Resounding Water –––– Sermon John 4: 1-42
Move 1: Between the Lines
Lonely – apart – anonymous. Today we meet a woman we don’t know, of whom we don’t even know a name. Overall, we don’t know much about her. The information that this story gives us is incomplete. At midday, when the sun burns the hottest in the sky and nobody dares to venture out of the shadows of the houses in Samaria, she leaves her house and comes to the well. Leaving the rhythm of the crowd, she goes alone and apart from the others. Mocked – looked down on – badmouthed. At a time when she hopes not to meet anyone, she is on her way to get water from the well. The other women have long returned or have not yet left. She hopes no one will see her and no one will cross her path. The fear of encounters is too great. Too great is the fear of the gazes of men and women, which sometimes say more and hit deeper in her heart than the words and judgments about her and her life that are spoken behind her back. Embittered – trapped inside – barricaded. Her life, her story, the weight of her past resting on her shoulders keep her imprisoned. 2 Although feelings are not actively mentioned in this story, emotions are not directly named, the story immediately gains depth, the emotions between the lines speak louder and louder, the encounter with this unknown woman becomes one of the most intimate and personal Jesus stories in the New Testament. I invite you to go on a journey with this woman, to walk with her in her story and possibly find yourself in her – in your own personal way.
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2 —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3 he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4 But he had to go through Samaria. 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. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water.
Move 2: Begegnung
In the right place at the right time. Sometimes the timing is just right – and whether that is coincidence or God’s will? This often remains a mystery. Anyway, the timing is right here. A woman and a man, a Samaritan and a Jew, human and God meet in this meaningful place called Jacob’s well. 3 The man sitting there by the well is Jesus. Tired of traveling from southern Jerusalem towards Galilee, he and his disciples stop in Samaria near Sychar. He stays there at the well while his disciples make their way into the city. As soon as they are gone, a local woman appears. A conversation begins:
And Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 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.)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? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” 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.”
Move 3: Elixir of Life
When we describe our earth, we say “the blue planet”. The rainforest is known for its diverse flora and fauna, even the human body would be reduced by half without it. 4 Although it seems that it is a usual or common thing for us (open the tap, water runs, turn off the tap): Water is the elixir of life! Where water is missing, life ends, drought and desert prevail. But where water springs from the ground, the world blooms, life shines forth in a wide variety of colours and shapes. People, animals and plants have always been around places where water is found. And especially in the middle of a desert fresh water is even more precious. The living water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. The dialogue between the woman and Jesus revolves around this life-giving water. Both know about the preciousness and necessity of “normal” water. But what Jesus is offering her is different. It is water that the woman does not know and has never drawn from the well: water that brings life in a very different way, that cannot be drawn from this well and that quenches the thirst permanently. Give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water! The woman’s request in the course of this conversation initially sounds like an ironic answer, as if the two were misunderstanding each other: water that quenches thirst forever?! Does such a thing exist?! But maybe she knows no other way to ask. Perhaps this is her attempt to call for help without knowing exactly what she is asking for. 5 When we try to look behind her barricades and try to take this woman’s answer seriously, a deep longing is expressed. Longing for a new start, longing for air to breathe, longing for this living water that can quench her thirst for true life. Jesus begins to touch her heart and spark in her a new longing.
John 4, 16–19
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, “I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
Move 4: God Overcomes Barriers
Jesus takes the woman seriously. He knows about her life situation. He engages with her situation without judging and yet he addresses her burdens. He goes to the heart of the matter, the sore point! By doing so, namely not hiding what should not be spoken of, but rather naming what stands between her and God and preventing her from living, he opens the well of true life for her. The walls the woman had built around herself and her life are cracked. God breaks the barriers, tears them down. 6 By addressing the problems and walls that stand between me and my life, change happens. Exposing yourself openly and without a mask hiding what goes wrong in my life, what separates me from others and from God, is not an easy task. It can be uncomfortable, it can hurt. But it is the way in which healing can begin. Detachment and liberation from the previous context of life can begin. The barriers are broken. The broken-down walls are still there and have not been forgotten. Healing will take time; it is a process that is not done in a day. But the view becomes clear to the one who calls me and approaches me. The door is unlocked to the source of life, to a new relationship with myself, with others and with God. The woman said to him: Sir, I see that you are a prophet.
4,20–30 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, 7 he will proclaim all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 27 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?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” 30 They left the city and were on their way to him.
Move 5: God’s Love Resonates
The woman is touched by the one who meets her there by the well. Little by little she begins to understand. She wants to know more; questions are arising in her head. The longing for life, for a relationship with this God, who speaks and uplifts her, grows more and more. So, she asks: How can I find this God, where can I worship him, where can I get in contact with him? And Jesus answers her, answers her questions with himself as an answer. When people really worship God as their father, when they are filled with God’s love and trust him, the argument about the right or wrong place of worship ends. In Jesus Christ God reveals himself and in him all his love for people is realized. He himself is the new place of God’s love in the world. God’s love creates a resonance in this woman. Like a string on a guitar that can only vibrate if it is not held or blocked, God’s love can vibrate in people who are not wrapped up in themselves but are set free by the grace and touch of God. 8 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people: Come and see a man who set me free.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 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 Savior of the world.”
Move 6: The Orchestra of God’s Love
Jesus offers the woman a way out of the problems of her past and, at the same time, a real future by reaching out to himself as living water. This experience has fundamentally changed the woman and makes her a witness of Jesus. 9 And her new-found belief, her knowledge of God’s love and devotion will have consequences. Brimming over like a fountain, loud and unforgettable like a melody that has stuck in her head and now resounds from within, she tells of the one who has touched her heart. And this woman’s personal story makes the Samaritans curious. Her enthusiasm inspires them to seek out this Jesus and see and hear him for themselves. And they become hearing and seeing witnesses of the giver of life. Through him, the source of true life, Jesus Christ, who has given himself on the cross and who gives eternal life, they themselves are transformed into fountains of life-giving water. There cannot be a brimming fountain that exists for itself. As a fountain of such water, people become givers of life for others, fountains of living water for everyone whose thirst for life needs to be quenched. A single string of a guitar that vibrates freely can break the silence of the desert. When Music sounds from the bottom of your heart, you cannot hold it back. This is how people, then and now, join in the chorus of this woman’s music and find salvation in Jesus Christ. Everyone in their own melody, together as a church like a great orchestra of God’s love. Amen.