by Rev. Jeff Chapman
1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. (Isaiah 35:1-7, NRSV)
Long before Jesus ever came, this beautiful vision was given to God’s people in desperate, thirsty times. God promised his people, “One day I will bring gladness to the sad places of your lives. I will make water will gush forth in the wilderness and steams will flow in the desert. The burning sand will become for you a pool, the thirsty ground a bubbling spring.” It’s a beautiful, beautiful vision, one that still brings hope for thirsty people.
Keep this vision of God’s promise to us in the forefront of you mind this morning as we look together at how Jesus came to see it realized.
Renowned playwright Sinclair Lewis once wrote these words, “On the surface we all seem quite different; but deep down we are fundamentally the same. We are all desperately unhappy about something—and we don’t know what it is.”
My experience tells me Sinclair Lewis is right. If we only judge people by what we see, we might come away mistakenly thinking some people have it all together, while other people are a mess. If we could get beneath the surface, however, we would see that all people are, to some extent, restless, and anxious, and fearful, and dissatisfied.
My own experience as a pastor confirms this. I’ve lost count how many times I have sat with people who give the public impression that life could not be better. And yet in private they reveal a sadness, or a fear, or a dissatisfaction that lies beneath the surface. Most people would never guess that it’s there. But it is there. I suspect it’s there in your life, even if you don’t know why.
I’m going to tell you a story this morning about one such person. I pray you will listen closely, with your ears and with your heart. As you do, I suspect you will find yourself somewhere in this story. I know I did.
I’m reading now from the Gospel of John, chapter 4, beginning in verse 1.
1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more toGalilee.
4 Now he had to go throughSamaria.
Truth be told, Jesus didn’t have to go throughSamaria. It was the shortest way from Judea toGalilee, but for a Jew it was not the best way. BecauseSamariawas full of Samaritans. And Jews hated Samaritans. And Samaritans hated Jews right back. So most Jews went the long way around.
Geographically speaking, Jesus could have also gone the long way around. But Jesus didn’t come to avoid trouble. He came to walk right into the middle of trouble. In this sense, John was right. Jesus had to go throughSamaria.
5So he came to a town inSamariacalled Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
It was the heat of the day. Jesus had been walking all morning. The Son of God was hungry, and tired and, no doubt, very thirsty.
Can you imagine? The eternal Son of God was hungry and tired and thirsty.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
Newspapers and magazines sometimes run a feature they call “What’s Wrong with this Picture.” They show you a scene and tell you there are ten things wrong with this picture and your job is to spot what they are. The man’s moustache is on his forehead. The numbers on the face of the clock are all mixed around.
Ask any first century Jew listening to this story to tell you what’s wrong with this picture at the Samaritan well that day and he’ll have no trouble pointing out at least three things.
To begin with, women in those days came to the draw water in the early morning or the late afternoon, when the temperature was much cooler. And when they came they usually came in groups so they could help one another. This woman, however, comes alone in the heat of the day. She doesn’t want to meet other women at the well because they, in turn, don’t want to meet her at the well. As we’re about to learn, she is a woman marked by shame. And she knows it.
Second, any Jew would immediately recognize how wrong it was for Jesus to even speak a word to this woman. Jewish law strictly forbid a rabbi like Jesus to speak to any woman in public, even if she were his own wife or daughter. This law was taken so seriously back then that there were some Pharisees who were nicknamed “the bruised and the bleeding” because they shut their eyes whenever they saw a woman on the street and, in doing so, walked right into walls and houses. For Jesus to speak to a woman in public would have been the end of his reputation.
On top of all this, no Jew in that day would ever dream of asking for a drink from even a male Samaritan. Jews wouldn’t even walk throughSamariafor fear of being made ceremonially unclean by people they considered to be vile half breeds. To share eating and drinking vessels with a Samaritan, therefore, would be absolutely unthinkable. And yet here is Jesus, asking this woman for a drink from her water jar.
Imagine Birmingham, Alabama, in 1961 when the Jim Crow laws were in full effect. Imagine a white police officer in those days waiting patiently in line to get a drink from a drinking fountain which had been clearly designated “Colored Only.” It wouldn’t happen. It didn’t happen.
There is so much wrong with this picture. Even the woman understands that there is so much wrong with this picture.
9The Samaritan woman said to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
Obviously, there’s something the woman doesn’t know. As readers, we’re in on it. But she’s not. She has no idea who this man is. She has no idea that the Messiah, the very Son of God, is standing right in front of her her.
How could she? He’s just a thirsty Jew who wandered into the wrong neighborhood and has forgotten his manners. This is Clark Kent dressed up in his coat and tie and his goofy glasses offering to stop the speeding train from plunging off the cliff and Lois Lane is looking at this bumbling idiot and has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about or what he’s capable of.
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Understand, she’s coming pretty close to mocking Jesus. “Our hero Jacob dug this well. You think you can just waltz in here and turn it into a bubbling spring? Who do you think you are? You don’t even have a bucket!”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Again, it’s not really fair because this woman can’t see past the disguise. She simply is not able to understand that Jesus isn’t talking about water at all. He’s talking about life, and grace, and eternity. He’s not talking about physical thirst, but deep spiritual thirst. He’s not talking about a cool drink on a hot day. He’s talking about the refreshment of the very Spirit of God which satisfies the deep sadness and ache we all feel inside. He’s not even talking about his thirst; he’s talking about hers.
Jesus is giving her the Gospel, and she’s taking him for a fool.
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
I think she’s done trying to make sense of Jesus. “Whatever. Go ahead, show me this fancy water of yours. Where is it? If I had such water I wouldn’t be here right now, stuck in this ridiculous conversation with you. You are going to give me living water. Ha! Need I remind you, sir, that you’re the thirsty one? You’re the one asking me for water! Remember?”
She’s done playing games with Jesus.
Coincidently, Jesus is also done playing games with her.
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
Here’s the problem with Jesus. We can pretend with each other. Some of us, in fact, are remarkably accomplished actors. We’ve got everybody fooled. On the outside, things are great. We show up Sunday morning polished and put together. But too often our smiles gloss over a desperate unhappiness, a deep discontentment we can’t quite explain. We want people to think we are at peace, that we are living a satisfied life. Sometimes we convince them that we are. But deep inside we are thirsty. Deep inside our souls, we are very thirsty people.
Which leads me to the problem with Jesus. He knows this about us. Unlike others, he’s not fooled. He looks right past the facade.
On the surface we see a woman drawing water from a well on a hot day. She needs a cool drink because her body is parched. That’s what we see. But that’s not what Jesus sees. Jesus sees in her the thirst beneath the thirst. Jesus sees the thirst in her soul, a thirst that the deepest well full of the purest water can never satisfy.
He sees the deeper thrist within her. Now he’s hoping that she will be able to see it as well.
When I was 14 years old nearly every other 14 year old I knew was wearing a pair of Levi’s Original 501 jeans. Shrink to fit. Straight leg. Button fly. I had to have a pair. And from the time I realized I had to have a pair until the time my mom finally took me to get a pair, let me tell you, those were desperate days. I was thirsty for a pair of 501’s.
Funny thing is – and you know this – I wasn’t really thirsty for the jeans. I was thirsty for what I thought the jeans could bring me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had convinced myself that the clothes I wore could help me get what it was I really wanted. The right pair of jeans could help my image. Certainly the wrong pair would hurt my image. The way I dressed would help me fit in, or at least keep me from sticking out. Who knows, the clothes I wore might even catch the eye of the girl who caught my eye.
All this means that it wasn’t the jeans I was really thirsty for. Without realizing it, what I was really after in those days was acceptance, and community, and worth, and intimacy. To be honest, I still am. And I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
What I didn’t know back then, and what I’m afraid I sometimes still don’t know even today, is that pair of 501’s could never get me what I thought they could get me. I mean, if somebody includes you, or values you, or loves you because of how you look, they don’t really include you or value you or love you in the first place. We should all know this, but we don’t. As a result, fashion is a multi-billion dollar industry in our culture.
Of course, you don’t have to be 14 to fall into this trap. And it’s not always about the clothes we wear. Every single one of you in this room this morning is just like me. You also have tried in vain to quench the deep thirst in your soul with something, or someone, which will only leave you thirsty again.
There is a young woman who is single long after she thought she would still be single. All her friends are married. All she wants, all she prays for, is to find a husband. In the arms of a man who loves and cherishes her, she imagines that all the sadness and aloneness she feels inside will finally be gone.
She knows her thirst is deep. To be loved. To be cherished. To find true intimacy with another. What she does not know is that no man, no matter how faithful, no matter how loving, will ever be able to satisfy her thirst. She thinks she is thirsty for a man, but there is a deeper thirst beneath the thirst.
There is a man who pours his life into his work and his accomplishments. He works hard at his job and it shows. If you got him to be honest with you, he’d tell you that he’s driven because he really wants is to make a difference in this world. He wants to provide for his family. He wants to enjoy the security and comfort he believes wealth affords. He wants the respect of his peers. These are the things he is thirsty for.
His only problem is that material things, and a career, and worldly status are all fleeting things. They barely last a lifetime and their satisfaction rarely lasts even that long. He knows his thirst is deep. To live a life worth living. To know that your life matters to another. To possess security in this life. What he does not know is that no amount of money, no amount of worldly success or acclaim, will ever be able to satisfy his thirst. Once again, there is a deeper thirst beneath the thirst.
All this brings me back to the problem with Jesus. Listen to me. If it were you at the well that day instead of the Samaritan woman, Jesus would do the same thing to you that he did to her. Gently, and when the time was right, he would say something to you that would all at once expose your futile efforts to quench the deep thirst he sees in your soul.
I can only imagine what he would say to you.
I notice there’s no wedding ring on your finger.
Would you mind if I came and took a tour of your dream house?
How are your children? Are they turning out how you thought they would?
Do you have any children?
Can you make a list for me of all the things you’ve done to make God happy?
Did you realize I was there the other day when you thought nobody else was watching?
How’s it going with your career? Have you achieved all that you thought you would achieve?
I have no idea what Jesus would say to you. That’s between you and him. I do have some sense of what he might say to me. We know what he says to this woman.
16Jesus told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
This is the problem with Jesus. He always speaks the truth. He does it in love, but he still does it. He always knows the deeper thirst beneath the thirst. This woman is at the well drawing water, but water isn’t really what she’s thirsty for. Like all of us, she’s thirsty to be loved, and included, and valued, and secure, and found worthy. But if five men haven’t yet been able to quench that thirst, is the sixth one really going to be able to get the job done?
Jesus’ words hit their mark and it’s a tender spot. And she reacts exactly the way many of us would react if we were in her shoes. Immediately, she changes the subject.
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is inJerusalem.”
One of the best ways to take the focus off the painful truth in your own life is to start a religious argument. This is a time tested strategy and we’ve all probably done it. I know I’ve done it. When I don’t want to honestly face the hard truth about my life with God, it’s much easier to start a theological debate, or complain about how things are going in the church, or even walk away from the church and blame it all on “those people”.
This is a great stategy that works every time to distract most people. Problem is, it never works with Jesus. He will not be drawn in. He keeps the spotlight on us. With him it’s not about a theological debate. It’s not about what others have done or have not done. He wants us to see that the problem is not elsewhere, the problem is in here. We’re desperately thirsty and we throwing our bucket down the wrong well.
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor inJerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
There’s a lot here, too much to talk through today. What’s most important is to understand that Jesus is saying to this woman that a time is coming when it won’t matter that she’s a woman, or even a Samaritan woman, or even a Samaritan woman who’s working on her sixth husband. There is a time coming, Jesus says, when none of that will matter. And if she is willing to be honest with herself, honest about herself, and if is willing to come humbly and honestly before God in worship, she will find at last that which she has been longing for. What she’ll find is living water which can forever satisfy the deeper thirst beneath her thirst.
Understandably, this is all too much for her to take in. After all, she just came to the well to get water. And she came at noon so she wouldn’t have to see anybody or talk to anybody who would remind her of why she was really thirsty. And now this thirsty Jew is making her promises of living water and he doesn’t even have a bucket!
I think she’s done with Jesus and these fantastic claims he has no way to back up.
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Even if it’s true, even if what this man says is true that there is, indeed, living water somewhere that can satisfy her soul, where will she ever find such water? Only the Messiah could bring such water? Only the Savior of the world has access to that sort of well. That sort of deep thirst beneath the thirst could only be satisfied by God himself.
26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
I really do believe that Jesus, by his Spirit, is with us this morning, as present with you as he was to the woman that day at the well. And so, in the very presence of Christ this morning, are you willing to listen to him as he gently, but clearly, points out to you how you are seeking in vain to quench the thirst of your soul with the things of this world that will only leave you thirsty again?
Do you believe Jesus when he tells you, “If you keep drinking the water you are drinking now you will be thirsty again, but if you drink the water I give you will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give will become in you a spring of water welling up within to eternal life”?
Do you believe that Jesus alone is able to one day completely quench the deep thirst of your soul?
Jesus desires to quench your thirst. And he is able to quench your thirst because he, himself, has taken your thirst upon him. You see, for our sakes, not only did the Son of God thirst one hot afternoon beside a Samaritan well, but he also died another afternoon on a Roman cross. And as he hung there dying, those standing nearby heard him cry out at one point, “I am thirsty.”
Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, took on our thirst, became thirsty in his body and in his soul, so that we could one day be forever satisfied.
The Next Step- A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read John 4:1-26. What is the most striking thing about this story?
Do you think Jesus planned this whole meeting or not? Was this a set up?
How are you like this woman? How are you not like her?
Jesus talks about “living water.” What is this? Where do we get it? Have you ever tasted it?
If somebody drinks “living water”, is it true that they will never thirst again? Do you believe Jesus can make it so that a person is forever completely satisfied?
What are you most thirsty for in your soul? How are you tempted to quench that thirst with something besides what Jesus is offering?
How do you find yourself saying, “If only such and such would happen, then my life would be complete?” What is the “such and such” for you? And if it happens, will it really make you permanently satisfied?
On the cross, Jesus cried out, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28) What does this mean for us?
Read the rest of the story in John 4:27-42. What do you notice here?
Further Scripture Readings for the Week: This Lenten season, in preparation for Easter, join others in the church setting aside at least 1% of their day each day to read through the Gospel of Luke.
Monday: Luke 17:1-19
Tuesday Luke 17:20-37
Wednesday: Luke 18:1-17
Thursday: Luke 18:18-43
Friday: Luke 19:1-27
Saturday : Luke 19:28-20:8