“Give me a drink.”
Think about that request, and the person who is making it. Jesus, the one who can make it possible for us to tap into living water, water that will never run dry, water that will prevent us from ever being thirsty, is also the one who puts himself in the position of having to depend on other people’s mercy, of having to ask a foreigner, and indeed, a person that his fellow Jews would never stoop to associate with, for a drink to quench his physical thirst.
More than that, I dare say that the woman who responds to Jesus’ request would never have tapped into the living water that only God could give her if the Son of God had not been willing to become a human being like her and like you and me, human beings who get tired and thirsty and who have to sit down by a well at high noon and ask for what we could not otherwise get for ourselves. Jesus’ physical vulnerability is the very means by which he is able to initiate a relationship with someone who would otherwise remain an even thirstier stranger.
Isn’t it ironic that it is precisely our innate weaknesses and frailties as human beings that often give us the best opportunities to strike up a conversation with another person that might lead to opening up for them an access to God’s never-failing grace in their lives?
In other words, wanting to have it all together, or acting like we have it all together, is actually off-putting. It actually gets in the way of sharing the good news of the gospel with those who are just as thirsty for God’s grace as we are.
And this story also reminds us that everyone we meet has something to offer us which is as life-giving to us – whether it’s a cup of water, a sincere word of welcome, an extra jacket or umbrella we don’t need on a chilly or rainy morning, or a leftover in the refrigerator, or a reassuring hug or pat on the back, or any other number of acts of mercy - which is just as critical to a person threatened by immediate physical dehydration or other obvious need, as the ever-flowing fountain of grace that we can offer them in return.
So, though it may be difficult for us in our pride to ask a stranger for what we need – stopping your car in a rough neighborhood and asking a stranger for directions when you and your family are lost, for instance, is often an especially difficult challenge – Jesus reminds us that something very special may happen when we do.
In a sense, the Samaritan woman was correct in pointing out the fact that Jesus did not have a bucket with which to draw out water from Jacob’s deep well, but you and I are able to see that it is Jesus’ conversation that he has struck up with this woman, initiated by his request for a drink to quench his thirst, that is Jesus’ spiritual bucket. He is slowly but surely and deliberately going deeper and deeper into the well of her soul, not to condemn her for having had five husbands, but in order that he might tap into the fountain of God’s grace for her that no human husband was ever designed or intended by God to give her, as intimate and as satisfying in mind, body and spirit as marriage is nonetheless meant to be.
And for those of us who love to see John’s attention to the details in his narratives that have a double meaning, like the double meaning we noticed last week in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, where he speaks of being both “born again” and “born from above”, of both “wind” and “Spirit”, of “sound” and “voice”, the fact that Jesus speaks of five husbands suggests not only the fact that she has been in relationship with five human beings, but also the fact that the first five books of the Bible, the so-called Pentateuch, were never meant to provide her or any of God’s people with all the grace their souls and spirits required, as the Samaritans claimed. The most the Law can do is to function like a guide to a successful marriage, but never as the bridegroom or the marriage itself.
Moses did refer in those first five books, nonetheless, to a great prophet who would come to do what the law could not do, a prediction that the subsequent prophetic writings which Jesus and his fellow Jews included in their own larger collection of Holy Scripture, prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos and so on, which reinforced Moses initial prediction, describing that greater prophet, the promised Messiah, in clearer and more vivid detail.
So after Jesus, the long-awaited bridegroom, has dug as deeply into her past as he can, she is able to hear the amazing truth from his dry, soon to be quenched lips: I am he. I am the Messiah, a Messiah to be worshipped wherever and whenever the bucket of my words tap into the ever-flowing grace of God that sustains all people, friend and stranger and even foe.
Though he doesn’t say it here, in effect he is telling this woman, “I am your spiritual Bridegroom. I, and only I, can save you from dying of spiritual thirst by accepting and receiving my living water, water that does not run out for those who put their trust in me.”
John will remind us that Jesus will make that access to his grace universally available from the cross, when Jesus is so physically dehydrated from his scourging and crucifixion that he has now reached the very limits of physical existence and is now at the point of death. “I thirst,” he will say. And again we must say that it is Jesus’ willingness to dig a well of living water for us with his words and actions on the cross, with its utmost physical and physical humiliation, that is also his final and decisive bid to open up a conversation with each and every person who is vainly trying to quench their deepest thirst in some other way than through a relationship with him.
“Give me a drink” is Jesus’ invitation to discover or renew the fountain of grace that flows from his side. He promises us that when we offer even a cold cup of water to someone who is thirsty, we are doing it unto him, and we will not lose the reward of sensing the welling of his grace within us when we do. Our positive response, the smaller acts of mercy that we offer others, is the harvest that feeds our soul and the soul of Jesus, sustaining the life of his Body, the Church, you and me, in our mission to a thirsty world.
As we dare to ask for what we need from others, especially those with whom we might not otherwise ever associate, may God bless us no less than he blessed that woman, who was the one who brought her entire village, who was just as thirsty as her, and in the end, her entire estranged nation of Samaria, as fruitful branches nourished and sustained in the Vine of Christ. AMEN.