March 12, 2023

We are a thirsty people. Did you know that in 2004, the global consumption of bottled water was 41 billion gallons? That’s an increase of 57% from 1999. In the US over 15 billion gallons were consumed last year. We’ve gotten thirstier. And that’s just bottled water; add in all the other bottled and nonbottled drinks looking at you gator and powerade, and we should be swimming in a variety of liquids all the time. Yet, we still find it easy to consume all those drinks. We are thirsty.

There is of course medical research that tells us consumption of water is a good thing, thirsty or not. It is one of the pathways to health. We are supposed to drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day Of course, it is more fundamental than that. Water is essential to life itself. We are basically mostly water and pounds of chemicals. Water is one of the most critical needs of human existence. It ranks right up there with air.

We all thirst for something. We long to feel loved. We long to experience happiness & joy. We desperately search for meaning and significance. 

SPRITE in one of its latest marketing campaigns has enticed us with its slogan, “Image is nothing. Thirst is everything. OBEY YOUR THIRST!”.

Many people do obey their thirst. They drink up what everyone around them calls love, they pursue what their neighbors call happiness, and they try to find meaning and significance in ways that make us thirstier. So, Jesus teaches us about true thirst, and how we are called to drink to truly quench our thirst, This is a spiritual call to drink from the water of life to know redemption and forgiveness and acceptance. 

The water of life that fills us and sends us out  into the world to be thirst quenchers. In whatever way we are thirsty. That’s the point. Thirsting for the living waters that Jesus spoke about to the woman at the well. And not simply a one-time thirst quencher, but a recognition of the deepest thirsts that we have and how we seem to always be thirsty, no matter how often we drink.

We all have our thirsty days. Even Jesus had them. But the difference is, for Jesus, a thirsty day was an opportunity rather than an obstacle. It was a chance to give out of abundance, rather than a panic to fill an emptiness. The woman at the well is one of the many nameless women in the Bible, without whom we would be even more lost than we are. And during a month when we celebrate the achievements of all kinds of women her need is our need, her thirst is our thirst; her fears, our fears. Jesus comes across all the barriers that we have set up to keep him out. This encounter begins with social boundary-crossing, typical of Jesus in all of the gospels, when he asks the Samaritan woman for a drink. 

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 

The well itself was very deep, and because it was spring-fed, its water was the best water around, “living,” water as opposed to standing cistern water. It was considered a holy place. Now there are already two scandals here right off the bat. The first scandal of this story is that Jesus would even talk to this woman. Rabbis were not supposed to talk to women especially alone like this and certainly not one who is unclean. Why is she unclean? 

It was the middle of the day — when the sun is the hottest — and a woman approached the well to draw water. It’s odd that the woman would draw water at this time of day. Usually, it was done at dawn or sunset. Where were her friends? Where were the other women from the town?Could it be that the woman had been pushed to the edges of her society?

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” 

In Jesus’ day, Jews would try to avoid going through Samaria. The Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along to say the least. They had common religious ancestry, but over the centuries they had divided and come to have different religious beliefs. 

Samaritans, for instance, only held the first five books of what we call the Old Testament to be scripture. So the Messiah they were looking for was different then the Jews. A Moses teacher type, not a David a king and overthrower.

And they believed that Mount Sinai where Moses received the commandments, not Jerusalem, was the holy place of worship. But Jews and Samaritans didn’t just have different views on religious beliefs. Relations between the two groups were tense and unfriendly, with Jews typically viewing Samaritans as lower and unclean. Because Samaria used to be part of Israel until invaders from the north came in and conquered Samaria. From that point on the Jews who remained intermarried with the invaders of five races who came. That is why the Jews considered them damaged goods

So, the second scandal is that she is a Samaritan too. Jewish men would say a prayer every day that said I thank God that I am not a Samaritan, a woman or a Gentile. Here Jesus is coming in the flesh so that he could find us in our needs, in our thirsts. 

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 

Notice she first, she addressed Jesus as “a Jew,” a mild contempt in verse nine. Now in verse eleven she addressed him as “Sir,” polite, but still skeptical. But we are skeptical too. “You don’t have a bucket,” we say. You don’t have what I need. You’ve got words and ideas; thanks, but what I really need is some water. What I really need is stuff I can get with my own bucket. So, thanks but no thanks. And so we drop our own bucket in the well and we drink. And we drop it again. Drop and drink again and again. And still, we are thirsty. It isn’t enough. It is never enough. Is it? We thirst. We search. We settle for a while, but it is never enough.

If you are dying of thirst after a long hot day  outside or a run, or a hard workout what do you want? Do you reach for a soda like a coke or pepsi? Probably not. Why? because usually the more we drink of it, the thirstier we are for it. It quenched my thirst, yes, but it also created in me a need for it. It satisfied my thirst, but I actually thirsted even more for it. You know why? 

Soda actually dehydrates you especially if it has caffeine. We know it is not good for us and yet we still continue to drink them and super-size them and refill them until we have taken in more calories than the food we just ate. And don’t think you are off the hook because you drink diet soda. It has enough chemicals you can’t spell that are infinitely worse for you than sugar especially for your digestive system. Remember the days of saccharin and sweet n low?

But when you are truly thirsty, and in true need of something to quench your thirst, I would guess that you never or rarely reach for a soda. It is cold, thirst-quenching water that we reach for. Or even the water from a garden hose splashed across our face. But still how many times do I think an ice-cold coke would be refreshing instead?

Why am I so reluctant to give up the soda in my life? Why am I so reluctant to make a change that can only be for my benefit? For my health? For good things for me? For a better life? We continue to go back and forth, trying to drink the water we know we need, craving instead the coke whose taste we love.

13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 

The reference to living water is a play on words in Greek,  the phrase refers to water that is flowing rather than still “fresh rather than stagnant” while also actually meaning “living,” linking it to the gift of eternal life gushing up in the believer who receives Jesus’ gift. The word used initially for well and then for the spring gushing up to eternal life appears several times in Revelation. The Lamb will guide them to “springs of the water of life (7:17), and the Alpha and Omega, echoing the words of Jesus here, says, “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” (21:6) 

But more than anywhere else in the Bible what Jesus says evokes and connects with what is found later in John 7:37-39 when Jesus says, “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.'” Like Nicodemus’ misunderstanding last week when he is unable to look beyond the earthly (physical birth) to the spiritual (birth from above) the woman at the well first understands Jesus to be referring to water from the well and asks how he will give her this without a bucket, furthering the irony by comparing him to their great ancestor Jacob, who gave them the well. But then she gets it. Sort of.

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Now she uses the Greek word sir here that means Lord like we know it She didn’t know what he offered. Not really. She didn’t understand what he brought. All she knew was that there was something here that she wanted. Some whisper of hope in the hot sun. But unlike Nicodemus, who doesn’t seem to move beyond his confusion, the woman does move. She asks for this water, realizing that it is not ordinary water but not yet understanding in what way. As soon as the woman asks for the living water, the conversation turns to her life, and Jesus will now tell her everything she has ever done, as she later puts it. Then, having been seen by Jesus, she sees him differently, and the conversation takes another turn. But that is a story for another day.

Jesus never seems to need a lot of response from us but just a willingness to want to hope there is something more. Something better and deeper with him. A willingness to see him as the source of that which will quench our thirsts. That’s all it takes, it seems. We don’t have to understand completely. We don’t have to recite a complex creed or make a well-defined statement of faith. We just have to want it.

But if, as one writer wrote, Jesus says if we drink of the water he offers us, we will never be thirsty. So, why are we still thirsty?” Why do we still live in emptiness? Is it because we don’t ask? We think our own buckets are sufficient. Maybe we are always convinced we have a better way of looking at things. But Jesus tells us, if we know who he is, if we get it, if we understand who we are talking to here, and choose life, choose living water to quench our thirsty souls.

Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe this far.
And grace will lead me home. 

The Woman at the Well knew the first part of these words well. She had lived them. And now grace had come to lead her home too. Why do we not embrace the life that he offers? It can’t be that simple, can it? Just ask? Just want it, and he will give it? Maybe we should just give it a try. Maybe we can pray like this 

Gracious God, give us give me this water,
so that I may never be thirsty. Amen.

In the hymnal…Fill my cup Lord.
I fill it up Lord. Come and quench this thirsting in my soul.
Bread of heaven feed me till I want no more. 
Fill my cup… fill it up and make me whole.

Right? Give me this water always, Jesus. May it be so. Amen.