A father was in church with his five-year-old daughter. During the service, the minister was performing the baptism of an infant. The little girl was taken by this, observing that he was saying something while pouring water over the infant’s head. With a quizzical look on her face, the little girl turned to her father and asked: “Daddy, why is he brainwashing that baby?”[i] Out of the mouths of babes.
The Sufi mystic Rumi once wrote, “thirst seeks water, but water seeks thirst.”[ii] That might be a good summary of today’s Gospel reading. Because the narrative we have before us today is a great way to think about baptism. Not as brainwashing but rather as an invitation; an invitation to quench our thirst. And that’s what this text is about. It’s about thirst. It’s about a woman. A thirsty woman who went to Jacob’s well seeking physical water. But she went there at midday which indicates that she was an outcast in her own society. The “in” crowd came to the well in the cool of the morning or at dusk. So, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that while she was seeking a bucket of actual water, her thirst could only have been quenched by something deeper. “Thirst seeking water.”
Now, this is where Jesus comes on the scene. On first blush, it seems like Jesus is just being Jesus, right? In the narrative, as he often does, Jesus offers this woman a gift. He offers her the gift of ‘Living Water.’ He offers her the gift of restoration and healing. He’s offering her the gift of salvation. And, like I said, we see this all the time in the gospels. It’s Jesus being Jesus. But it’s also “water seeking thirst.” It’s Divinity seeking humanity.
But this story would have “raised an eyebrow” for John’s audience. Actually, they would have been shocked! Jesus defies the custom and protocol of his religion and society by, first, talking to woman and secondly, who was a Samaritan. Remember, Jesus, as a Jewish male, was not supposed to even talk to a woman who wasn’t his wife, let alone accept water from her. And as a Jew, and especially as a Rabbi, he was not allowed to interact with a Samaritan of either gender. And this cannot be over emphasized. These weren’t just a couple of social faux pas on his part, Jesus ’actions were against the law.
So, there had to be a good reason why he would break the law. And that reason takes us back again, to this idea of “water seeking thirst.” You see, throughout the gospels Jesus pushes the common interpretation of the law. If a law was unjust, or at least the interpretation of that law, he was there to challenge it. So, the water here, the Living Water, was seeking justice. In this narrative, we see Jesus challenge the intuitional prejudice that existed in his context against women and those from other religions. This is important. It’s important because the Living Water he offers is for us, all of us, all genders, all religions, all races, all nationalities, …all humanity. And specifically, as Christians, we are called to share the Living Water of our baptism by living out our faith to all the ends of the earth. Living our faith by feeding the hungry, by housing the homeless, by visiting the lonely and sick and those in prison. We live out our faith when we welcome the refugee and the immigrant. We share the Living Water when we seek to coexist with those of other religions. And we don’t pull these things out of the sky. We live out our faith by doing these things because these examples were given to us by Jesus himself.
My friends, our thirst leads us to seek the Living Water, but remember that the water also seeks us; seeks our thirst. And the result of all this seeking moves us a little closer to God. And isn’t that finally the goal of our Lenten journey?
I would like to leave you today with something I read this week. Kathryn Matthews in an essay called Finding Refreshment, writes, “We come before God, who knows our every thought and our every hope, our every gift and our every broken place, every single beautiful thing about us, every wonderful story and even the ones that aren’t so wonderful, we come before God, and God offers us a cool drink of water, and a place to rest.”[iii]
May you rest in God and may your deepest thirst be quenched by the Living Water.
Amen and Amen.
[ii] Dr. Mary G. Durkin. The Woman at the Well (agreely.com) 1999