The Message: "Living Water, Healing Water,' John 4:5-15, March 12, 2023

The Message: "Living Water, Healing Water,' John 4:5-15, March 12, 2023

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
March 14, 2023


“Living Water, Healing Water”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
John 4:5-15

            Have you ever had a conversation in which it was clear that the other person did not understand what you were talking about?

            Their lack of understanding could be the result of any number of things.
            Either, they were not listening to what you were saying. (I am sure that never happens when you are speaking with your spouse or your children.)
            Or, they were not really paying attention because they were more focused upon what they were going to say next.
            It could be that they simply did not understand the topic. Perhaps it was beyond their level of education.
            Or … maybe they were confused and thought that you meant something else.

            I do not know about you, but when that happens to me it can be frustrating. You keep trying to make the point, or teach a lesson, but the other individual just cannot seem to comprehend what it is that you are trying to say.

            That is sort of the situation here with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. It is clear that initially she was confused by what Jesus was saying. The difference is that Jesus did it on purpose! It was actually a teaching technique that Jesus employed frequently.

            If we flip back one chapter in John’s Gospel, we will find the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and their discussion of being born again.

            Jesus begins with a statement that appears to mean one thing on the surface, but has a deeper meaning. This method allows the listener, or the student, to discover the meaning on their own. He does not spoon feed it or force it upon them. He lets them … lets us … take that journey of discovery on our own.

            It is similar to what I do with the children during Children’s Messages. I say or do something that is incorrect, or incomplete, or utterly ridiculous so that the children can “teach” me or help me understand.

            Several years ago I was on the faculty of a youth conference, and after one of the evening programs one of the counselors approached me and asked if we could talk. She was struggling with an issue with her faith and she shared that with me. But then she said, “Tell me what to believe. Tell me what to do.” I said to her, “I cannot tell you MY answer to your questions. But I will help you find YOUR answers to your questions. This is your journey, but I am happy to walk with you.”

            Now, let me be clear … I am not Jesus. I do not possess his insight or his sensitivity for the human soul and spirit. Not even close. However, I am called to follow him … and so are you. We are called to imitate him, to do what he does. We read in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

            “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children;  and walk in love, just as Christ also loved …” (Ephesians 5:1-2a)

            But I am getting ahead of myself here. Before we get to the conclusion, let us see what was happening in this passage.

            As we look at this narrative, we can almost play one of those ‘something is wrong with this picture’ games. With the benefit of hindsight, as we as likely having heard numerous sermons exploring this passage, we know that there are several dynamics at work here.

            Let us start with the woman.

            The fact that she was at the well at midday gives us some indications regarding the life that she lived. Jacob’s Well is about half a mile from the town of Sychar. The other women from the town made the trek to the well early in the morning or later in the evening when it is cool. This woman was at the well during the heat of the midday sun.

            Had she been shunned or rejected by the other woman of the village?

            Or was she ashamed of herself, or some aspect of her life? We do find out later that she had had five husbands, and the man that she was currently with was not her husband. Perhaps that was a source of shame.

            We are not certain. We can assume that there was a reason that she chose to go to the well at a time of day when she would not encounter anyone else.

            But she did encounter someone else. She saw Jesus sitting there by the well.

            In the telling of his Gospel, John emphasized Jesus’ deity more than any of the other Gospel writers. But in this passage, John emphasized his humanity. Jesus was hot and tired and thirsty as he and the disciples made their way from Judea to Galilee. He was alone because the disciples had gone into town to get food. Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water.

            If we are circling the ‘what is wrong with this picture’ items, we would have already circled the time of day that the woman was at the well. Now, we would circle Jesus talking to the woman.

            That also assumes that we already circled that Jesus is in Samaria. There was a centuries old animosity between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. It went back over four hundred years. The shortest route from Judea to Galilee is to got straight through Samaria, but most Jews chose to take the long road so that they would avoid passing through. So … circle that, as well as the fact that the disciples were shopping for food in a Samaritan village. Circle that too!

            Now … circle Jesus speaking to the woman.

            Men did not speak to women in public. Even more, rabbis would not talk to women, not even their own wives or daughters, for fear of damaging their reputations. It was scandalous.

            Now circle Jesus asking the woman for a drink of water. Jews and Samaritans did not enjoy table fellowship. Asking her for a drink of water was out of the question!

            With all of those ‘what is wrong with this picture’ circles, we finally get to the conversation itself. Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water. Jacob’s Well was one hundred feet deep. The disciples must have taken their rope and dipping bucket into town with them. Jesus asked the woman to lower hers into the well so that he might have a refreshing drink.

            Jesus asked that Samaritan woman to perform an act of hospitality on that hot and sunny afternoon. And the lesson began.

            The woman was amazed. Jewish men did not initiate conversations with unknown women in public. A Jewish man would not invite contact with a Samaritan. Yet he did. Jesus had already piqued her curiosity just by speaking to her. She knew that this encounter would not be like any other she had experienced.

            If Jesus had been in a classroom, and the woman was his pupil, he would have drawn a big question mark on the blackboard. “Woman, if you knew the gift of God, and if you knew who it was that was asking you for water, you would have asked ME for water, and I would have given you living water.”

            We can see Jesus’ teaching method in full effect here. The ancient Jewish people referred to ‘living’ water and it meant water that was moving or flowing. Jacob’s Well was a well in which the water percolated up from the ground. The water did not run or flow. That was the basis for her question of Jesus, “Are you more powerful that Jacob? Are you greater than Jacob? Can you make water flow? You do not even have a rope and a bucket!!”

            Then Jesus began to bring the lesson home. He does not say it, but he IS greater than Jacob. Those who drink of Jacob’s Well will be thirsty again. But those who drink of the water that he offers will never be thirsty again.

            At that point, the woman reversed the dynamic and asked Jesus for that water. She still had not learned to totality of the lesson, but she was on her way. If she could avoid making the daily trek to the well in the heat of the day, sign her up. Give her that water that would satisfy her thirst forever. Again, she was talking about actual water and her physical needs.

            We know that Jesus was talking about a very different water. He was talking about divine, life-giving, life-changing water.

            We also know that he was talking about a different kind of thirst. The Jewish people spoke of having a ‘thirst for God.’ Psalm 42 says: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” (Psalm 42:1) The thirst for God could only be quenched by living water which was a gift from God.

            The woman at the well that day may not have realized what she was searching for. She may not have realized that she was searching for anything at all. Jesu knew her struggle. Jesus knew her pain. Jesus knew that there was a reason that she was at the well in the middle of the day.

            He offered her welcome. He broke down the barrier that stood between Jews and Samaritans. He broke down the barrier that stood between men and women. He offered her welcome. He offered her community.

            Jesus did not approach her with anger or animosity. He did not dismiss her or send her away. He approached her with welcome. He spoke to her with gentleness.

            Jesus did what he would do throughout his ministry. He gathered and welcomed those whom others had rejected.

            The selected passage for this morning actually went through verse forty-two. If we were to read on, we would hear that the woman went back to her village and that “many Samaritans from the city believed in [Jesus] because of her testimony.” (John 4:39) The woman was offered the living water and her life was changed forever. She received the gift of God. And then lives of many others were changed because of her!

            Jesus gave her the Living Water, then she shared it. She too became living water for others.

            There is our lesson in this story. Actually, there are two lessons. There may be those who identify with that Samaritan woman. There may be those who found themselves at that well at some point in their lives. They may have found themselves searching for something in the midday heat. They may have found themselves isolated and alone. They may have found themselves rejected or shunned. They may have found themselves filled with shame or guilt.

            And then they were offered a drink of the life-giving water of Jesus Christ. They felt the new life flow through them. They felt their burdens slip away. They could see the glimmer of light and the dawn of hope.

             Then, just as the woman shared that living water and became a giver of hope to her community, we too are called to share. We too have the opportunity to offer the gift of welcome. We too can offer the gift of inclusion. We too can gather in those whom others have rejected. We are called to follow the Way of Christ. We are called to offer extravagant love.

            We have received the Living Water. Let us also give the gift away. Amen.


Congregational Church