end of Lent each of us committed to sharing our faith with one other person. Just one person sometime in the next four weeks. Who around you is thirsty? It could be a neighbour, a colleague, a family member. That could be 150 people hearing about Jesus Christ for perhaps the first time. And what if that sharing was accompanied with an invitation to come with you to church on Easter Sunday? What sort of impact could that have for the kingdom of God?
We begin to see then, how you and I, like the Samaritan woman, are given a share in the work of Jesus by telling others about him and what he has done for us. Our job is merely to share who Christ is and what he has done for us, to bring people to Jesus Christ. From there, something wonderful happens as people encounter the risen Jesus for themselves, and believe in him not on account of our testimony but on account of their own firsthand experience. “The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” We become water bearers to a thirsty world.
Brothers and sisters, this Lent may we learn to live more in tune with the Holy Spirit, the living water of God who is for us life and blessing. May all of our longing, all of our desire, all of our thirst direct us to God who alone can satisfy. And may that living water become in us a spring, gushing up to eternal life, for the sake of a thirsty world. Amen.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 245.