March 27, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Jesus said to [the Samaritan woman]: ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”
Moses had led the Exodus People toward the Promised Land of Canaan, following the directions given by the Lord. He had taken them from slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea; now they were headed to their destination: “All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim. . . .” Yet, the recorder of the Exodus tells us: “But there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’”
The people’s thirst drove them to quarrel with Moses: “But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?’” But the Lord was with Moses, the one whom He chose to lead the Exodus People. He would answer their thirst, giving them the water that they need: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.’ And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.” The rock brought forth water, just as the Lord had ordered it to do.
But the issue at Massah and Meribah was more than just thirst. The Exodus People were rebelling against the Lord and His appointed leader. It was driven more so by a lack of faith. This is seen in what the people asked: “Is the Lord among us or not?” They doubted that they were being well guided and led by the Lord. So the Psalmist would record the Lord’s words about the people’s lack of faith: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put Me to the test and put Me to the proof, though they had seen My work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said: ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’” Not knowing His ways, going astray, being loathed by the Lord: these are all indictments against the Exodus People for their rebellion and sinful lack of faith. The Lord must provide for these greater needs.
Moving forward in time, there is another incident where thirst drives actions, as you heard in the Gospel Reading: “So [Jesus] came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s Well was there; so Jesus, wearied as He was from His journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’” Jesus needed water to live, but this action of asking the Samaritan woman for a drink would lead to a greater end. For she is also driven to act out of thirst—a thirst of multiple natures that Jesus will quench.
Approached by Jesus, the woman acts in surprise: “The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’” She knew the cultural, ethnic, and religious differences between them. Jesus’ request is out-of-bounds, as far as society was concerned. But this is how He acts for the woman’s benefit: “Jesus said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, 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.’” Jesus has something that the woman needs, even if she doesn’t know exactly what it is: “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob? He gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.’”
His words will show her sin and her lack of faith, and then give her what she truly thirsts for. Jesus has “living water” that is more than a running stream: “Jesus said to her: ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” The thought of having water that never runs out, that quenches every thirst, intrigues the woman: “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.’” But what Jesus gives does not end earthly thirst. No, He will give to this woman water greater than Jacob’s Well held or what sprung up at the Rock of Meribah. What Jesus gives is faith created by hearing His words and receiving the Holy Spirit that brings forth eternal life in sinful human beings.
This is why Jesus discusses the woman’s marital status. By discussing her disordered state of matrimony, Jesus shows the sin that He will forgive: “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.” But Jesus points out an even worse condition about this woman, what actually causes her thirst of the soul: she has no true knowledge of the Lord and His ways. That is why Jesus answers her question about worship: “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Jesus’ statement applies to the condition of the Samaritan people. Once they had known the Lord and His ways. But through their rebellion against His institutions, by intermarrying with Gentile nations, by adopting a syncretic religion, they had gone astray. They lacked the faith that saves. They tried the Lord’s patience by establishing their own temple on Mount Gerezim with their own priesthood and canon of Scripture. They are well described as an adulterous people, hooking up with many and various gods.
But now, Jesus addresses the Samaritans’ sinful condition. They receive the “living water” that Jesus grants, the gift of God that flows from His words. The woman knew a shadow of the truth: “I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.” That is what Jesus will do, for that is His identity: “I who speak to you am He.” As faith is created by Jesus’ words, the woman and the people of Sychar believe in Him, having that spiritual spring established in their hearts: “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.’”
Jesus provides salvation for these Samaritans. They are born from above by what He does for them. They become people of the Spirit, not simply earthly beings. Born of water and the Spirit, they now know who the Lord is and believe in Him. Now they can meet the requirement that Jesus declared: “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” What enlivens their souls is granted to them. Their deep thirst is met, so that they may have life in the world to come.
What Jesus does in Sychar of Samaria stands as a paradigm of His entire ministry. It is what He continues to do through those whom He has appointed. Even today, Jesus gives “living water” to people. It is found just like it was in Samaria: in hearing His word and believing it. So He appoints apostles to go out and proclaim it, to make known what He said and to speak about what He did. Through the receiving of Jesus’ words, the Holy Spirit is given. He causes the well springing up to eternal life to appear in the hearts of individuals.
This is what He has done for you. You are like the Samaritans of Sychar. For you were rebellious people, people who strayed from the Lord’s ways, people who worshiped what you did not know. But Jesus’ words have been spoken to you, giving you the “living water”—a source of everlasting life. He bridges the gap between you and the Father in heaven. He has overcome the separation that exists because of your sin, your failure to abide by the Lord’s ways, to love Him with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. That living water was given in Jesus’ words attached to water, the life-giving act of Holy Baptism that brought you into fellowship with Him.
This is what the apostle describes about Jesus’ work: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” But not only has Christ died, God has acted so that you may receive the benefit of that work: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” That is the “living water” that Jesus provides for you through the ways He has instituted. The living water given to you overcomes your spiritual thirst. It turns your heart from being a dry, dead place full of unbelief and rebellion like Massah and Meribah to a well that has the living water springing up to eternal life for you. You may draw from “Jesus’ Well” whenever you say: “Lord, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty.”
You are given to know the Lord, to be born of Him, and to worship Him in spirit and truth, so that you can rightly say: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” By faith, you have entry into the rest that He gives: the condition of His forgiving your sin, His granting righteousness to you, His peace comforting your troubled souls. The question of doubt spoken by the Exodus People—“Is the Lord among us or not?”—is answered: Yes, He is, with His good gifts and Spirit. For you have heard for yourselves and believe that Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world, even of you. And so the Lord has become the Rock of your salvation that produces living water for you, a source greater than Jacob’s Well.
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.