“Give us water to drink.” The Israelites were asking for the most basic resource to sustain us. Water. In the wilderness, in tough conditions without water, we die.
According to the Live Science website: “If you're ever stuck out in the wilderness, remember what survival experts call 'the Rule of Threes'. You can live 3 minutes without air... In a harsh environment — it's snowing, say — you have 3 hours to survive without shelter. After 3 days, you need water or you'll perish. You can make it 3 weeks without food, though we promise you that won't be fun…” (http://www.livescience.com/32320-how-long-can-a-person-survive-without-water.html)
The human body is made up of 65% water, water is essential to life.
The Israelites might have been complaining to Moses but they did need water in the wilderness. And God provided but Moses called the spot “Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Those naughty Israelites (hard hearted says the Psalmist). But, I am not so sure that is the best way to look at it. To live in such conditions is to struggle, wrestle with your faith. The Israelites were doing this. They wondered if their lives would have been better in Egypt if they had stayed. Have we not wondered such things in our lives?
They wondered if the Lord was still with them on the journey. And in the waters at the rock at Horeb, the Israelites were reminded that God was indeed with them, quenching their thirst.
In our Gospel of John story this morning, the notion that God is among us is expanded beyond just Jews and again water plays an important part.
Jesus is travelling through Samaritan territory. Let’s remind ourselves that Samaritans and Jews of Jesus day did not get along. They looked at each other through the lens of enemies and certainly they believed each other practiced their religion wrongly.
As Jesus sees a woman going to the well for water, he asks her for a drink. She is right to be astonished. What he is doing breaks all the boundaries, the taboos of the time, a man asking a woman who is not part of her family, a Jew asking a Samaritan. It’s just isn’t done this way!
Jesus even knows her history – that she has been married 5 times – most likely a levirate marriage, upon the death of her husband, the husband’s brother was to marry her. She outlived 5 of them! I can only imagine the difficulty of that. But we really don’t know about those marriages and Jesus doesn’t really care about it, but uses it as a way to help her understand his identity as the one who is to come, the messiah.
And Jesus does all of this because his message is for everyone, Jew or Samaritan or even Gentile, he is not interested in our labels or our limits. The Good News of the Kingdom of God, the living water from above, was for the world.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Water is life. But Jesus is offering more. A way of life that will be a spring of water inside of us, a faith, that will help guide us in our life.
Salva Dut is a son of a Dinka cattle herdsman, has a smile that will light up any room. History calls him, and thousands of other children who fled Sudan, Lost Boys. At age 11, Dut, with other children, fled from his school into the bush through gunfire and jet-bomb blasts. As he ran, each day he was in danger of being conscripted by rebel armies or killed by militiamen from the north…Finally, those who remained settled at an Ethiopian refugee camp.
Forced by Ethiopian soldiers to flee the refugee settlement in 1991, thousands fled across the crocodile-infested Gilo River to Kenya. After another five years in refugee camps, Dut came to the United States under sponsorship of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Rochester, New York, whose parishioners are involved in refugee resettlement.
At Christmas time a decade ago the parish helped him travel to Africa to visit his sick father, who he had not seen in 19 years. At the United Nations hospital there, doctors said that if his father was to live, he must have clean water to drink. Unfortunately, there was none in the village where he lived.
When Dut returned to Rochester, he himself was sick and 10 pounds lighter. He first thought it was from eating peanuts, but believes now it could have been the water. The trip opened his eyes to the plight of his people. "I wish I could do something to help my father and my friends," he said at the time.
As a result, Water for South Sudan was born. To this day they have drilled over 282 wells in South Sudan, providing fresh, clean water to many villages. Dut along with two former "Lost Boys" have gone back to South Sudan to help their young country develop. (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/article/sudanese-refugee-helps-provide-wells-his-homeland)
It is a story of faith. To provide fresh clean water to those in need. To live into that water that Jesus gives, water first washed over us in baptism, that calls us to witness with our lives what Jesus give to all.
Through her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman at the well is changed. She believes the words of Jesus that he has that living water. And she goes and tells others to come and see and they also come to believe. She in fact becomes an evangelist and a disciple.
In many Orthodox Churches they remember her as such a disciple and evangelist on her feast day of February 26 – she was named St. Photini which translated means enlightened one, for she was enlightened by Jesus and witnessed to her encounter at the well.
May we on our journey this Lent, remember the imagery of water given to us this Sunday, to help those in need around our world who do not have such clean drinking water be it in Flint, MI or South Sudan to help them find the fresh wells of water, but also remember that this symbol of living water reveals the attributes of God’s Spirit, that we may deepen in us a due reverence for this resource, that we may more fully drink the gift of God’s life giving Spirit in our lives. Amen.