Text: John 4
Date: Lent III + 3/19/17
We are continuing our journey according to the ancient catechumenate Lenten Gospels from St. John. The theme of water continues. First, we with Nicodemus are told that no one can see, enter or possess the kingdom of God unless he be born again, born from above by means of water and the Spirit. The catechumens are preparing to receive Holy Baptism by water and the Spirit at Easter. We, accompanying them to the font, retrace our own new beginning or new birth of our own baptism for renewed repentance and faith. The very first question of the catechism on the Sacrament of Holy Baptism is, “What is Baptism?” And we are taught to respond, “Baptism is not just plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word.” Baptism is water applied to our bodies externally. Therefore, Holy Baptism can be thought of as cleansing, not as removal of dirt from the body, however, but the removal or forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now today we hear Jesus speak about drinking water, slaking thirst, receiving it internally. Today we heard that Jesus is thirsty, wearied as he was from his journey. Jesus is truly human and suffered all the bodily needs like us. He sat down beside Jacob’s well. We will hear Jesus say from His cross, “I thirst.” The Man, Jesus, truly lived and truly died as one of us for all of us.
A Samaritan woman arrived and Jesus asked her for a drink from the well as she was just about to draw out some water. This is the first crisis for us to consider in this text. The Samaritan’s had their own false religion even though their heritage goes back with the Jews to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This meeting was at Jacob’s well. The separation of Jew from Samaritan was not only a matter of pride or personal disdain or racism. It was a confessional separation. In this way the woman symbolizes all sinful mankind. We are all pagans and unbelievers by birth. Therefore the woman asks Jesus, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” So, we might ask, what does God have to do with you or me, a sinner?
In answer to the woman’s question Jesus pursues our real need. “If you knew the gift of God,” He said, “and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Three things here: What is this gift of God? Who is Jesus? And what is this living water? Actually there is one answer to all those questions.
Remember John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave,” He gave a gift, namely, gave his Son. Jesus is the gift of God’s grace. He is the Savior.
The woman was thinking only of physical well water. The problem with water for the body is that, while it satisfies thirst for a moment, you will get thirsty again and need to have more. But when you are baptized, you are baptized only once as God’s gift and promise to you is forever, permanent. While water will be applied to you physically, you will not be drinking this water. So what is this “living water” of which Jesus speaks that will make us “never thirsty forever?”
Water in a well or a bowl is not living water, that is, it doesn’t move. Water in a river or stream is different for it is connected with a source of water. The Detroit River flows from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie. The mighty Mississippi River flows into the great Gulf of Mexico but begins from a small stream you can even walk across in Itasca State Park, Minnesota. Jesus is living water because He is connected to the Source, namely, God the Father. He is connected not only because of His unity in the Holy Trinity but also because He has come down from heaven to do the Father’s will of taking on our sin, the sin of the whole world into His body thereby to be glorified by His death on the cross. When you are baptized you are given the gift of faith in Christ who died for you. You receive the sign of the Holy Cross both upon your forehead and upon your breast to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.
Jesus seems to change the subject when He asks the woman, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” Jesus calls forth the confession of her sin as having five husbands and now one more. Just so, I used to think that the woman likewise used the tactic of changing the subject. But it’s better than that. Having rightly perceived that Jesus must be some sort of prophet because He knows about her sinful life, she begins a discussion on religion and the proper place of worship. This was a hot issue between Samaritans who worship on Mt. Gerazim and Jews who worship in Jerusalem. But now Jesus redirects her attention saying the question is not where one worships but of whom one worships. He says, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth.” As Nicodemus learned that the Christian faith is the result of being born again by water and the Holy Spirit, now we with this woman learn that the Father is seeking such people to worship Him “in Spirit and Truth,” that is, in faith created and given by the Holy Spirit through the Truth who is Jesus. Remember how He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” So, you see the answer to our questions: What is the gift of God? It is Jesus. Who is it that gives living water? It is Jesus. What is this living water? It is Jesus.
Now when the woman mentions the possibility of God’s promise in sending the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus tells her straight out using the very name of God, saying, “I AM,” “I AM He speaking with you now.”
In Holy Baptism you are born again, given new life by God’s gift of faith. And this faith has an object, namely the Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God…being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” Yet also “who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.” In our human flesh He “was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried.” Nevertheless on the third day He rose again to life.
“In one Spirit we [are] all baptized into one body…and all [are] made to drink of one Spirit” says the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 12:13). The Samaritan woman came to begin to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah, Christ, Savior. St. John ends the story, saying, “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.” So do we all need time to learn from Him. The result: “many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.’” It is to this mighty, life-giving confession of faith that our baptism into Christ is leading.