Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

One Sunday morning—about a month ago—I got up to take our dogs outside. On the floor of the garage was some water—coming from the utility closet. It probably wasn’t the water heater, which had been replaced the year before.  Living on high ground and not hooked up to any municipal water supply, we rely on a well. Since the filter for that had been repaired the previous year, the well pump was the only remaining suspect.  So I opened the closet door to investigate, indeed finding that to be the source of the leak. The culprit was a corroded gasket that had completely broken off.

So, of course, we had no running water in the house, which meant having to use some of the bottled stuff for shaving and washing.  After the 8:00 service, I called and left a message on our plumber’s cell phone.  Being a really nice guy, he came out early that afternoon. He said he could try to repair the gasket, but most probably it would last only a short time. And the pump was, after all, over 30 years old. So before the end of the next day he installed a brand new one. In the meantime, there were, thankfully, several nearby motels to choose from!

Just think now what it must be like for people who rely on a public well for their water supply—that, in a hot, arid climate, they have to walk to get to. And maybe one without an electric pump—that requires a bucket and a long rope.

Jesus and his followers had neither. It was midday—and having arrived just outside a city in Samaria—the disciples went to get some food. The scripture doesn’t tell us which time of year it was—whether a hot summer day or part of the winter season. Regardless, Jesus was thirsty, and, as it happened, just then a woman came by to draw some water. So he asked her for a drink.

We know that Jesus sometimes violated social and religious customs, and this particular encounter was no exception. As most of you probably know, Jews regarded Samaritans as the black sheep of the House of Israel, as they were descendants of those who had intermarried with other ethnic groups. On their part, Samaritans believed that the center of worship for God was not Jerusalem, but instead Mt. Gerizim in the heart of their own land.

It’s somewhat surprising he and his followers were even in that territory to begin with. When traveling between Judah and Galilee, Jews would often take a longer route simply to avoid going through there at all.

One last reason for Jesus not to have initiated a conversation with the woman: In the ancient Middle East—and probably still to some extent today—it was taboo for men and women who were not acquainted even to speak to each other. Yet that’s exactly what Jesus did.

Just four words: “Give me a drink.”

Immediately she called him out on his inappropriate behavior: “What in the world are you, a Jew, doing in asking me, a Samaritan and a woman no less, to give you some water?

Don’t you know any better?”

Instead of apologizing or at least answering her in a straightforward manner, he seemed to start playing some sort of word game with her: “If you knew who I am, you would ask me for some water, that is, living water.”

This kind of language reminds us of Jesus ’nighttime discussion with Nicodemus, the Pharisee: “…I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” or “without being born again.” Just like him, the woman took Jesus literally: “What are you talking about?  You have nothing to get the water with.”

Then Jesus was more direct: “I am talking about the water of eternal life. ”Not as clueless as Nicodemus was, she began grasping some of what he was saying—not any of which she as yet believed: “Oh! By all means, please give me this water. Then, as you say, never again will I be thirsty. I won’t need to come here anymore and keep lugging this big jar back to the house.”

To prove he was serious, he asked about her husband, then revealing he knew about her past relationships. That’s when the dialogue really began going somewhere. Among other things, he told her that soon those believing in God would care less about where they worship than how they worship, that is, in spirit and in truth.

Again, unlike Nicodemus, she realized then and there who Jesus was. And ran off to tell her neighbors. Once they themselves spent time with him and learned from him, they too believed.

In effect, this unnamed woman from Samaria became one of the earliest evangelists proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah.

To most of us here this morning, the living water of Jesus is nothing new. In our baptisms, that water was poured over our heads—when the vast majority of us were too young to remember it. Our spiritual thirst has hopefully been satisfied without interruption—through regular worship, study of the scriptures, mutual consolation, and service to others.

Yet, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we too can occasionally suffer from a lack of spiritual water. We too can go through periods of spiritual drought. Sometimes there appears for a number of us no way to avoid them. They have a life span of their own that’s impervious to our efforts of drawing up strength from a spiritual well that has seemingly, at least temporarily, gone dry. At such times, we pray and we wait. We wait for that rain that will come again and refill the spring that runs underneath the well and replenishes it.

When it comes and our thirst is quenched once again, how do we then share it?  As the Samaritan woman did with her fellow townspeople?  Unlike the age during which John lived, we do not find ourselves in a time and place in which our faith is unknown to the majority of people. We live in a nation that, before it was even established, was already well populated and influenced by Christians.

Still, in recent decades, our society may now not be as different as the one that the gospel writer himself knew. In other words, it too has become deeply pluralistic and morethan ever, has become a land of many religions and, for a fast growing number of people—especially young people—no religion at all. There are many who know of Christ, but do not know him himself—do not know him firsthand, do not know him personally. Do not know that he is the source of living water, a spiritual spring gushing forth the love of God.

We continue trying to learn how we might best share that good news. Again, it requires prayer and patience—and also some risk-taking. Over the ages, we Christians have managed to hold our ground and witness faithfully.

One example of that has to do directly with Jacob’s Well—that place  where Jesus and the Samaritan woman first met. At some point in the early Church, it was “probably…used for Christian baptisms,” and, by the late fourth century, “a…church was built over the site.”

A hundred years or so later it “was most likely destroyed during” a Samaritan uprising. A Christian emperor subsequently rebuilt it. By the time of the First Crusade, though, it had fallen into ruin, perhaps through neglect. Then, in the late twelfth century, another house of worship was built there. A few years afterwards it may have been destroyed in a battle between Crusaders and Muslims. Not until 150 years ago was a new church erected over the well—this time by the Greek Orthodox Church, which then, in the 1920s, was leveled by a major earthquake. Yet again, a new building was erected in its place, which has recently undergone a major “reconstruction.” [i] Through all these changes—over the course of more than 1,500 years—in a crypt on a lower floor, the well still stands. The water still flows.

As a familiar hymn puts it, the miracle of Jesus’ life, death, & new life has become an old, old story. Yet it also says it’s a story…

some have never heard—

the message of salvation

from God’s own holy Word.”[ii]

Jacob’s Well continues to stand, maybe as a sign of God’s faithfulness, reminding us in both good times and bad, that the fresh, living water of Jesus sustains us—even when we don’t see it or feel it. And, further, as the power of that water moved the Samaritan woman to tell others about him, so it also moves us.



[i]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob%27s_Well.

 

[ii] “I Love to Tell the Story,” text: Katherine Hankey, 1834-1911.