3rd Sunday in Lent: View the Livestream here
The Reverend Mike Kreutzer
What are you thirsting for? Do you even know? The Israelites in today’s first readings thought that they knew. By this time in the story it had been two months since they had left Egypt. In all that time they’ve been traveling through the dry and barren land of the Saini Peninsula. They were thirsty. Thirsty for water.
In the time we pick up their journey today, they’re coming close to a mountain. It’s one that apparently for generations had been considered to be a sacred place. A place where people would come into special contact with God or with the gods. This mountain was called either Sanai or Horeb.
When they got near the mountain they started complaining. Complaining to God and complaining to Moses, calling out to them to give them water. God listened to their cry and God gave them literal water to satisfy their physical thirst. But God went way over and beyond that and he gave them another kind of water as well, one that was meant to satisfy a far deeper thirst, one that they probably didn’t even recognize. God gave them Torah.
Now the word Torah is usually translated as law and that’s part of the concept. But Torah is broader than Law. Torah refers to a teaching, an instruction, to God’s way of guiding people through and to life. And it was in the giving of that Torah, which is often described, especially in the Psalms, as water, that they found the solution to their much deeper thirst that they had.
So 1300 years later, one of their descendants again was thirsting for water. We heard about her just a moment ago in the Gospel reading. We don’t know her name, John never gives us her name, but that’s typical for the Gospel according to John. Some of the most important characters in John’s Gospel never are named in any way. They seem to be symbols of a much larger group. And this woman also was apparently thirsty. She was thirsting for water, but it became obvious she was thirsting for something much more, much deeper, than that.
She had come to the town well around noon time which is rather unusual because the women of the towns would gather there twice a day, early in the morning and then in the evening. They would gather together. They would draw water for themselves and their families and share news of what was going on, basically gossip about what was going on. Maybe that’s one of the reasons she wasn’t there with them. Why she was there by herself. She was probably the target of the gossip. She was the subject that they were talking about.
The Gospel tells us that she had been married by this time five different times which is way beyond whatever the law at that time and social custom allowed. And it seems like she might have even been living with some other guy. At least she was living with him when she left home that morning. Her relationships didn’t seem to last very long.
A group of men unexpectedly walked into the square there, while she was there alone. All of them left except one and she was left there alone with this one stranger. And any hope that she had about striking up a conversation must have been shattered when she realized he was a Jew.
The Jewish people and the Samaritans had been at odds with each other for centuries, they had been openly hostile to each other. Sometimes those hostilities had broken out in violence and even in killing each other.
So she realized there’s no way this guy’s going to pay any attention to her or even talk to her. And so apparently she was shocked when Jesus walked over to her, began to talk to her, and asked her for a drink of water. Why would he do that? Why would he even speak to her? And why would he expect to get water from her? Why would he ask her to do that? Besides the fact that if he had been there by himself there would have been no way for him to get any water because, as she points out, he didn’t even have a bucket. How would he get any water out of this deep well right here?
Little did she recognize at the time that he was the one who was going to satisfy her thirst: her deepest thirst, not her thirst for water, but her deeper thirst for forgiveness, for reconciliation, for healing, for life, and for hope. Like the Israelites in our first reading today and like this Samaritan woman in the Gospel reading, we too are thirsting, but do we know what we’re thirsting for? Maybe and maybe not. If you look at the common experience I think we have, all of us, and all people from time to time, we put all of our effort, time, attention, and resources to looking for something that supposedly is going to satisfy our deeper thirst. That will really make us happy with life and will give us real satisfaction in life.
But all too often when we get them we realized it didn’t do any good. It didn’t satisfy the deeper thirst that we have inside of us. There are many facets of these two stories that we have here today that are well worth our consideration and reflection. But here as we gather on this third Sunday in Lent, I’d like to briefly raise three of them to you for your consideration and your thoughts and prayers over this coming week.
First of all, in the first reading, in the Exodus story, the Israelites were probably looking for some sort of miraculous divine intervention that was going to give them water. And if we take these stories on their surface meaning, that’s pretty understandable. I mean it had only been a couple of months since they had experienced together the dramatic events of the first Passover night back in Egypt and shortly after that the crossing through of the waters of the Red Sea, this great dramatic event which is described for us in Exodus. And so they’re probably looking for some sort of dramatic event where God will intervene and give them this water.
But God said to Moses, “You want water? Take the staff in your hand and strike the rock.” That must have been a letdown for him. I mean they’re looking for a spectacular event, this spectacular divine intervention, this miracle that was going to come, and God says, “You have all you need. You have a stick and a rock. What more do you want? Just use those and trust in Me.”
And so often in life we find ourselves also looking at some sort of miraculous thing that we want God to do for us — that God would just fix things for us in life, take care of all of our problems, help us with the work that we have to do, the ministries, the mission that we have as a church. And God says, “You’ve already got all that you need. Just go out and use it. And let me do the rest.”
And something that we as individual Christians and also that churches seem to miss out on – God has already given us what we need. You know I was thinking back on my many years of ministry and all the new programs and gimmicks that churches come up with and if we just do this thing this is going to make everything better. And none of it ever worked. God has already given us what we need. We just need to figure out if we’re willing to use it. Go out and do the work God’s given us to do and trust that God’s going to be with us.
Secondly in this Gospel story the woman found that her deepest thirst, her most important need came not when she was looking at what someone else could do for her, not in any of her failed relationships or any of the other things that failed in her lifetime, but she found that her deepest thirst was met only when she stopped thinking about herself and instead gave a drink of water to this stranger. Not just any stranger but even an enemy. She came to recognize that taking care of his needs brought her true happiness and fulfillment in life. That brought her to the beginning of a road to a new and much greater life. That’s something we all can think about in our lives as well as individuals and as a church. Where do our focusses need to be? On ourselves or maybe in going out and serving the needs of others, even those who seem to be very different from us, those who are most in need wherever they may be in our community and our world.
Finally the story points out to us that it doesn’t reach its climax even with the Samaritan woman’s conversation and relationship there with Jesus. It doesn’t reach its fulfillment until she went out from there to share the great gift she’s been given with everybody else in her community. Until she realizes the fact that the gift that she’d been given from God is not just for her. It’s for everybody just like everything that we have has been given to us for the sake of all of God’s people in the world.
At the end of the story finally she recognizes that, she goes out, and she begins to raise the question in their minds that occurred to her also- is this at last the One for whom we’ve been looking all along? Is this at last the One who can give us the living water that will satisfy our deepest thirst?
So what are you thirsting for in life? Do you even know? It’s all too easy for us to extend our time, our energy, our efforts, everything we have, all of our resources in looking for things that are going to leave us just as thirsty just as unsatisfied just as unfulfilled as we were when we started at all. So maybe these readings are suggesting we try a new approach which is actually a very old one.
Maybe they suggest to us that what we need is to not look for some miraculous program or some special gimmick that is going to take care of everything but rather that we look at what gifts God’s already entrusted to us and we go out and use them, placing our trust in God alone.
Maybe they suggest to us that instead of worrying so much about what we want, what we’d like to have in life, that we put our focus instead on what other people need. Including and maybe especially those for whom we are separated in one way or another who seem to be different from us in one way or another. And instead of focusing so much on what gifts we’ve been given alone as though they were given for our own use all by ourselves, maybe we need to focus instead on sharing God’s gifts — recognizing that all the gifts God’s given us, the many ways we’ve been blessed are gifts that are given to serve the needs of all. If we do, we might just find a new life a new refreshing life. We might find that the center of our life comes in our devotion and our following the example of One who alone has the ability to satisfy all our thirst. Amen.