The statued Samaritan woman defiantly dares Jesus with the above question as she stares down into his face. Like a divine therapist, Jesus’ non-anxious presence quietly says, Yes, I can bear the truth of who you are, brokenness and all. In fact, it is my receiving with complete acceptance and understanding your own acknowledgment of the truth of who you are, that will finally set you free from what is binding you.
Many of us have been, or will be, in the place of the Samaritan woman in John 4:5-42 at some point in our lives. We may become defensive when we are confronted with the outrageous depth of connection and belonging to the Cosmos that Jesus offers as the Christ. In one form or another we may be invited to consider the most timeless and important question of Jesus’s in the Christian tradition: “Who do YOU say I am?”
At First Congregational Church, UCC, this Lenten season, the weekly dramas portray a biblical figure from the end of Jesus’ historical life named Pontius Pilate wrestling with this last question, about who Jesus is, on ever-deepening levels. His struggle reflects many of our own. As he talks with different people who know Jesus, he begins to wonder: Is Jesus a wisdom teacher? A mystical prophet? A religious oddity? An archetypal figure of the human spiritual journey? The Savior of the World?
Maybe he is all of these things. Or none. What does your heart say? (Hint: this question can never finally be answered with the head. The heart must get involved— which can make it more challenging for those of us invested in a highly rational, orderly approach to life, like the fellow Nicodemus from last week’s text.)
The woman from Samaria in John’s gospel responds to Jesus’ approach to her at the well in the defensive way of any wounded animal, though at first her wounds are invisible to us. This unnamed woman is also alone collecting water from the well in the heat of midday, in a culture where a company of women gathering water in the cool of the morning was more common. Her isolation here also contributes to the interpretation that she held a shunned status in her community, perhaps related to the source of her painful wounds of marriage and relationship with men.
Grief that won’t heal, depression that won’t subside for very long, family members in jail or prison, chronic health conditions that slowly worsen, family members with special needs whose behavior frustrates and exhausts even the most patient of parents and teachers, addictions to food or pornography or always needing to be right…all of these situations—and more—often produce the shunned experience of the Samaritan woman, whether it is imposed on her directly, or she casts it upon herself due to internal shame.
Jesus asks her for water at the well, and moments later she scoffs at him, noting aloud that he has no bucket for what he says he could, in fact, offer her: Living Water.
These two words—Living Water—could almost be put in mini neon lights in your Bible. They are biggies. Let me explain a bit.
When God’s community (called Israelites or Jews), way back in the Bible in the narrative of Exodus, were drying up in the wilderness outside of Egypt, they were threatening abandonment of the whole plan of freedom from their bondage given to them by God through their leader, Moses. They were simply fed up with life. They were ready to walk back to Egypt and submit to their misery there, because they had no more ability to wait with hope for the freedom from their limited and bound existence. Never-ending pain can do that to people, and God gets that.
So guess what God did… Gave them a boatload of water from an unexpected source (the middle of a rock that Moses whacked.) The people were desperate to quench their thirst, and God ended up giving them a hopeful sign of God’s presence and care for them, as well as the water they needed.
When Jesus is recorded as offering Living Water, this is a way of offering God’s presence and care for a generation who needs to hear Truth in a new way. Living Water could be translated as: Spiritual Source of Nourishment, a Vital Relationship with the divine/God, a New Way of Experiencing Hopefulness for Life, a Path of Meaning and Belonging, Connection to God’s Reality or Eternal Life.
In the picture below, the statued Samaritan woman is depicted with her hands on the water basin, giving Jesus refreshment from HER, as well. Truly, the Holy One receives nourishment and sustenance from us, when we give all that we know and understand of ourselves each day, to all that we know and understand about God.
The interdependence of our lives with the Holy—with our ongoing question, “Can you really bear the truth of who I am?” and Jesus’s question, “Who do YOU say I am?”are inextricably linked forever in time and relationship. We will continue to ask and answer both of them in forever fresh ways, in our ongoing dance with divinity.
May this penetrating and profound image of our divine connection to Living Water through Christ carry you through whatever dry period in your life you may be experiencing right now.
Peace, my friend.
p.s. Sculpture is located at Chester Cathedral in England. Road trip, anyone?