Exodus 17:1-7 John 4:5-42
March 27, 2011 Third Sunday in Lent
What are you really thirsty for? If we are honest with ourselves, each of us will most likely recognize that there is something missing from our lives. It may be something large and looming, or it could be just a small something that we barely notice; but for most of us there is a space in the middle of our lives that cannot be filled by the usual things. The Samaritan woman dealt with the same kind of empty feeling. We usually take her story at face value, but if we think about it, set it in context, there are some clues that let us know of her dissatisfaction with her life as it was. First of all, it was not normal for a woman to go to the well in the middle of the day. The heat would have been intense at that time, and most people would have been sitting in the cool recesses of their home, doing something that didn’t require too much effort. This woman seems to have been waiting for something interesting to happen, or someone interesting to happen by, maybe. Was she attracted to Jesus? Did she look out her window, see a handsome man standing there near the well and decide to go out and see if she could initiate something with him? What was she looking for from him? What was she looking for from her life? In the course of her conversation with Jesus, we find out that she has been married 5 times. That was just as extreme then as it is nowadays. We don’t know why she had so many husbands, maybe it was through no fault of her own, except for the fact that Jesus comments by saying she had 5 husbands and the man she is living with currently isn’t even her husband, so it seems as if it is a pattern in her life that points to her dissatisfaction with how things are. It seems as if she is a person who is continually seeking for answers outside of herself, that can really only be found within. What is she really looking for from Jesus? Why does she venture out into the heat of the day to greet him at the well? Does she know what she wants, or is it a restlessness that she can’t even name?
I think if most of us took some time to get in touch with our own hearts, we might find a similar restlessness inside of us. We might discover, if we looked deeply enough, that there is something in us which longs for more. And if you asked yourself, “more what?” you might not be able to answer your own question. There is just something within us that knows there is more to life than we are taking in, more than we are experiencing. Have you ever wandered into the kitchen, feeling hungry, but not really knowing what you were looking for? You open the fridge, stand there staring at the shelves, waiting for something to capture your attention. You look in the cupboards, at the food stored there, asking yourself, “is it that? Is it that?” but nothing really resonates. You have a hunger, but no idea of what will satisfy it. Sometimes when we are standing there, hungry for something that eludes us, we start eating anyway, just to see if something will fill our hunger so we can forget about it. Often, we eat until we don’t really feel well, because we just keep on trying first this and then that, hoping that something will eventually satisfy our hunger.
I look back to the people in the reading from Exodus this morning, and see that they were hot and complaining as they wandered in the desert. They wanted water, and so God told Moses how to get some water for the people to drink. We know, from reading their story, that the water was not enough to stop their complaints. Water was probably not what they were really thirsty for. They might have been thirsty for a place to settle down and call “home.” They might have been thirsty for a relationship with God that felt a little more secure, a little less on the edge. They might have longed for a leader who better understood their problems, rather than Moses, who often seemed like he didn’t even want to be there in the first place. The Bible is peppered with accounts of people who were looking for a relationship with God, who got sidetracked along the way. It is full of people who thought they were looking for one thing from God, only to discover that it was something else that their souls really longed for. Even the people who followed Jesus often did so for the wrong reasons. What they received for their faithfulness was different than they expected to receive, it was different than what they could have articulated a need for. I think we have a place right in that long line of people who are searching for something from Jesus, and from God that we do not even know how to talk about. We have an emptiness inside of us that longs to be filled, and yet we just don’t know what we want. We don’t know if anything in particular will satisfy us, or if whatever we long for is a series of things, a relationship or something that cannot even be pinpointed at all.
Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that he would give her living water, water that would ensure she would never again be thirsty. She had no way of understanding what he was talking about, except in terms of the well that held water she needed to carry back to her home several times a day. All she could think of was how wonderful it would be if she no longer had to carry water, if she and her family had all they wanted to drink, without such a physical effort. But I think what really spoke to this woman, the part that filled up that empty place within her, was the fact that Jesus took time to listen to her, to speak with her. The reason she went to tell all her neighbors about Jesus and to invite them to come and hear him for themselves, was not because of the living water he promised, but because he “told me everything I have ever done.” And after a moment of reflection, she added, “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Jesus knew this woman. That was what ultimately mattered most to her. She felt that she was in the presence of someone who knew her and cared about her, about the choices she had made both good and not-so-good. She felt held in his presence.
Later, as Jesus and his disciples leave town, his disciples worry about the fact that he has not eaten anything for awhile. His response to them, that he has food they don’t know about, goes back to the living water he offered to the Samaritan woman. There is a kind of food and drink that satisfies needs in us that go deeper than the physical. Jesus knows how to access those resources, and this is a part of what he wants to teach others. Most of us have gotten involved in a project that so took our attention, we didn’t think about food for a time.. Sometimes you can go a long while - a day or even several days, without eating - if you are really engrossed in something creative. Writing, creating art or creating something else, can satisfy us at such a deep level that our physical bodies don’t feel hunger or thirst. This is the way that God wants to affect us. God wants to be so much an integral part of our lives, that when we are in God’s presence our physical needs take a back seat. Our souls are so full, that nothing else matters for a while, and we feast on the richness of our relationship with God, on our closeness with God and on the fact that we can truly be ourselves.
Loving God, you surround us with all good things. You satisfy our hunger for fulfillment. You quench our thirst for closeness and for knowing you. You hold us to your heart and breathe life into us so that we can go on and live fully and beautifully in your name. Amen,