06 Nov Walking Wet: The Hospitality of Living Water
Walking Wet: The Hospitality of Living Water
John 4:5-30, 39-42, Acts 2:44-47
November 3, 2019
M. Michelle Fincher
Calvary Presbyterian Church
This morning we pick up our sermon series on water by revisiting the very familiar story of the meeting between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus and his disciples are traveling, walking from Judea in the South to Galilee in the North. In between the two regions sits Samaria, home to a people with whom the Jews have long-standing differences about the right way to worship God. It was possible to avoid Samaria entirely by taking a lengthy detour around the region. Often, that’s exactly what Jews did, but on this occasion, Jesus chooses the direct route, and in doing so, he makes a profound theological statement, that the good news he is bringing and the kingdom he is inaugurating has no limits. It includes everyone. Jesus has come to redeem all people, not just the Jews.
After walking all morning, Jesus and his companions arrive at the well of Jacob dusty, tired, and thirsty, so they stop to rest. The disciples go on into the city to get lunch, leaving Jesus alone at the well where he encounters a woman who has come to draw water. Right away this detail alerts us to the fact that something out of the ordinary is taking place. Most women come to the well in the morning to draw their water in the coolest part of the day. This woman chooses to come at noon to avoid encountering other women. Without a word being uttered, we know this woman is marginalized from polite society, though as yet, we don’t know why.
Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water which is the second alarm to go off. Jewish men of the time did not talk to Samaritans or to women. With four short words, “Give me a drink,” Jesus breaks through long-standing ethnic and gender barriers.
What follows is the longest discourse between Jesus and any other person in the Gospels. In her lengthy conversation with Jesus, this Samaritan woman shows that she is knowledgeable about the ideological differences between Jews and Samaritans. What starts as a strange discourse becomes even stranger when Jesus begins to talk about living water. For people living in the arid climate of the desert, living water refers to water coming from a river or lake. It is water that flows, as opposed to water from a well or cistern. At this point, the woman and Jesus take turns speaking, but their conversation never seems to be on the same level. It’s as if they are speaking past one another. The Samaritan woman interprets Jesus’ words literally and wants the living water he talks about so that she doesn’t have to keep coming to the well each day. Jesus, of course, is offering himself.
Jesus knows something about this woman that she has not told him. She comes to the well at noon to avoid the other women in her community, and now we learn why. She has had five husbands, and she is currently living with a man to whom she is not married. Notice that Jesus simply states the facts about her situation. We see no judgment from him, and in fact, by continuing this conversation, Jesus demonstrates his acceptance of her, regardless of her current circumstances.
Here is a place in the story that we don’t often pause long enough to reflect on. How would you feel if Jesus exposed your failings to you? How would you react? Many of us, I think, would immediately feel a sense of shame. Perhaps we’d cower in guilt. But this woman is not undone by Jesus’ revelation. She doesn’t make excuses or try to hide or cover up her shortcomings. But neither does she slink away. She is direct and honest, and in her honest confession, there is humility. I think that says a lot about how Jesus invites us into confession, as well.
This woman, in addition to her honest humility, is also bold, bold enough to continue this conversation with a man who is a descendant of Israel and a prophet, no less. She tells Jesus that she knows that the Jews worship in Jerusalem and the Samaritans worship at Mount Gerizim. Jesus replies that the place of worship will be insignificant in the future. The Jews worship what they know, because salvation is from the Jews. The preposition used here is critical. Jesus says salvation comes “from” the Jews, not that it is limited “for” the Jews. This entire encounter and the time Jesus spends in Samaria is evidence that salvation is for everyone—Jews and non-Jews. Worship now is to be in spirit and truth, which is to say, worship is not about our physical location. It is about the state of our hearts and minds.
There is another phrase in this encounter that invites us to linger a moment and reflect on its meaning for us. Jesus says in verse 23, “The hour is coming and is now here…” which is a signal that the eschatological moment of the future is fulfilled here and now in Jesus himself, the Living Water. The word eschatology comes from the Greek word escatos which means “last” or “final.” Eschatology, then, looks to a time, an end time, when the will and good purposes of God come to final and full fruition. It is God’s final triumph. Jesus is pointing to himself and saying, “in me, God’s good will and purposes are coming to fruition. With me, the end of all things, God’s kingdom, has broken into your lives and your world. When you look at me, you are seeing God’s ultimate goal and plan for all creation.”
When the woman responds by referring to the coming of a Messiah, Jesus reveals himself to her with his words, “I am he” which for John’s Jewish audience would immediately trigger a reminder of God’s revelation to Moses at the burning bush: “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). It is yet another layer of self-revelation that Jesus imparts to this woman at the well.
At this point, the conversation is interrupted by the return of the disciples who are not at all pleased to see Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman. While they bite their tongues and pass out lunch, the woman runs back to town where she can’t help but tell everyone she meets about her conversation with Jesus. In a detail not to be missed, she leaves her water jug, the old source of thirst-quenching water from the well, and tells everyone that she has found the source of a different, soul-quenching water, the Living Water that is Jesus.
The woman’s actions beg the question, is there something you need to put down, to let go of, or to leave behind in order to more fully experience the Living Water Jesus offers? What gets in the way of your ability to receive the life Jesus wants for you? And what holds you back from sharing the source of your Living Water with others?
The Samaritan woman is remembered as the first evangelist in the Gospels. And the next time a woman runs back to her people with good news? “I have seen the Lord,” Mary Magdalene will say to the disciples on Easter morning. I love the simple invitation the Samaritan woman uses: “Come and see.” There’s nothing heavy-handed about that, nothing abrasive or offensive or in-your-face. “My life has been forever changed,” she says. “Come and see how and who made it happen, so you can experience this new life, too.” And they did. John says that many people believed based on this woman simply telling her story. Even more people believed after Jesus accepted the Samaritans’ invitation to stay longer in their village. He did, staying two days, and after seeing and hearing for themselves, many more experienced the Living Water Jesus offered.
Hospitality plays an important role in the encounter at Jacob’s well and in the ways we are invited to respond to this encounter. Before the Samaritan woman became an evangelist, she was hospitable to Jesus, reaching across barriers of race and gender to respond to his needs. Throughout scripture, true hospitality is more than being friendly to people. It involves welcoming people into our hearts and lives, receiving them with compassion in their particular situation in life, whatever it may be.
The early church took the practice of hospitality seriously. Acts 2 describes a joy-filled people who were gracious and hospitable to all. By sharing their possessions and tending to the welfare of all people, these new followers of Christ demonstrated a theology of abundance. They shared willingly and lovingly, trusting God to supply everything they would need and displaying a deep understanding of the importance of hospitality and compassion for all.
Hospitality is at the heart of our lives as disciples because God was hospitable to us from the moment of creation. We began this sermon series by seeing the love and care with which God made all that is. Out of the waters of chaos, our compassionate God gave us a home and food and a world full of diversity and beauty. Through his life and in his ministry, Jesus taught us even more about hospitality and compassion. He taught us that when we feed hungry people, welcome them, clothe them, take care of them when they are sick, and visit them when they are in prison, we do those things to him as well (Matt. 25:35-36).
Hospitality is a way of showing respect and regard for others. We do that in our families, our neighborhoods and communities and at church. Opportunities for hospitality begin as soon as you drive up each Sunday morning. Do you greet people you see, both outside the building and inside it? Do you speak to the person you haven’t seen here before? Extending hospitality is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ and by and large, I think Calvary excels at it. But we can’t ever take it for granted. It is incumbent upon all of us to pay attention and reach out to others, because while being hospitable is a way of showing respect for one another, and it is also a way to enjoy and celebrate the presence of the Living Water among us. Following Jesus’ example, who the person is, where they come from, what their background is or what’s happening in their life at the moment does not stop us from opening ourselves to extend a compassionate welcome.
When you stock the Little Free Pantry or the red wagon with canned goods to support United Community’s food bank, you are celebrating Jesus, the Living Water. When you send a card, make a visit, or pick up the phone to check on someone who’s ill, you’re building bonds of hospitality and community. When you stand at the door and greet people, usher, or add something to the coffee hour table, you are celebrating the presence of Jesus among us. When you are generous in your giving, you are part of building literal water wells in developing countries, providing fresh water to hundreds of people.
The Lord’s Table is one of the church’s most visible signs of the hospitality that God extends to us and that we extend to one another. None of us come to this table because we deserve the life-giving Living Water that is offered to us here. We come at Christ’s invitation, receiving Christ’s own hospitality as he feeds and nourishes us so that we can feed and nourish others. As you prepare to receive the elements, I invite you to reflect deeply on the most precious gift we can ever receive: Jesus himself.
Sing: Fill My Cup, Lord.