Tuesday, March 29, 2011
TO LISTEN ONLINE:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
In Philadelphia on the east bank of the Schuylkill (skoo-kel) River there’s a statue of a pilgrim with a Bible, and by that pilgrim is a stream that flows down a really steep hill into the River. And by the stream is a path that leads up the hill, and by hiking up the hill you find the stream’s source – a spring of water. And by that spring is a stone, and on that stone an inscription, which says this: “Whosoever drink of this water will surely thirst again.” Of course, this is a reference to tonight’s Gospel where Jesus Christ says, “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty again.”
We are spiritually thirsty people. We thirst for love, for acceptance, for purpose. We thirst to be at home – at home in this world, at home with ourselves, at home with God. It is our spiritual thirst, and the many ways we seek to satiate that thirst that Jesus addresses in tonight’s Gospel. “From what well,” Jesus asks us, “are you drinking?”
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Psalm 42:1. “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul thirsts for you, O God.” It reminds me of Augustine’s famous prayer, “Our souls are restless, O Lord, until they rest in you.” You see Jesus knows how restless we are, because we’re always trying to satiate that deep spiritual thirst ourselves. The message of our world is clear. “Nothing in life is free. It’s a dog eat dog world. You only get what you give.” In other words, if you want to be loved then be lovable. If you want to be accepted then perform. If you want your life to have purpose then create it. Be funny or smart or successful or attractive or popular. Be the best in your field. Roll up your sleeves, hike up that hill and find the water yourself! That’s the world’s message, to which Jesus gently replies – “whosoever drink of that water will certainly be thirsty again.” But “the water that I will give them will become a gushing and eternal spring, and whoever drinks of My water – the Living Water – will never be thirsty again.”
Before we talk about the only thing that’s ever going to satisfy our deep spiritual thirst – the living water Jesus offers us – we need to acknowledge how conditioned we are to believe that the living water is something we merit – something we earn. It start’s early. “Good boy” our parents told us, when we did something good. Our teachers “graded” us – we were classified and ranked based on our intellect and performance. Our peers classified and ranked us based on how attractive we were or how funny we were or how athletic we were. As one author puts it, “When every person in every situation in every day of our lives treats us on the basis of how we look, act, and perform, it is difficult not to project that onto God.” And so regardless of what we say we believe about grace, it is so easy for our hearts to believe that God’s love, God’s acceptance, are tied to our moral performance. If only at a subconscious level, we assume the living water must be earned. Well tonight, Jesus shatters that assumption. “If you knew the gift,” Jesus says, “if you just knew the gift of God,” you’d never be thirsty again.
That’s what’s so amazing about the woman in tonight’s Gospel. According to the cultural and religious rules of the day, no one deserved God’s love less than she did. First, she’s a Samaritan – a group that melded Judaism with paganism. No Jew in Jesus’ day liked Samaritans – no Jew, that is, except for one. Second, she’s a woman and women in Jesus’ world had no status. No respectable rabbi would ever address a woman in public – no rabbi, that is, except for one. Third, she’s alone, coming to the well at the hottest part of the day when no one else is around. Back in the day women went to the well to draw water in groups. It was the place to see and be seen, and so why is she alone? Because she’s an outcast, a moral failure. She doesn’t want to see anyone and no one wants to see her – no one, that is, except for Jesus. This woman has done nothing to deserve God’s love – she knows it, the disciples know it, and Jesus knows it. “But if you knew the gift,” Jesus told her, “you’d see that the love of God has nothing to do with what we deserve.
CS Lewis was once asked by a group of his colleagues what made Christianity different from all the other religions of the world. Lewis responded with a single word. “Grace.” Christianity is about grace. It’s not about us hiking up some hill to find water. It’s about God hiking down to give water to us. You see the good news of the Gospel is not merely that God forgives us, although that is certainly true. The good news of the Christian Gospel is that in Christ God celebrates us; that He lives for us; that God thirsts for us. As Richard Foster puts it, “the heart of God is an open wound of love. He longs for our presence.” In other words, psalm 42 talks about how we thirst for God but the living water – what Jesus is talking about tonight – is that God thirsts for us. That is the living water! The gift! Our call – the whole point of our faith – is to know that gift; to drink of the truth of how deeply we’re loved so that we can share God’s gift with the world like this woman. Of course, the question is how – how do we know the gift of God? How do we taste the living water that only Jesus can give?
Well first, we need to be honest about the empty wells we keep drawing from. For this woman it was men. You see, when Jesus says, “Go and get your husband” he isn’t being mean. After all, Jesus likes this woman and he would never try and shame her. That just isn’t Jesus’ way. But what Jesus does do is ask her to look at where she keeps dropping the bucket of her soul – at where she’s seeking to satisfy the deepest longings of her heart, and for her it’s men. Jesus takes this woman to a very vulnerable place. Has he taken us yet – to that vulnerable place? Have we let him? Now just for a second, imagine yourself standing at that well in the presence of Jesus. And to everyone’s surprise, even your own, He likes you. He wants to talk. Jesus shows you his thirst. But then, he shifts gears and tries to show your own – your own spiritual thirst and the broken cisterns you keep drinking from to satiate that thirst. To the woman he said “go and get your husband.” What is Jesus saying to you? “Go and get your career. Go and get your family. Go and get your need to be liked, your need to be in control, your need to be appreciated. Go and get your obsession with appearance, knowledge, competence, notoriety, success, friends, pleasure, wealth, status. Go and get it and put it right next to me,” Jesus says, “because it can never give you what I can.” To taste the living water we first have to stop drinking from empty wells.
Now, that being said, there’s a second piece we need to look at, because the gift of God isn’t ultimately about our thirst at all – it’s about Jesus’ thirst. You see the only reason this woman had an encounter with Jesus that changed her life was because, practically speaking, Jesus was thirsty. I mean, that’s why Jesus stopped at the well and said “give me a drink” in the first place. But in the Gospel of John, which is loaded with symbols, everything has a double meaning. You see twice in the Gospel of John Jesus says that he’s thirsty. The first we heard read tonight. The second we’ll hear read on Good Friday, where Jesus cries out in agony from the cross, “I thirst.” And that thirst was the great thirst. For on the cross not only did Jesus experience that cosmic thirst we rightly deserve for our sins, but as he stretched out his arms on that cross, Jesus showed us just how deep God’s thirst for us goes.
The psalmist tells us that there “is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” By those streams is a path, which leads up Golgotha hill. And if you hike up that hill you’ll find streams Source – the Son of God crucified thirsting for the world. God give us grace to know that gift and to ask Jesus to give us the living water, and to hear yet again the word of our Lord: “come to me all you that are weary and heavy burdened and I will refresh you.”