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Living Water

Rev. Dr. Karin Case
Sun, Mar 19

Text: John 4:3-34, 39-42

Living water. Is what Jesus offers the Samaritan woman—a spring of living water gushing up to eternal life. “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty,” Jesus says.

Living water. Years ago, my grandparents had a place near the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California— midway between San Diego and the Salton Sea (for any who know that area.) A beautiful landscape of mauve and sandstone, dotted with ocotillo cactus and creosote bush. Each Spring, it is covered with a lavender carpet of desert flowers, but most of the year, Borrego is parched dry.

Our favorite hike followed a dried-up stream bed, where we’d spot lizards, or a hummingbird nest, and where we always had to watch out for rattlesnakes. We hiked up to Palm Canyon, an oasis where fresh water gushed from underground, and tall palms grew, fed at the roots by this source of living water.

Living water. The Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. The village well is a gathering place for women, who come for ordinary sustenance, for the company of friends, and— because it’s their job to carry water. It’s an ordinary place. Not a place you expect your life to be changed. The Samaritan woman comes in the heat of the day, bearing her sorrows and her empty water jug. And there she has a startling encounter with a Jewish man.

We know the story well. There is an old animosity between Jews and Samaritans, going back to the Assyrian conquest and the way it divided Israel and Judah. These are peoples with a fraught history, different customs and beliefs, different ways of worshiping. No love lost. But neither Jesus nor the Samaritan woman allow this history to define them. There is no racial profiling here. (No registry. No travel ban.) No prejudgment. But rather, an open and genuine encounter. This is good news!

But there’s more. This poor woman has caught so much judgment from Christian moralists over the years. She’s been sized up and found to be a sinner— as if this is the remarkable thing about her. It’s actually her strength of character, her hutzpah, her willingness to engage Jesus in theological debate, and her ability to stay open, despite the hardships of her life. These are what make the Samaritan woman remarkable and this story so memorable.

Those who want to find judgment see that she’s been married five times, and rush to condemn. They see a sinner. I see a survivor. There is no mention of sin and no reference to forgiveness in this passage— none. Sure, she’s a sinner—just like the rest of us.

But she’s also a trauma survivor. She has to be. Five marriages suggest some kind of trauma for any first century Mediterranean woman. Was she divorced? Widowed? Obliged to remarry for economic survival? Women could not sue for divorce. Husbands could sue for divorce— for a wide range of reasons. No matter why she’s been married five times, there’s a whole lot of grief and hardship there. This is not Elizabeth Taylor we’re talking about— a rich and powerful woman who could do as she pleased— but a poor, first century peasant who must have been carrying a bundle of sorrows that day when she met Jesus at the well.

The life-giving thing is that Jesus sees her. Really sees her. Not as stranger, not as an “other,” but as human, beloved and precious, in need of grace. Somehow (I have no idea how) Jesus is able to read her trauma. He recognizes her sorrow and pain. He sees her past—not to proclaim judgment, but simply to say, “I see you. I understand.”

We all need to be seen in this life-giving way. If we’re honest with ourselves, we are all carrying sorrows. Most of us have some pretty sore places that need healing. Perhaps we’re struggling with addiction, depression, or even self-hatred. Maybe it’s the painful loss of a relationship— an empty space, a betrayal, or a wounded place that seems never to mend. Perhaps we long for physical healing, relief from pain, or hope in the midst of a frightening diagnosis.

Some of us struggle with the deeply personal wounding that comes from oppression— being constantly ignored, excluded, belittled, told we are not good enough. There’s a whole world of micro-aggressions that cut to the quick. We are weary from being cast as deviant, ugly, unworthy, suspicious, criminal. Exhausted from the grief of lives lost in our communities— black and brown lives, indigenous, immigrant, queer and trans lives. We need healing.

And we need justice. Healing is never merely personal. It feels odd to say that, because individual healing can be so important. But we are social beings and our wholeness depends on the well-being of the whole, the health of all. If one member of the body suffers, all suffer. If one member is treated unjustly, all are affected.

In a moment, we will enter into a time of healing prayer. I invite you to come with open hearts. Let us allow ourselves to feel pain— our own and the pain of the world. Our shortcomings and transgressions, our preconceived ideas that cause us to judge each other, the ways we are stuck in systems not of our own making.

Let us come with minds open to surprise and discovery, hearts open to chance meetings that prove a source of blessing. Let us come, willing to see each other and to be seen as we truly are.

Jesus invites us to taste the living waters, to drink deeply, and to receive God’s grace.

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