‘A Transforming God’

Posted: March 17, 2020 in Uncategorized

John 4: 5 – 42

‘A Transforming God’

 Jesus arrives at the Samaritan town called Sychar. This town is near the land that Jacob gave to his son Joseph and Jacob’s well is there. Jesus arrives and he is tired by the journey. The first thing he does is to sit down by the well. We are told it is about noon when the Samaritan woman comes to draw water, and Jesus says to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ The Samaritan woman replies and says, ‘What?  You are a Jew and you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?’

Jesus replies to her saying: ‘If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you: Give me a drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman doesn’t back down at this and says: ‘You have no bucket’, ‘and the well is deep: how could you get this living water? Are you greater than our ancestors Leah, Rachel and Jacob who gave us this well and drank from it with their descendants and flocks?’

Jesus replies: ‘Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again; but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside, welling up to eternal life.’

The woman said, ‘Give me some of that water, so that I may never have to come here again to draw water…’ ‘I see you are a prophet.’ said the woman. ‘Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, while you say that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’

Jesus said: ‘Believe me, woman; the hour is coming when you will worship God neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. ‘You worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know; for salvation comes from the Jews.  But the hour will come – in fact it is here already – when true worshippers will worship in spirit and truth: that is the kind of worshipper our God wants. ‘God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and truth.’

The woman says to Jesus, ‘I know the Messiah is coming – the Anointed One –  who will tell us everything.’

‘I who am speaking to you,’ said Jesus ‘I am that one.’

The dialogue ends and John summarizes and says that many Samaritans of the town had believed in Jesus on the strength of the woman’s testimony when she said, ‘He told me all I have ever done,’ so when the Samaritans came up to Jesus, they begged him to stay with them. Jesus stayed for two days, and when he spoke to them many more came to believe; and they said to the woman, ‘Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard this one ourselves who we know really is the saviour of the world.’

For the purposes of our approach to this text we note that just across the ditch we have one of the driest continents on earth, a place where water is a precious commodity.  In fact, it could be said that water is everything. Water is life… For Australians the logical connections with our Baptism liturgies that focus on the active, dynamic symbol of water ring true whereas it might be harder for us New Zealanders because as a country we are blessed with the gift of water from both the land and the air. The way we use water is more likely to be to add benefit to our land management and or to exchange it for money.

So in returning to our text we need to remember that in our story from the storyteller/theologian we call John the images and practices  are from a land of deserts, and if we can remember for just a moment that we are in the middle of the season called Lent, which begins with stories around a time in the desert, a place of little to no water,we might find today’s story an interesting juxtaposition.

So, we might come to this story with the context in mind This is a land where droughts are just around the corner and some rivers or creeks might only flow once a year.
And in some cases only flow a few times in a century. Numerous travelers may have perished for lack of water. Like Australia no water, no life. Water and life go together. To survive in the desert “is to know the sources of moisture and how to tap into the water-table” (Ferguson & Allen 1990:37).  A dry, hot place.  While Palestine may not have been as arid or huge or perhaps even a place that had to be ‘conquered’ to get anywhere it was a challenge.

On the other hand, the people who lived there would have treasured and memorized every watering hole. From one generation to the next, they would have told stories and sang songs which were like maps of their territory. And in these stories and songs the precious water holes would have been prominent. They treasured water. It meant life.

Taking a quick look at the collection of stories told by John, we can see that he tells several stories using water. Water turned into wine. Water to wash disciple’s feet. Jesus walking on water. And of course, there are all those exciting fishing stories.

Today’s story of a Samaritan woman Jesus met at a well, belongs in this collection. In this story John has Jesus asking the woman for a drink of water. Indeed, the conversation between the two, is the longest of any Jesus is supposed to have had with anyone.

Traditionally, the substance of the story is said to be about ‘a very liberal’ Jesus talking to an immoral Samaritan ‘outsider’ woman. And, so this line of interpretation goes, Jesus issues a call to her to: “clean up her act, get right with God, and join the Jesus team to preach God’s word of forgiveness and love”.  (McKinney. PST Web site, 2008)

 But as many scholars have pointed out, this and similar interpretations are an awful misreading of an important story. Amy-Jill Levine, the Jewish new testament scholar: reminds us that the woman is not an outsider in the story.  It is the Jewish Jesus who is the outsider. The woman is a Samaritan, and they are on her home turf. Secondly, we see that the woman’s visit to the well is in the daylight, and this is well recognized storyteller’s device about seeing the ‘light’, rather than an indication of social ostracism.

And thirdly there is absolutely nothing that indicates she is ‘sinful’ or sexually promiscuous. “The… woman says Levine might be unfortunate, but she is not sinful…  The only ones who condemn her are the biblical scholars.” (Levine 2006:137)

Another person who helps us appreciate this story beyond the traditional, is a bloke called Rick Marshall. He takes John’s image of a well and the rising up of the water, and says: “Who knows where (the water) comes from.  But we drink it and go on living our lives…  That’s how the creative, transforming power of God is:  Who knows where it comes from, but it sustains us and we go on living our lives.  We are called to trust the ‘Living Water’.” (Rick Marshall. P&F Web site, 2005)

It sustains us and we go on living our lives. “We experience the creating, transforming power of God routinely, quietly moving through life, our life.” (Rick Marshall. P&F Web site, 2005) The place of water in the whole of life. Life giving out of and within the arid wanting places in life.

What if this is also what the storyteller, we call John had in mind, when he told the story of Jesus asking a woman for a drink. The Jewish outsider in the land of the Samaritan and I have claimed earlier that Samaritans are Jewish but maybe not Judean Jews. The Judean Jew in the land of a Samaritan at noon asking her for a drink is symbolic of the asking for enlightenment and he is reminded by the woman’s response that he is asking for help as a stranger when their history is a common history. John is perhaps suggesting here that the difference between man and woman, Samaritan and Judean is not the issue here but rather the place that water has in everyday life is. We remember also that Jesus was from Galilee in the northern part of the area that could be an intermixing of the two kingdoms after the two become one. There is a common history here. We might also remember that John is some decades later telling the story of the impact Jesus had on Jewish life, identifying this with the place of water in normal everyday Jewish life.

As you will appreciate with pending retirement coming I have been doing a lot of reflecting on ministry and what I thought I have been doing and whether or not it has been of any value. Anthony de Mello tells a story that I think reflects what I have been trying to do.

The preacher was a great success.  Thousands came to learn wisdom from him.
When they got the wisdom, they stopped coming to his sermons. And the preacher smiled contentedly. For he had attained his purpose, which was to bow out as quickly as possible
for he knew in his heart that he was only offering people what they already had,
if they would only open their eyes and see.  (Anthony de Mello)

Life giving water that flows upon, into and over and beyond one’s life is like the transforming present-ness of the Serendipitous Creativity God. It comes upon us unexpectedly as something too common to take note of, and it comes with both a coolness and warmth depending upon the need and it sustains us as we live our lives, pervasively cleansing and flushing and also quietly moving through life, our life. At once a vehicle for our resurrection, or the five yearly replacing of every cell, and it’s purpose is that we might live life to the full, love wastefully, and be all that we can be.  (John S Spong)

I think I like that story better than the focus of the things that divide us. Promiscuous Samaritan outsider who is admonished by Jesus and told what to believe as opposed to the metaphor of the life-giving water of the everyday that is symbol of the transformation of life that Jesus offers. Amen.

de Mello, A. The Song of the Bird. 10th edition. India: Anand. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1988.
Ferguson, G. & R. Allen. ”Thirsty in a Dry Land: The Migrant Experience of the Absence of God” in G. Ferguson & J. Chryssavgis. The Desert is Alive. Melbourne. JBCE, 1990.
Levine, A-J. The Misunderstood Jew. The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. New York. HarperOne, 2006.


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