Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 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.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘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. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 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.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’ Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him….Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’
How seriously do we, in the URC, take our baptism? Baptism echoes Jesus’ words on ‘living water’ in this conversation. We are a people who share in ‘one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5) and a people who know what it is to have the ‘living water’ of Christ in our lives. These are ‘waters’ which bring together our individual relationships with Christ, and our relationships with one another within the community of the Church.
The well, here, seems to mark the history which can only quench a natural thirst. We should take care not to live in the past – which might quench our thirst temporarily but is not about living in Christ, and in one another. What about our older buildings – they might be wonderful places to worship that uplift us for an hour a week and reflect our history, but they do not represent the living faith nor the future. Or perhaps the past is about ‘how we’ve always done X’, from worship to many other activities in the life of a church. The older ways are not bringing growth to our denomination.
The conversation about living water turns out to be about what is possible in the future. We are not told that Jesus drank a cup of water, nor whether the woman drew any water to take home – the well and the cup are no longer in the picture. Instead we have the insight the woman has gained and the courage she has to speak to the very people who have ostracised her. Even though she’s found the capacity to use her voice, they tell her ‘thanks, but it’s not about you any longer’. I hope she didn’t have to fall back into being marginalised. I hope that we, having experienced the joy of belonging that comes from our baptism and the being uplifted by living water that is our life in Christ, do not slip back into the older ways that do not bring life or justice.
O God, we thank you for the joy of belonging to Christ and to each other.
We pray for our sisters and brothers in the world-wide Church – especially for the persecuted Church in places of violence and terror.
Inspire us with your vision as we move into your future, where you are already active and waiting for us to discover and serve you and your world.