Summary: As the woman at the well was offered living water,so we are given soul refreshment in Jesus.
On a recent trip to the Holy Land, we were told Arab separatists in this town of Nablus, an hour north of Jerusalem, are as amped up as they are in the Gaza strip, further southwest. Though I never felt in danger on all my trips to the beautiful Holy Land, I believe the racial tensions there in Nablus today are not altogether unlike they were in Jesus' time between Jew and Samaritan. Nevertheless, as we see in this story, it didn't stop Jesus from talking with this woman who simply could well have been shunned instead. It tells us something of the Savior -- that just as he offered her the living water, and having it, never needing to thirst again, so he offers us soul refreshment. Jesus went out of his way to be in a place where he met people in need – people who are hurt and broken. The same kind of people we have around us today in the neighborhood – the same kind of people in need of Soul Refreshment.
Although Samaria was the direct route between Jerusalem and Galilee, it was the Jewish habit to bypass Samaria by taking a longer route so as to avoid the half-breed Samaritans, who were not only unclean, but unacceptable. Jesus had to make a deliberate decision to go to Samaria, because in fact, it says, he had to go; it was His Father’s will.
So here is the audacity of Jesus to disregard social conventions, customs and expectations for the purpose of redemptive involvement in the lives of human beings. Jesus simply disregards the centuries old impasse between Jews and Samaritans and the social taboo of rabbis having lengthy conversations with women in public. And, didn’t He do that for us? Isn’t that why he came to earth for us? As we learned in last Sunday’s Gospel: “God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten Son.” Jesus came to earth for us – people infected by sin; people estranged from God and from one another. Jesus Brings Soul Refreshment.
Now this world is always interested in refreshment. I’m amazed how many different specialty waters or energy drinks there are now – one is called Vitamin Water – another “Propel,” another Monster, another Rock Star, another Red Bull. All these beverages to give refreshment and even energy with ginseng and caffeine. One – five hour energy promises “No crash.” People are thirsty for something to keep them going, awake, and on the move, but only Jesus offers real refreshment; real lasting spiritual energy.
Even so, the world remains stuck on its own idea of refreshment. In a twisted human sense, sin can be refreshing. The Bible speaks of people “enjoying the pleasures of sin.” It doesn’t deny the fact that sin is pleasurable. Before the Golden Calf in the Egyptian desert, “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Potiphar’s wife toyed and teased with Joseph mercilessly – “Come, Lie with me,” for the pleasure of an adulterous affair, but Joseph stood fast against temptation, though it meant losing his position and prestige and being sent for a lengthy time to jail. Moses refused to be considered as part of Pharaoh’s family and stood with his own chosen people, rather than, as Hebrews tells us, “to enjoy the short lived pleasures of sin.” Jesus hints at the pleasures of sin this world offers us when he says that any who drink of this water will thirst again. Thus, the very number of water and energy drink products out there is certainly a metaphor for us how we are never pleased and have to always find something new and different to quench our insatiable desire. Could it be that somewhere within us, and within all these others, is this thirst for living water? Do you not see God using events in Libya and Japan and elsewhere in these last months to create a thirst for something that this world cannot offer?
Who isn’t somehow ready for the Soul Refreshment Jesus offers?
Now, almost appearing threatened by the new life Jesus was offering her, this woman tried to redirect the conversation to “church,” and “worship,” and how one worships. But Jesus went right back to the point about life in the Spirit and the living water. His discussion with her wasn’t going to be about church. Church – ‘ya ever had enough of it?
Sometimes church and worship can keep us from the living water people need and that we need. People can actually hide behind church, the machinery of church and worship. I attended a Wednesday Lenten service with my wife in my former church. A stranger -- a shabby and homeless man, walked in from the cold and driving rain, smelling of feces and urine, but not alcohol, and took a seat way, way in the back. I found it most annoying. The smell drifted a third of a way into the large sanctuary. Meanwhile the service just went on as usual; formal, classically difficult Lenten Lutheran hymns, readings back and forth and so on. The usual “let’s shorten this up a bit” kind of service. Not wanting to visit much after the service, since we’d been earlier to the soup supper, my wife and I left right away at the end. But I couldn’t get the homeless man out of my mind. Arriving home, I called the usher and asked what happened to the man, but it went into voice mail. An hour later, not because I was the pastor there, but because I was compulsive, I returned to the church with some of the left over soup I’d earlier made, wondering if the man might still be there somehow. Sure enough, there he was, sleeping in his sleeping bag on the concrete walkway right next to the side door we’d left from. He smiled as I offered him the soup, though he’d been earlier given a cup by the ushers, along with an umbrella when he was first spotted in church. I asked if there were anything else. He said something about needing some gloves and some socks. I drove the two miles home in the dark returning with those, as well as a banana and a breakfast bar and a long piece of foam I had laying around for him to sleep on. Keep it I said.