March 23, 2014




Rev. Ivan Poole

Exodus 17: 1-7; Psalm95; Romans 5: 1-11; John 4: 5-42      





Some Summers ago, I was umpiring a cricket match on a Friday afternoon here in Melbourne.  The game started at 1.30 and finished for the day at 6.00. The temperature out in the middle of the ground was about 37 degrees and by six o’clock, I was fairly dry even though we had had drinks breaks during the game.

I didn’t realise how dry I was until I got home that night and was sitting down watching TV and found myself getting up every half hour and getting a big drink.  The human body, as you may well know is mostly water, and it is essential that fluids are kept up or in simple terms we will die.


I have no doubt all of you have some stories you can recall of times when you were absolutely parched and were desperate for some cool water.  You also have possibly read stories of people here in our country, especially in the outback, who have broken down in their travels and have foolishly left their vehicle and set out to try and get help and have perished through lack of water.


Three quarters of our earth’s surface is water in one form or another, mostly oceans and seas and we only live on the other quarter, so water plays a big part in our human existence.  It has played a major part in most religions of the world in one form or another. In Judaism and Christianity, coupled with bread, water has been a central part of worship and also in stories of faith (or lack of it), and in many illustrative psalms and hymns. Bread and water are regarded as essential to our existence, and without them we die, so is it any wonder that they appear in our religious life.


It would be an interesting exercise to go through the Old Testament and look up all the references and stories which involve water.  Water was used in purification rites in Judaism, the washing of hands and feet, in baptism, by sprinkling or immersion and so on.   Then there are the stories of creation, and God creating all from the watery chaos, the flood, the crossing of the Sea of Reeds by the Israelites on their trek to the promised land, and of course the story we read today from Exodus of Moses and the desperate thirst of the Israelites in the wilderness.  There are of course many others examples which you no doubt, with a bit of thought, can remember.


The story from John’s Gospel which we read today, is one of the longest dialogues in the whole Gospel, so John in writing the story must have had something important to say.  Jesus had clashed with the Pharisees and was leaving Jerusalem for Galilee and the shortest way to do this was through Samaria.  Now, the Jews and Samaritans were not on speaking terms.  For generations the Samaritans believed that the place to worship God was at Mount Gerizim and not on Mount Zion and this lead to this division between them and it became quite bitter.


Here was Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, not only travelling through Samaria with his disciples, but stopping, if only briefly.  He was tired and hot and thirsty and stopped at Jacob’s well and asked a woman for a drink.

Again we are faced with the unusual, even in this case the revolutionary.   Not only was Jesus asking a Samaritan for a drink, he was asking a woman.  This was just not done! You did not speak to women that you were not introduced to, and of course she was a….she, and they just didn’t feature!  Conventional Rabbis did not waste their words of wisdom by attempting to teach theology to a woman.  But here was this Samaritan woman who, on her way to draw water for her family, got taught some of the most complex teaching that Jesus ever had to teach.


But not only was she a woman, but she was a Samaritan. Jews, we are told, had no dealings with Samaritans—racial mixers, collaborators with the Romans, cousins of the Jews; these Samaritans were despised all the more for their cunning ways.  And she was a woman ‘with a past’.  She just can’t believe that this man, a Jew, talks to her, a Samaritan. Wrong gender, wrong race, wrong religion, yet Jesus reaches out to her, engages her.  And at a well!!  She didn’t come for Bible study. She was not there hoping to assuage her ‘needs’.  She was there in the most ordinary of everyday tasks—she was drawing water.

Here was the first lesson that John was trying to convey to his readers.  The old distinctions between Jews and Samaritans, and rules such as speaking to strangers, had lost legitimacy in the light of the actions of Jesus.


One can only assume that the woman gave Jesus a drink.  We are not told.   We are only caught up in the dialogue between Jesus and the woman. She asks the obvious question, why he a Jew, asks of her a woman and a Samaritan, for a drink.  Jesus answers in such a way that he corrects the woman’s question to reveal both to her and to the readers of the story, you and I, that any encounter with Jesus means a radical reversal of normal standards.


The woman saw only the practical when Jesus spoke of the “living water”.  How can you get water when you have no bucket?  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us the well?  ‘Living water’ was not a new concept introduced by John.  ‘Living water’ meant running water to people of that day, the Jews and Samaritans and others. From streams and springs came ‘living water’, and this is what the woman saw in Jesus’ reference to ‘living water’, the practical.


Like the story of Nicodemus which we read last week, the woman misunderstands the ambiguous words of Jesus.  She imagines that Jesus can get her spring water, ‘living water’, and misses the point that what men call ‘living water’ is not ‘living’ at all, only that which God reveals is real living.  John uses these double meaning statements of Jesus to get his message across to tell us what is real in life. In other passages he speaks of ‘the bread of life’ and ‘true light’ and the ‘true vine’.  Water, be it ‘living water’ or well water is the basis of life and this is what John is trying to say, we drink to have life.


Jesus revealed to the woman who he was, and more importantly tried to tell her and us, that he is life and that which he gives no water can satisfy.  But what Jesus did is a bit more important than what he said.  Jesus encountered her, took her seriously, intruded upon her, called her—just by his few words—to preach.  True, she didn’t rush home shouting,’ I believe in God the Father Almighty….’ This was still too new, too enigmatic, too cryptic for that.  She left Jesus with a question, ‘He can’t be the messiah—is he??

A door opened, a light flickering, in the dark.  It’s not everything that Jesus said and did, it’s not the whole of the historic faith.  But it’s a start.  It’s a question, a question on which all else depends.  And it was God’s initiative, God’s gift to someone who was the wrong person, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place.

I’m glad she had the courage to listen, to marvel, to relish the moment, to consider the possibility that she didn’t know everything and had not seen everything yet.


When we hunger and thirst it is not the bread and the water that we desire but to “live’.  The real desire for us is not the bread and water, but something that will give us life.  The woman did not understand and saw that perhaps this was ‘magic’ water that Jesus was talking about, water that she would never have to draw again, and in a peculiar way she was right.  ‘Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never thirst: the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life’


Over the years I’ve learned a few things by listening to people talk about their meeting with God.

I had the erroneous notion that people were likely to have some dramatic spiritual experience in their encounter with the divine in their search for God.  They were busy looking for God—on a religious retreat, or poring over Scripture, or trying to pay attention to a sermon without dozing off—and they found God.

Not so…as it turns out most of the experiences that I listened to were not looking for God at all.

They were just minding their own business and were surprised that God was looking for them!

They meet God—not on a mountain top, sitting looking out over some magnificent view or locked away in a religious retreat.  They were nabbed in the office, standing at the kitchen sink or feeding the dog.

The Lord has, in my observation, a strange sense of occasion, an odd idea of location.

Remember last week when Jesus told Nicodemus; ‘The wind blows where it will—whether or not you’re ready for it, looking for it, or even want it.


So, thanks to this Samaritan woman, I’ve got a definition for you.  Who is a Christian?  A Christian (at least this Sunday), is someone who is willing to be open to the possibility that something’s afoot, that the risen Christ is not only enigmatic and elusive but also flirtatious and revealing, that though you may not have the time or the inclination to go looking for God, God in Jesus Christ just might be looking for you.


Tomorrow, at work or at home, when you take in hand a bucket, or a keyboard or a tea towel or a book or a Bible,  keep looking over your shoulder.  Something’s afoot.  Odd things occur.

Strange, inexplicable co-incidences.


This can’t be the Messiah?  Is he?