He sat down on the edge of the well in the heat of the day, worn out. “I am thirsty,” he said. “Give me some water.”
She only mocked. “You must be desperate to be asking me for a drink. You come to me, marginalized, despised, ethnically unacceptable, you come to me and ask for water? That shows how low you’ve sunk.”
But of course, she’d got it wrong. He looked beyond the things that made other people turn away. He loved and accepted her, just as she was.
She was bantering with the Son of God and not knowing him at all. She was the one with the bucket and the strength to haul up water from the depths of the well, the precious, ordinary, every day water, and that’s what he needed just then.
He, on the other hand, could offer life, eternal life, which didn’t make sense in a place where every-day life was such a grind, and you only got it if you got it.
And to get it, you had to thirst for life, long for it, want it with all your heart. Only then could it find you and embrace you and let you in.
On that hot day, she didn’t know what she wanted. She knew she didn’t want the cards that life had dealt her: Husbands who didn’t survive; Family members who pushed her to the edge; an economic system that didn’t have a place for her; The other women who looked down on her; The daily chores that everyone took for granted.
Life gets like that. You are caught up in your own bad luck and good luck, thankful for the blessings but struggling with the responsibilities and the worry of it all. There is enough to deal with. The last thing you want is eternal life, the drudgery going on forever. But there is that thirst, knowing that things could and should be different, but not quite being able to get there. In her own way, she too was saying, “I am thirsty.”
And I am thirsty. And you are probably thirsty too, if you stop to think about it.
I am thirsty for a world where foodbanks are not necessary, where there is no room for loan sharks and pay day lenders, where people live peaceably with their neighbours who are different, where people respect and value each other.
I am thirsty for a world where people don’t resolve their differences by violence, where leaders don’t oppress and exploit their people, where cultures don’t scapegoat people who are poor, or who can’t get jobs, or who are gay, or have mental illness, where people aren’t pushed to one side because someone thinks they are just not worth it.
I am thirsty for a church where people are thirsty for Jesus, where people give praise and thanks for all God has done, where people are excited because they have a precious treasure and want to share it.
And when you are thirsty in that way, thirsty for the things that will make life better and fairer and more just, then Jesus reaches out and gives us a drink. When we desire to make the world a better place, Jesus responds. Because eternal life is about making this world better, here and now. Paradise is not a holiday destination where you lie back and soak up the sun, but the place you are working at changing to make it better for everyone. And the water that Jesus gives us refreshes those parts that H2O doesn’t touch.
He can give us living water any time he likes. He longs for us to come to the well and ask him for it. But it’s a drink that comes with responsibilities.
Look at him, though, the one offering living water to the woman at the well, even he got thirsty again.
And when John told the story of Jesus in his Gospel, he weaves this thread about living water all through the life of Jesus.
Towards the end of the story, Jesus hung from a cross in the heat of the day, the life beaten out of him. “I am thirsty”, he said. So they moistened his mouth with a little sour wine. Was that enough to ease him in his last few moments? And then he let go, and the life left him. Where was eternal life then?
Hanging on a cross. Dead. The soldier comes by to check that he has really gone and he prods him with a spear. He’s dead all right. But the spear pierces the body and there gushes out a flow of blood and of water. It is so mysterious and the scholars can’t explain it properly, though they have tried. When it comes down to it, there is water flowing from God’s anointed one, living water.
They took down the body of Jesus and laid it in the tomb. It all seemed to be over, but Eternal life was three days away, rising from a stone cold tomb in the early morning. This is what it means to come to him for living water, the life which says NO to death, NO to violence, NO to exploiting others.
Our church is thirsty. In all sorts of ways, our church is thirsty. How are we going to find our way to the living water that is Jesus? Jesus was thirsty, he died on the cross and he rose again, so that we could come to him and be refreshed. And so we come, week by week. And we have bread and wine – and if you’ve ever noticed, I pour some water into the wine – so that the living water is always there. So that we can then live his way, and help others to find the well of eternal life.