Brothers and sisters in Christ.
Today I read about a Dutch comedian, you may not know him. Javier Guzman. I`m not a big fan, but he is interesting because he has been battling his own demons, the demons of alcohol abuse for a number of years now, and has been very open about that, about this unquenchable thirst, so to say, that cannot be stilled by anything man-made. No matter how much he tried to sate himself, with “buckets, no rivers of wine” he always ends up in the same spot. I read this morning that he’s checked into a clinic once again trying to stave off the worst.
A thirst that cannot be sated by human means, is an image that really fits a lot of existential issues. As fallen human beings we always entertain wants and needs that are greater than the world can provide. And even when our needs are sated for the day, they will return the next day and the next. The water we drink slakes our thirst, but we too have to haul water each and every day, or our thirst will become unbearable.
Today’s Gospel is very long, even the short version is quite long. And there’s a lot that’s going on here. I`ll try to elucidate it for a little bit.
The setting is Jacobs well, it’s quite a bit out of town in the wilderness and it’s the middle of the day. It’s not the most logical moment to be out there in the heat and performing backbreaking labour, it’s not really the most logical moment to be out anywhere either.
And yet, there they are. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman. During the hottest part of the day.The Samaritan Woman apparently isn`t too popular in her home town. Apparently, she’s not welcome to join the other women during the cooler hours of the day. And Jesus knows why.And had Jesus been any other man he would have ignored her. Most Jews of his time despised Samaritans, an archaic offshoot of Judaism that fundamentally goes back to the separation of the Davidic Kingdom into a northern and southern realm. So from the view point of the Jews of Jesus’ time, the woman is so to say, ultra-marginal.
She is a woman, well those didn`t amount to much anyway. She is a Samaritan, an avowed enemy of the Temple in Jerusalem. And… well. She’s a sinner to boot. Even the Samaritans don`t like her. If there’s a bottom of the pile, she’s there!
Just the fact that Jesus adresses her, let alone asks her to draw water for him is already a shock. The mere possibility of human contact between a nobody and Jesus was unthinkable but moments before. But what comes is much more shocking.
Jesus begins to talk about living water, and this living water is a spiritual reality. But of course the woman doesn`t get this, at first. This is something of a common trope in the Gospel of John. Johannean Irony: Jesus tells something important, and all the people who should get it, don`t.
The disciples most often don`t get it. The teachers of the Law don`t get it. But the Samaritan Woman does, after a while. It’s an achievement, it’s beyond an achievement. The greatest truths are revealed to the smallest whereas does considered wise are left holding the can.
And while the disciples are fretting over whether Jesus has been eating properly and wondering why he’s talking to a woman, she’s out there in the town, testifying to all who would hear that the Messiah has come and they have to come see him. She is, in effect, the first apostle, so to speak. It’s the world turned upside down.
This is why we’ve been reading the long version of the gospel. Because the short version leaves out this dichotomy, about the disciples being fairly useless and the Samaritan Woman with the dubious lifestyle choices has become a source of living water, drenching the parched lands of Samaria.
And to be honest you need only look out the window or step out of this door to see a lot of desert land, a lot of wells that have fallen dry. Other wells seem to be gushing forth lustily, but their water may not be good for us to drink.
As a country we’re waiting for living water once again. And no matter how important our history we cannot just point at organisations, institutions and buildings that were erected two centuries ago and say “ah, but these wells were dug by our ancestors of blessed memory” . They were. Christ doesn`t dispute the claim the Woman makes about the well. “Our ancestor Jacob dug it”, indeed he did and you Samaritans, as their descendants still drink from it. But the well must point to a greater reality.
The story of the well isn`t about the well. The story of the well is that someone will come, someone greater than Jacob, who will bring living water, who will heal the wounded and the addicted, who will open the gates to new life with God.
So we have to be on the lookout, for living water. And taking this Gospel into account we should expect the unexpected. The living water will come from unexpect quarters and involve unexpected people. It will be an adventure, a great many people will be upset. This is unavoidable!
It gets even better when you become a source of living water, and draw more people in in this ever widening circle of truth, goodness, beauty. And the new life it engenders will prove to be contagious and uncontainable and what was wilderness will come to bloom once more.