Updated: Apr 18
“GIMME SOME OF THAT”
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
March 12, 2023
John 4:1-15 NRSV
1Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” 2—although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— 3he left Judea and started back to Galilee.
4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but 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.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Have you ever seen someone eating or drinking something and it looked so good you thought, “Gimme some of that!” When the woman came to the well and Jesus offered her what he called “living water” she was “all in.” Gimme some of that! I don’t blame her. I don’t even know what “living water” is but it sounds so good, I’ll take some!
We can only truly understand this story if we understand this: these characters that John presents in these stories serve as archetypes. John uses these stories to illustrate what he believes real faith in Jesus looks like, and to explain why his church is made up of such a strange mix of people from Samaria, those with physical disabilities, those from dubious religious backgrounds and such.
This story follows right after Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. This woman’s interaction with Jesus is everything his conversation with Nicodemus was not. Despite all the reasons we would assume Nicodemus would be a model for our faith and this woman would not, the story reverses all our expectations. Nicodemus is a man, he is from the right side of the tracks, he is like the head deacon of the church, been to seminary even and studied theology, he was the type others looked up to as a perfect example of what we all should be. But he never understood the spirit and the truth of Jesus’ words.
She, on the other hand is exactly the opposite. A SHE for God’s sake, and we all know just like popular political attitudes today seem to believe, a SHE, a woman, belongs barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen and have no say in her life, her value, her agency. She is a Samaritan – like saying she is a Mexican, or a Cuban, right? Worse, like saying she is a Haitian Jehovah’s Witness. She’s the wrong gender, the wrong nationality, the wrong religion, just wrong!
The conversation veers suddenly to the subject of husbands. And isn’t it interesting that the men who have run the church for the past 2000 years have made this about her “sexual history.” Not so. Let me quote a noted Biblical scholar, John Petty, [ ProgressiveInvolvement.com, March 21, 2011 ], to understand this better. He reminds us that “In 922 BC, the ten northern tribes of Israel seceded from the nation, and took the name with them. Israel, the northern kingdom – as a separate kingdom from Judah –the southern kingdom, lasted almost exactly 200 years. It was defeated by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The Assyrians made it a practice to move people from one nation they conquered and mix them with others from other nations they had conquered to reduce the possibility of a cohesive group rebelling. This whole region that had once been Israel became known as Samaria.”
Here is another essential point. “The ‘husbands’ Jesus and the woman discuss are symbolic. 2 Kings 17:24 tells us that after the Assyrians conquered the region in 722 BC, they took about 30,000 native Israelites out of the region and imported people from Babylon, and Assyria brought people from four other nations into Samaria. As people are wont to do, they intermarried with each other and with the native Israelite, population.” In having Jesus speak of this woman’s five husbands John is speaking symbolically about these foreigners who had come into the land at the orders of a foreign power that had conquered them. John Petty goes on to point out that “The one she is currently with, who is ‘not her husband,’ is Rome.”
“The passage is not about the woman’s sexual life. Nor it is about her marital history. In all of the four Gospels, Jesus never expresses even a speck of interest in anyone’s sex life, except to stick up for people treated as if they were ‘sexual offenders’ when they are criticized or ridiculed by others. Jesus compliments the woman because, as he said himself, ‘What you have spoken is true’ She has no husband. Samaria has had relations with five peoples and is currently occupied by another who wants nothing to do with her. Jesus redefines the woman and Samaria. She is not an outcast, half-breed, heretic--she is a truthteller!”
This powerful compliment leads their conversation deeper into matters of authentic worship. She thinks true worship is a matter of geography. In her community Mt. Gerizim is the holy place, and she knows the people of Jesus’ religion think Jerusalem is the Holy of Holies and everything else is less. Just as Jesus seeks to move her from defining water that satisfies in a material way, he moves her from focusing on where to the spiritual matters of spirit and truth.
John’s community were not defined by the synagogue or the Temple in Jerusalem. She proceeds to say that she believes the Messiah is coming and that he will tell all the truth we need to hear. In response Jesus reveals himself to her as he does to no one else in the Gospels. He tells her openly he is the Messiah! It is a mic-drop moment, if we really hear it for what it is.
While Nicodemus leaves Jesus never recognizing him, this woman leaves Jesus to go tell others that he is the Messiah, or at least to ask the question rhetorically. Can this be the Messiah, she asks? The story goes on to tell us that the people of the village go to meet this man and are so taken they ask him to stay with them as their guest. They are so moved by him that they tell her they have come to believe their own eyes and ears about him, not just because of her testimony. Somehow in his presence they seem to have tasted the Living Water – the thing they long for most.
And so maybe that is what Living Water is. It is that thing we long for the most. The woman who came to the well looking for what she thought she wanted and needed most: the daily ration of water to cook with, to drink and to wash with. She discovered in the dusty, thirsty man from the other side of the border, this man who had no cup to drink with had the very thing she really, really wanted more than anything.
I had to ask myself that question. What is it I really want? What is the Living Water I thirst for more than anything. I’m rather sad to confess that the first things that came to mind are things I don’t want in this life. I don’t want to live in a time when we seem to be victims of those who want to separate us and teach us to hate each other by what we believe, by our nationality, our religion, our race, our gender, our belief in freedom for everyone not just those who go to the same church they do, vote the same party they do, or identify by the same gender boundaries they believe in or any of the other ways we are trying to hate each other and divide each other, and dehumanize each other. I thirst for a community, a world where people discover that differences are not dangerous but a blessing. I thirst for a world that understands Jesus revealed God’s love for all people, not just those who claim others are excluded from God’s love.
Right now a church in our community of a different denomination from ours is voting to leave its current affiliation. Many of its people I fear will feel disenfranchised. I weep for them. Coincidently I was touched this week by an article by Keith Mannes. Keith was an ordained minister in a different denomination than mine. He wrote about how the past 6 or 7 years in his denomination had so crushed his soul he left, resigned his ordination from that denomination. He then told the story of finding his thirst for faith satisfied, how he found his way from the darkest time of his faith into a bright noon-day light and a Savior who truly welcomed people and who found a Savior who was like Living Water.
Keith became a chaplain in a hospital setting. He began to discover what Living Water tasted like. He says, “I remember weeping with a Muslim family at the bedside of their deceased loved one, with as deep a sense of fellowship as I had, over so many years, with my most beloved church members. Another time, I was present with a Hindu family during the death-process of their elderly mother. After she died, I escorted the family to the hospital exit, and there, in the dim and empty hallway of the early morning, suddenly one of her sons turned and hugged me, full-on, and we held each other. I believed, in that moment, Jesus was there, between us.”
You want to talk about Living Water? Keith wrote, “these people were sent to me while I was still in the desert, and it was as if God showed me a little stream, or had uncorked within me an overflowing fountain. I found myself lavishly distributing Jesus in ways that were outside the limits of my old church teachings and practices. I splashed water for baptisms in ways that stretched and broke my previous definitions. I rummaged around in staff break rooms for crackers and sugary grape juice, offering these bargain-basement elements as holy sacraments to people with only the slightest impulse of faith. It anguished my heart to see, especially, that many of my suicidal patients had been abandoned, cast out, and rejected by harsh, authoritarian, and law-based religions of all sorts.
In a hospital room one day, I met a retired banker who welcomed me but told me upfront that he had given up on God long ago. I listened for a long time as he shared the very real and painful reasons for his blend of agnosticism and atheism. I presented no argument. Silence surrounded us for a few moments, and then I ventured to tell him my heart: “Yeah, I get it. I feel those things, too. It’s just—I just can’t help it—it seems to me like I experience God right now, just with you and me, right here.” It was quiet again, and then somehow we went on and talked about other things. Eventually, I had to leave, but right before I crossed the threshold of his door, he said, “Hey Chaplain … just so you know, about ten minutes ago, I started believing in God again.”
He said that in this process “the United Church of Christ met me on the road.” He learned about our diversity and desire for justice and love for all people as a sign of God’s work. He “witnessed a panel discussion with three UCC pastors: an older white male from the conservative/traditional wing of the denomination; an African American male; and a Queer woman who is married to another woman. The discussion was wide-ranging, but at one point the white conservative pastor said: “I want to make clear that all three of us love each other in Christ. We are in a weekly Bible study together. We pray together. We deeply disagree on our views, and we are deep friends in Christ.” The other two panelists warmly affirmed his words.
Keith then said this, and it was like Living Water to me. He said, “My pastor expresses this in our church every Sunday morning: ‘No matter who you are, how you identify, who you love, or where you are on life’s journey: know that you are welcome here, and that you are loved by God.’ Keith Mannes ends by saying this: “Every Sunday, this sounds like Jesus to me. In this spiritual attitude, I have found peace in my soul and the freedom to live it. So may it be for you.”
All I can say is if you are looking for Living Water, I hope you can find it here. And I hope you will let anyone you know who is thirsting that there is a community, a church, a Savior who loves them unconditionally, and who believes in a God who loves them unconditionally. You see I believe in Living Water. I want that Living Water so much I can only shout, “Gimme some of that!” AMEN.