Finding Living Water: Lent 3

Finding Living Water: Lent 3

Year A, The Third Sunday in Lent
March 12, 2023

Year A:  Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

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Image of woman and Jesus at the well

There’s so much to unpack in today’s Gospel from John. It’s long. 37 verses. It covers the disciples, Jesus’ identity, and the Samaritan village.

But, I’ll focus on the powerful story of the woman at the well in the Gospel of John. It is one of the most famous encounters between Jesus and a non-Jewish person, specifically a woman. It’s a story that has captivated people for centuries, and it’s full of symbolism and meaning, and it speaks to our deepest longings and our most profound needs,

One of the key phrases in the passage is “living water.”[1] References to water and living water appear throughout the Bible, and living water is a theme throughout the Gospel of John.

In this story, Jesus tells the woman he can give her living water to quench her thirst forever. As a result, the woman, who is initially skeptical, eventually comes to believe in Jesus and becomes a witness to others in her village. And all that happens because of living water.

So, what does it mean to talk about living water? In the context of the Gospel, it is clear that Jesus is using the phrase as a metaphor for something much more profound than H2O. He is not simply talking about water as the chemical elements of hydrogen and oxygen but about something that can satisfy the heart’s deepest longings. The woman at the well is thirsty for something more H2O. She is thirsty for meaning, for purpose, for love. Jesus offers her a different kind of water, water that can satisfy her deepest thirst and give her new life.

We all thirst for something, whether we know it or not. We thirst for love and connection. We thirst for something that will give us new life. And Jesus offers us this living water that can satisfy all our longings and give us the life we were meant to have.

But what is living water? It certainly symbolizes life-giving and life-sustaining qualities that we find in Jesus. It is the water that flows from God, the water that nourishes our souls and gives us new life.

Believe it or not, one of the questions that anyone preparing to preach often has to ask themselves is: ‘am I about to preach heresy?’ Unfortunately, believe it or not, it can sometimes be pretty easy to do that, even when it’s not our intention!

But seriously – my question for today? Is it heresy to refer to someone in our life as “living water?”

The answer to that question depends on how we understand the metaphor of living water. If we understand it as a unique and exceptional quality that belongs solely to Jesus, then it would not be appropriate to use the term to describe someone else.

However, suppose we understand “living water” as a symbol of how we are brought to God. In that case, using the term to describe others is certainly appropriate.

In the Bible, there are many examples of people who are described as sources of living water. For instance, in the Book of Proverbs, we read that “the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.”[2] This verse suggests that wise people’s wisdom and knowledge can be a source of life and nourishment for others.

It is a great blessing to have someone in our lives who embodies the living water of Jesus Christ – someone who has dedicated themselves to sharing the love of Christ with others.

I hope you have all had someone like that in your lives.

My dear friend, Sister Joanne, is one of those people.

Earlier this week, right after we finished our Service of Compline, I had a Facebook message from one of the sisters in her religious community. This person often prays Compline with us. She wanted me to know that Joanne, who has bravely fought and lived with multiple myeloma for eighteen years, is facing her final days. Eighteen years – the average five-year survival rate is 54%. Talk about blowing through the statistical model.

Joanne has been a nun for 68 years; she has touched the lives of countless people with her faith. I’m one of them.

In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus offered the woman living water, a symbol of the life-giving and life-sustaining qualities we find in him.

And in the same way, Sister Joanne has been a source of living water, or perhaps guided people to the living water. Through her example and presence, Joanne has shown many what it means to live a life of faith and service. She has shared God’s love and helped people see that love in action in the world.

I visited her the other day. Her wit, her grace, and her humor were all present. She said to me that she was on her final journey. She also said, “I’ve never died before, so I don’t know what it will be like.” But she was at peace. I pray we can all face death with the grace she showed the other day.

She has been living water in my life. Does that mean she’s God? Of course not, but she has brought the living water of Christ to me in my life. That’s not a heresy.

Who is the living water in your life? Who nourishes your soul and brings you to the love of God? Who brings you to that spring?

As we heard in the story of the woman at the well, Jesus said, “those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”[3] I saw that spring of water gushing up to eternal life the other day.

Living water comes to us in many ways, usually in unexpected encounters, just like Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Just like my first encounter with Joanne in 1985.

We might also remind ourselves how the woman at the well became a source of living water. When she sees Jesus, she sees him for what he is and comes to believe in him as Messiah.

Having had this experience of God, the Samaritan woman becomes an enthusiastic evangelist. She uses her voice and her experience to gather more believers in Jesus. “Come and see,” she says. Where have we heard that before? We started the Epiphany season by hearing the disciples invited to “come and see.”[4] Here, the Samaritan woman invites her kinfolk to come and see and experience Jesus for themselves.

The Samaritan woman is a shining example of faith. She experiences the powerful presence of God. I deeply pray that you have a Samaritan woman, a Sister Joanne, someone in your life who brings you to the living water that God gives us. I also pray that we strive to be living water for others.

May God bless all those who have been living water in our lives and may the living water of Jesus Christ continue to flow through us and nourish us always. Amen.

[1] John 4:10, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)

[2] Proverbs 3:14, New Revised Standard Version (“NSRV”)

[3] John 4:14, NRSV

[4] John 1:29, NRSV