John 4:7-26 – Living Water

Samaritan Woman at the Well by He Qi

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (New International Version)

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman by He Qi

Many years ago, I was the pastor of a small congregation north of Detroit, Michigan. Many of the people in the community viewed the big city as a place of disrepute. So, they avoided going into the heart of the great city as much as possible.

The locale of Samaria was viewed much the same way by many Jews back in Christ’s day. Samaritans were seen as untrustworthy, a mongrel people with a mix of Jewish and ancient Assyrian blood. And their religion was most suspect of all – an amalgam of Jewish and Gentile practices.

Jesus, however, didn’t avoid the territory. He confidently walked through Samaria and had no problem stopping to rest on his journey in a foreign area. That’s because Jesus didn’t class people into groups, nor did he attach adjectives to people, such as “those” Samaritans.

Jesus had no obstacles between himself and others.

Which is why an organic conversation happened between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Christ simply saw a human being who happened to be a woman and a Samaritan. He acknowledged both her gender and her ethnicity without those being a problem. Not even Christ’s knowledge of her string of husbands was a problem in conversing with her.

Every time I read this narrative of Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman, I wonder and use my imagination about all the non-verbal communication. I am sure the conversation was as much about Christ’s affect, gestures, and tone of voice, as it was his well placed words. I fully believe his verbal and non-verbal communication was perfectly congruent with each other, giving the woman a compelling sense that her ultimate needs could be met with the living well of a person in front of her.

Water gives life. And Jesus, as living water, gives new life. A bunch of failed relationships testified to the woman’s dissatisfaction. Even though we hear no more about her after this story in the Bible, we as readers get the overwhelming sense that the woman finally found satisfaction. The love which kept slipping through her fingers now had staying power.

I am sure the Samaritan woman discovered true worship, in spirit and in truth.

I still remember my first encounter, at least my first aware experience, with the living Christ. I am quite sure Jesus was near me for a long time, without me knowing his presence. Words will never truly capture the overwhelming sense of love, acceptance, mercy, kindness, and deep satisfaction – a contentment and gratification which has stuck with me now for decades.

Messiah, “Savior,” is an apt term for Jesus. He certainly saved me from myself. And Christ has never left me nor forsaken me – always there, always available, always loving with both tender love and tough love.

I’m glad that Jesus didn’t consider this earth like the city of Detroit – a place to avoid – but willingly came to encounter people like the Samaritan woman, and me. And this is the basis of true worship.

“Have faith in me, and you will have life-giving water flowing from deep inside you, just as the Scriptures say.” (John 7:38, CEV)

Lord Jesus, Son of God, Savior of humanity, there is a river flowing straight from your heart into mine — replenishing, renewing, sustaining. May you, as Living Water, be persistent in me, breaking through every barrier in its path. Send this hydro-power through the dark crevices of my heart like a mighty flood overcoming and pushing everything out of the way that blocks its path. I want my heart to be washed clean of any debris cluttering and blocking your life-giving flow. May your love overflow onto your people — your grace, your mercy — into the lives of those we encounter, to your glory and honor, in spirit, and in truth. Amen.

John 4:31-38 – Real Food

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus, the saying ‘One sows, and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (New International Version)

Today’s Gospel narrative reads something like the stereotypical mother concerned for her son saying, “Sit down and eat some of Mama’s pasta. You need some food!” As if preparing and serving a meal will make everything better.

Food has both the power to bring us together, as well as separate us. A meal can create the conditions for fellowship, acceptance, and enjoyment. Eating can bond people together through hospitable love. On the other hand, sitting down to eat can also be a way to avoid painful emotions. In this manner, eating becomes an obstacle to giving and receiving love.

It seems Christ’s disciples were doing the latter. They were uncomfortable and perhaps a bit stressed. Looking to fill up with food instead of with God, the disciples’ sense of unfulfillment was coming out sideways by opening the refrigerator, poking through the meager leftovers, and putting the emphasis on feeling better.

I know we can be hard on the disciples in the Gospels. Their ups and downs from faith to fear and back to faith again can be weird. Yet, through it all, I believe their hearts (excepting Judas Iscariot) were in the right place.

Jesus could see through the entire scenario and put the focus off eating. He addressed the disciples’ soul hunger through putting the spotlight on doing the will of God. Deep within they were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

Paying attention to our vocation and discovering our humble work in the service of God, rather than a vacation to the pantry to cover our unwanted feelings, is the essence of Christ’s interaction with his disciples.

People are much more ready for the gospel of Jesus than we think. There are times we can become so insular, and lost within our own heads, that we are then unable to see the world as ripe for a harvest of people who are actually eager to be gathered into the community of the redeemed.

Jesus just had a significant interaction with the Samaritan woman. Back in that day, you just didn’t have dialogues with half-breed Samaritans – an unholy mix of Jewish and hated ancient Assyrian Gentile blood – let alone a man talking with a woman of disrepute who experienced several failed marriages.

Christ had a way of doing the will of God, despite conventional thinking of the time. And a lot of people got their undies in a bundle from it. The disciples, having a front seat to most of Christ’s shenanigans, did a few too many palms to the forehead, believing their Rabbi’s un-orthopraxis was going to make him unpopular. They feared no one would follow him.

Looks like the disciples didn’t quite get that one right.

The Samaritan woman received Jesus as Living Water, having her ultimate needs met by the penultimate Lord of all. The disciples hadn’t quite caught up to this, so fell back on their old ways of physical food and drink to assuage the weirdness happening inside them.

The woman was gushing over with Living Water, becoming a wellspring of good news to her community. Whereas the disciples (eventually becoming an incredible fountain of the gospel after Christ’s death and resurrection) are here nothing but an annoying drip from the kitchen faucet.

A non-descript ethnically suspect woman of dubious character coming to faith was meant by Jesus to open the disciples’ eyes to a new reality: The good news of Christ is meant for the world, not just Jewish men.

The disciples were given the opportunity to participate in the world’s takeover – a mission of bringing the love of God where love wasn’t present, of helping all kinds of people awaken to the deep spirituality within them, of lifting their downcast faces of guilt and shame to see the Living God wanting to bless the world with the body and blood of Jesus.

For this is real food and real drink.

Many believers in Jesus today think they are working hard for the Lord by seeking people for their churches. Yet, the real work is being done by the triune God – the heavenly Father who scans the world and seeks spiritual misfits to bless; the gracious and truthful Son who put hands and feet to that blessing; and the wild Holy Spirit who moves in unpredictable ways – are working infinitely harder for our churches, our families, our neighborhoods, and our world.

All of our work, no matter how big or small, is made possible by the pre-work of the Holy Trinity. The great Three-in-One has done all the preparations of chopping the onions, mincing the garlic, slicing the carrots, and peeling the potatoes so that we, his followers, can make a savory stew of diverse people sharing a common pot of God’s love and hospitality.

This is the food we know nothing about, and that God knows intimately.

O God, you made us in your own image, and you have redeemed us through your Son Jesus Christ: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Above painting: Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of the Last Supper

John 7:37-39 – Come and Ask for What You Need

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (New International Version)

Anyone Can Come

Let’s take Christ’s words at the end of the Jewish Festival of Booths (or Tabernacles) at face value. Jesus said that if anyone is thirsty, they could come to him and drink. This is an unconditional statement with no caveats, qualifications, or fine print to it. Jesus did not say if anyone is spiritual enough or strong enough or committed enough that then they could come to him.

The only qualifications one must have in coming to Jesus is to be needy. To be thirsty and want a drink is it, period. No interviews. No jumping through any hoops. No red tape. No having to go through one of the disciples to get to Jesus. No obstacles whatsoever. Sheer need and want gets anybody an audience with Jesus.

“Thirsty” is Christ’s simple metaphor for need. Whenever we long to have our needs met, there is always the opportunity and possibility of going to Jesus. And we know that all of us are thirsty because every single person has needs that aren’t getting met. These important and vital words of Jesus to us encourages us to admit and say to him, “I need you, Lord.”

And what is the Lord’s response to such a humble expression of need? “Please come here to me and drink till you are full.” No judgment. No condemnation. No big sighs. No snarky comments. No disappointed looks. Our confession of need accesses divine compassion and help. Who will help?

Anyone Can Receive Help through the Helper

The Holy Spirit will help. Christ ascended and gave us the Spirit. On this day before the Christian celebration of Pentecost, we are reminded that Jesus delivered on his promise to give help. There is no better assistance in all the world than having a permanent live-in guide, helper, and advocate who is continually alongside us, even in us.

Ask. Seek. Knock. That’s it. We have a popular commercial figure in my city, a lawyer, whose one-liner is, “One call. That’s all!” And help will come. All we need do is express our needs and wants. And yet, that is so awfully hard for so many people. It seems weak or selfish to come right out and say what we need and what we want. Yet, if we are to embrace any sort of Christian discipleship, straight forward asking will be involved.

Believers simply can state their needs to be breathed on by the Spirit and have their thirst satiated. If we make it more complicated than that, we lose the incredible simplicity of the gospel – that it is good news for needy people. Yet, we sometimes make it complicated by not coming out and saying what we need. Why do we do that?

Why Don’t We Come?

For many people, they have never been given permission to do so. They were never encouraged to express their needs and wants. However, it is perfectly acceptable to state what you want, and what you really need. Ask for what you want, and you may be surprised at how often you get it.

The lack of asking goes much deeper than this. Our fear of vulnerability and being judged by God (and others) prohibits us from asking for what we really want. We must come to the point of seeing that vulnerability is crucial to having our needs met. Only through being open enough to share what you need will relational connection happen. A relationship with Jesus is based on such humility and vulnerability. Without it, there is no relationship.

We also might be afraid of not getting what we ask for, so we don’t ask, at all. Or, conversely, we may be afraid of receiving our asking! On some level, it’s more comfortable to stay in a familiar situation. We think we want something different, but we’re worried about the downside of getting it. We fret and wonder about it, not trusting ourselves. So, we become paralyzed, unable to say what we really want or need.

All of this comes down to our own image of self. It’s as if we don’t believe we deserve to be treated well. But the reality is: This isn’t about whether you deserve to have something; it’s about your needing or wanting it. Plain and simple. There’s no shame being in want or need.

Some people are so used to putting others first and meeting another’s need that they become stymied by their own inability to state what they need. So, they try and feel better by meeting everyone else’s need. And when they become bitter about being emotionally depleted, when they are thirsty for someone to meet their needs, they don’t ask for help. Because they feel they can’t.

Anyone Can Ask, Seek, Knock

You can and you must. Jesus says so. We don’t always get what we want in life. But we won’t get it if we don’t ask. It’s good to focus on what you want or need in life, instead of questioning whether you’re worthy to receive it. Jesus said:

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8, NLT)

So, what are you waiting for!?