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A WORD FOR TODAY, March 8, 2023
Lectionary Scriptures for March 12, 2023, Third Sunday in Lent: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95:1-9; Romans 5:1-8; John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42)
“Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Christ?” John 4:29, WEB
Anyone who has flown on an airplane is familiar with the main task of the flight attendants: pushing the drink cart down the aisle. Oh, it isn’t their main task; they spend much of their time keeping things safe and comfortable for the passengers. They are constantly watching to make sure there is no emergency, and if there is, they are trained to deal with it. They have forms to fill out and procedures to follow. We may think they are there to simply pour beverages for us, after all, almost as soon as the plane is safely in the air, they pull out the beverage cart and slowly make their way through the cabin to serve us something to drink.
Compared to all the other things they do, serving drinks may seem unimportant, but flying can easily make someone dehydrated. The cabin air is extremely dry, made worse by the altitudes. By the time the beverages are served, the people have been sitting on the airplane for a long time. Thirst comes easily in those situations. Many people carry bottles of water with them now, but there are other reasons why we thirst on a plane. Some people are looking for comfort in their distress. Ginger ale helps with an upset stomach. Tomato juice is supposed to help ward off thrombosis, a dangerous condition in which blood clots develop in the legs which can then be carried to other parts of the body and cause illness or even death. Some people prefer the calming effects of alcohol.
So, for the health and comfort of the passengers, the flight attendants walk down the aisle with the drink cart, offering refreshment. It seems like I am always at the end of their service pattern. It seems to take forever for one of the crew to say, “What can I get you to drink.” The thirst builds as I see water and other beverages poured out for the passengers around me. Often, just as I think it will be my turn, the flight attendant turns to another passenger or takes a trip to the kitchen to restock. Thirst becomes overwhelming when there does not seem to be any relief.
The Israelites were on a difficult journey. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years, never certain where they were going or even why they were there. Though they had cried out for the salvation of the LORD in Egypt, the life they led in slavery was better than the uncertainty of where they would get their next drink. If we think it is dry and uncomfortable aboard an airplane, imagine what it must have been like for a million people camping in the desert with no source of water!
The people began to grumble. I understand. I get pretty testy when I’m uncomfortable. I know what it is like to wish I was back at a familiar place, even if it was not the best place to be. The unknown is scary. It is unpleasant. The unknown is worse than the worst places that we know. The people went to Moses and asked why he led them out of Egypt just to die in the desert. When we are uncomfortable, we believe that the worst that can happen is what will happen. We are thirsty that surely we will die.
God heard their cries, just as He heard their cries in Egypt. In this story we are reminded that in those times when it seems like God is nowhere near to us, He is very near. Even though it seems like the flight attendant will never get around to giving me a drink, he or she always manages to get to me in plenty of time. As thirsty as I get on an airplane, I do not get thirsty enough to die. God seemed to be far away from the people in the desert, but He knew their needs. They needed water, but they also needed to learn how to trust in Him. They were being led from one life to a very different life. The wilderness journey was not only meant to get them from one place to another, but to also help them transform into the people God was calling them to be. He was teaching them about faith, about hope, and about relying on the One who would provide for their every need. They quarreled and tested God, but He still provided. This is good for us to know: even when we quarrel and test the LORD, He is still close by to meet our needs.
He will give us water when we need it, we just have to learn to trust in Him.
The interesting thing about this story from the Exodus is that the people were not even traveling very long when it happened. We think it happened during the forty years they wandered, but it happened even before they reached Sinai. The trip to Sinai from Egypt lasted only a few weeks. They had seen some pretty incredible things. They saw miracles in Egypt. They saw the column of fire at night and cloud during the day which led them on their way. They saw the Red Sea part so they could safely pass and then swallow Pharaoh’s army. They saw the bitter water of Marah and Elim miraculously become sweet. They saw the manna and quails fall from heaven, to feed them with satisfying food. I never realized how many of these miracles happened in such a short period of time. How could they become so discontented so quickly? I thought that was a modern problem! Even after God had provided safety, escape, clean water, bread and meat, they were still afraid that they would die.
God answered their cries by commanding Moses go ahead of the people with his staff. tells Moses to go ahead of the people with his staff. “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb. You shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” This was not stale, murky water; it was clean fresh flowing water, good to drink. It was also a foreshadowing of the Living Water that Christ would give to the woman at the well. Moses called that place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and tested God, but God stood on a rock. In later days, Jesus would be the Rock from which the water flowed.
We are no better at seeing things for what they are then those who followed Moses. I am sure they looked at the desolate place they were walking and could not see the promise clearly. How could this be what God intended for them? They were not patient, but God is. He was using this time to teach His people; they were being tested; they were still learning to trust in God. We might think that we would have believed if we had been them, especially after seeing so many miraculous things. But would we? Or would we grumble, too?
I once took a trip to Oklahoma with my daughter. We were going on a college visit. Oklahoma has few hills; it is relatively flat and barren land. We were hoping for good weather for our weekend since we had to drive so far, and we’d be walking around campus. The weather reports expected bad weather farther north, but clear skies over our destination.
A few hours from the city we noticed a cloud bank. We weren’t sure at first. We knew the storm was supposed to be further north and it seemed impossible that we might see it from so far away. The line also appeared as though it might be the top of a hill. We drove for hours and it never seemed to get closer. It eventually became clear that we were seeing a cloud, but we never drove far enough to be under its shadow. The storm stayed north of us as it was expected to do; we continued to see it throughout the weekend.
We watched that cloud bank for a long time. It was one of those experiences that make us realize that we are very small and inconsequential: little more than a tiny spot on the big sphere of the earth. I’ve had similar experiences: on the mountain top under a million stars, floating in a boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no land to be seen, under a rainbow that spans from horizon to horizon, in the midst of a thunderstorm, looking out the window of an airplane as it flies over the earth.
Human beings have accomplished so many things that it is hard for us to realize just how small we really are. We seem to have conquered the world. We build buildings that reach to the sky and can travel around the world in a matter of hours on airplanes. We can have conversations with people standing on the moon and take pictures of distant galaxies that we can’t even see with our eyes. We can see the DNA make-up of a human child before he or she is born and cure diseases that were once incurable. Yet, we are not God and there is so much about God’s creation that we may never know.
While we do recognize that we are a just a small part of the whole wide world, there are times when we forget our insignificance. There are times when we think that the entire creation revolves around us. This happens especially when we are in the midst of some sort of suffering. The Israelites in the wilderness knew nothing but their thirst. They did not remember their suffering in slavery or God’s deliverance from Egypt. They knew only that they needed water. At Massah and Meribah they were reminded of God’s presence and His grace. In the midst of their suffering, God was there ready to meet their needs.
Those who do not trust in God do not know the peace He has given through Jesus. When we look to God as the rock of our salvation, we can be reconciled to one another and to God by the love and mercy of Jesus Christ. Moses tapped the rock and water flowed, but Jesus is the rock from which the Living Water flows. We can live in the hope He gives through faith. We can partake of the living water which is so much better than the water that is left to stagnate and poison our souls. We can share that flowing water with others because Jesus has broken down the walls that have divided us for so long. “Let’s come before his presence with thanksgiving. Let’s extol him with songs!”
The psalmist recalls the experience of the Israelites in the first lesson, reminding us not to harden our hearts. Instead, we are invited to sing to God and praise His name. He is able to make springs of water flow out of rocks, to give living water without a bucket. He is with us, ready to offer us the entire Kingdom and all of creation to meet our needs. He has even given His Son for our sake. “For Yahweh is a great God, a great King above all gods.”
Have you ever really thought about how quickly Jesus moved in and out of people’s lives? Their experience was often a very brief encounter, but the effects were long lasting. He healed their dis-ease and cast out their demons. He taught them about the Kingdom of God and forgave their sins. Their lives were changed by just a few minutes of conversation and interaction.
The text from John is a long reading, but it was a conversation that lasted just a few minutes. The woman at the well’s life was completely changed by the encounter as she realized God’s promised Messiah was the man Jesus. Her faith, built on just a few questions and answers, was shared with many in her village and then spread among the people of Samaria. When the disciples dispersed into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry, they found that Samaria already believed because they had faith in Jesus because of this woman who met Jesus at the well.
She was there at the wrong time of day. The best time to draw water was in the early morning; the water then was cool and clear because the silt settled over night. Her noontime trip yielded stale and muddy water. We learn during the conversation that she had been the wife of five husbands and that she was currently living with a man who was not her husband. She may have been outcast, or simply embarrassed by her circumstances. Whatever the reason, she waited until the heat of the day to go to the well.
Why did Jesus wait alone at the well? John tells us that He was tired from the journey, but I can’t imagine that He was any more tired than the rest of the disciples. Couldn’t they have sent one or two disciples to get food while they others waited outside the city? Even if they needed more hands, why did they all leave Jesus alone? Why were they even in Samaria?
At the beginning of the chapter, John tells us that Jesus knew the Pharisees were beginning to question His ministry. They’d heard that His disciples were more popular than John the Baptist, so Jesus left Jerusalem for a time; they were headed to Galilee. The typical route for traveling Jews was avoid the Samaritans by going the long way around. Most travelers would cross the Jordan and walk on the east bank so they would not be made unclean by those who were half-breeds: Israelites that had mixed with other nationalities when they were captured by the Assyrians. They were put down by the Jews, cast out of the religious fellowship that was their birthright. They established a religious home of their own, founded upon the life of Jacob. Jesus was offering something better. She must have been surprised that He, who was out of His element, was insinuating that He was better than Jacob.
Jesus and the disciples took a short cut which led right through Sychar, the site of Jacob’s Well. John gives us these details for a purpose. Jesus’ tiredness and thirst reminds us of His humanity. The Well reminds us of His heritage. The encounter with the woman was just the first of many that would identify Jesus as divine. Jesus was there because she had a appointment with God. She didn’t know it, but Jesus was waiting for her to change her life.
Her faith did not come easily. She was hesitant at the beginning. He reached her by asking her for the one thing she could give: water from the well. She seemed uncertain and responded with the question, “Who are you that you would speak to me?”
Listen to the tone of the woman’s answers to Jesus. She is very distant, uninterested, and perhaps even afraid. She was surprised that He would have anything to do with her. When He offered her a drink, she was offended and became defensive, wondering how He could offer her anything better than her forefather, Jacob. She became interested when she heard that the water would make her life better. She wouldn’t suffer thirst. She was willing to believe that He could provide this living water. She humbly admitted her failings when He asked her to bring her husband. She was amazed when He could provide details that she did not give. Her fear of a strange man turned into respect for a prophet in just a few sentences. Then He spoke the promise of God into her life and revealed Himself as the One for whom they had been waiting. In this encounter, Jesus moved her from fear to hope to faith. Whatever her failings, she experienced the presence of God.
The woman at the well was chosen, out of all the women in her village, to be the one to take the Good News of God’s Kingdom to her people. It was an odd choice, considering her life experiences. But that’s how God works, isn’t it?
The conversation began with Jesus stating His need for water from the woman who had the ability to give it to him, and then it was turned around to the woman stating her need for the water which Jesus had to give. She still thought it was water that would satisfy her physical needs. Jesus had something different in mind. He revealed Himself as the Messiah and a promise of the Kingdom of God which she shared with the rest of her village.
Jesus and the woman had a common ancestor, but they did not worship the same. “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” She wanted to know what made them so different. Why were there two places to worship God and two ways to do so? Why are the Samaritans outcast; why were they set aside and rejected from fellowship with other children of Abraham? Why would the conversation Jesus was having with her make Him unclean? Why did the Jews think they were better than others?
Jesus told her that worship is not about where or who you are, but rather it is about knowing the One whom you worship. The Samaritans had lost touch with the God of their fathers. They only held to the Books of Moses. They only knew the Law; they did not know the prophets. They did not know about the promise of salvation that was to come from God. He answered her questions with the promise that the day was coming when the walls that divide the people of God would be torn down because God would bring reconciliation to His people. She had some knowledge that a Messiah was coming, but did not understand what He would mean to the world. The Samaritans were waiting for someone to teach them and make sense of the things of God. Jesus answered, “I am he, the one who speaks to you.”
This was an incredible revelation, and she was the first to hear it proclaimed. She was startled by the return of the disciples who quickly challenged her presence. “What is she doing here?” She left so quickly that she forgot her water jar, but she went into the city unconcerned about what others might think. “Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Christ?” Many in that town accepted her invitation and went out to meet Jesus. He stayed with them for two days and taught them about the Kingdom of God. In the end they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of your speaking; for we have heard for ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”
Jesus sat at the well for a divine appointment that changed a life and a city. He called out to the woman; He relieved her fears, answered her questions, and offered her something better than she had. God has done the same for us. The difference between God and man was too great for human beings to overcome on our own. We have sinned against Him in our own testing and demands. We have not trusted in His Word or waited for His promises. We never deserved the grace He came to give; we deserve only death. Yet, as Paul writes, we are reconciled to God through Christ Jesus. “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we will be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.”
God made the heavens and the earth, He created the vast oceans, the land and all that lives here. He controls it all with His hands. We are insignificant compared to who He is and what He has done. Yet, He also knows my name. At my baptism He gave me that name, child of God, daughter of the Most High. The God of all creation has given me a share of His eternal kingdom through Jesus Christ. We are reminded that even though we are little more than a speck on the face of this earth, no matter what our circumstances, God is near and that He is ready to meet our needs. He is faithful even when we are not. It is in the faith He gives and the trust we have through faith that we find peace. He has made a divine appointment for each and every one of us so that we might hear His Word and believe, even though we do not deserve His grace.
The woman at the well quarreled and tested Jesus, but in the end she received a gift; she had faith in the Messiah, the One who would give her Living Water that would quench her thirst for lasting relationship with God. That Living Water didn’t stay pent up in the deep of her soul, though; she ran to the village to share the Good News. She learned in the very brief encounter that God did not reject her because of her past or her present, and that He would still provide for her needs despite her quarreling and testing. She went forth in joy to share the Good News with others.
The people of Israel tested God, but in reality it was the people who were being tested. Would they be faithful? Would they trust God? Would they learn how to live as His people in the place where they were being led? We think that suffering is a sign of God’s abandonment; they certainly did in the days of the desert wandering. We tend to think that health, wealth, success are the signs of a perfect life. The reality is so different. Faith and faithfulness do not guarantee a lack of suffering. Faith and faithfulness help us to get through everything we have to face in this life.
We have joined the Israelites in their desert wanderings during our forty days of Lent. We thirst, but water is not always at hand. We can respond in two ways. First, we can harden our hearts; we can let the experience of suffering and pain make us angry, bitter, and resentful. We can blame others, like the Israelites did. We can even blame God. We can complain and provoke Him, demand justice and expect that He will do our will. Or we can respond as the woman at the well. She began confused, angry or afraid, but with a willing heart she experienced God’s grace and found peace.
God is able to make springs of water flow out of rocks, to give living water without a bucket. He is with us, ready to offer us the entire Kingdom and all of creation to meet all our needs. He has even given His Son for our sake. We will struggle with our insignificance, but as we realize our unworthiness and humble ourselves before Him and hear His word with our hearts, He’ll make springs of living water flow from our lives, so that we can tell others about the Messiah who is near and invite them to “Come and see.”
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