Exodus 17:1-17; John 4:5-42
Joey Mora, a young marine corporal, was standing on a platform of an aircraft carrier patrolling the Iranian Sea. Incredibly, he fell overboard. His absence was not known for 36 hours. A search and rescue mission began but was given up after another 24 hours. No one could survive in the sea without even a lifejacket after 60 hours. His parents were notified that he was "missing and presumed dead.” Yet two days later, four Pakistani fishermen found him, treading water. He was delirious. His tongue was dry and cracked and his throat parched. He said it was God who kept him struggling to survive. What was the most excruciating thing of all? Joey said that the one thought that took over his body and pounded in his brain was "Water!"
Physical thirst is a terrible thing. Extreme dehydration damages organs, especially the brain, and quickly leads to death. Water is the main component of our body – about 60%-- and it is involved in its smooth running – to carrying nutrients to and waste materials away from cells to regulating body temperature. On average, with right conditions, we could only survive 3-5 days, 12 days in extreme cases, without water. It has been predicted, that with the effects of climate change, water will become more precious than oil, and the conflicts of the future will be over clean, fresh water. According to a United Nations Report – nearly 25% of people in our world lack access to clean water. 7.33 billion people have mobile phones – but only 4.5 billion, 60% - actually have an appropriate bathroom that have the necessary water to flush and a sewage system for waste to be disposed. Amazing, isn’t it?
From our scriptures today we see that the need for water is paramount on everyone’s mind - from the people of Israel crossing the wilderness, to Jesus and his disciples traveling through the hostile territory of Samaria. The people of Israel have just been freed from slavery in Egypt. They’ve reached camp; they are thirsty and there is no water to be seen. So, they quarrel, and they blame Moses for their predicament. Even Moses fears for his life. Eventually God sends Moses and the elders and commands Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, through which God provides water. This place of strife due to lack of water was called Massah and Meribah which translate as testing and quarreling. Not an auspicious start for a people just freed from slavery.
In the gospel of John, again we see thirst. Jesus and his disciples have been traveling and just entered Sychar, which unfriendly, Samaritan territory. – Samaritans and Jews had centuries of bad blood between them– so there was no welcome party here for the famous rabbi and his disciples. Jesus was tired from the journey and he was thirsty. A Samaritan woman happens to come at noon to the well, and Jesus initiates a conversation with her. He asks her for water. This basic request begins the longest conversation Jesus has with anyone in the gospels. This is a conversation around water, thirst, theology and priorities in life. All this takes place with a woman with three strikes against her: her gender (no respectable Jew would publicly address a woman); her ethnicity and culture (no respectable Jew would talk to a Samaritan); and her questionable history – the text says she’s had five husbands—and currently living with a fellow without the benefits of marriage. Honestly, we don’t know what’s happened to this woman – it could be she was repeatedly abused; it could be she’s made bad choices and has no clear, good future ahead. What we do know is that she was ostracized by her village and she was ostracized by the disciples. We also know that Jesus does not judge her or condemn her. He treats her like an intelligent, worthy human being. Ancient church legend names this woman Photene – meaning the enlightened one -- who engages Jesus in a thoughtful, direct, lively manner. Photene ends up becoming the first missionary to Samaria and she is even considered to be the first disciple to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Her intelligence and wit are evident in her comments to Jesus as the conversation turns theological and soon into a testimony. See the how Jesus engages her gently and compassionately; and moves her from an ordinary request for water, “give me a drink,” to giving her the gift of Living Water: First she says:
“I am surprised that you ask me for a drink, since you are a Jewish man and I am a Samaritan woman”
She responds to Jesus’s proclamation: “Sir, where will you get this living water? The well is very deep, and you have nothing to get water with
She diligently pursues her request: Sir, give me this water so I will never be thirsty again and will not have to come back here to get more water.”
When Jesus points out she has had five husbands – stating what is probably the pain and humiliation of her life, what has keep her down and out. she responds: Sir, I can see that you are a prophet;
Addressing her pain opens her to confesses her faith: “I know that the Messiah is coming.” (Messiah is the One called Christ.) “When the Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us.”
She ends by confesses faith in Jesus: Then to the other villagers: Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Do you think he might be the Christ?”
Photene came to the well to draw water and left with living water which she generously shared with others in her village. Like Jesus, like the Israelites, like Photene, we become thirsty. We know the symptoms of dehydration: dry mouth, nausea, lightheadedness, weakness, heart palpitations. It is said up the 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated. We don’t drink enough water to function at our best. I would hazard a guess that about the same percentage of people are spiritually dehydrated. What do you think?
Just as we forget that our physical body is predominately water and cannot survive long without replenishing that water, so too we forget that we are made of spirit, a spirit that thirsts. A spirit we need to hydrate on a daily basis. . Our texts asks us: are we dehydrated today, both in body and spirit? What signs of spiritual dehydration do we experience, right now? What are signs of spiritual dehydration? Impatience, irritability, quarreling, gossip, stinginess, bitterness, greed, intolerance? What symptoms are we experiencing today?
If we don’t take a Sabbath, we become spiritually dehydrated. If we don’t have a prayer life, we become spiritually dehydrated. If we don’t immerse ourselves in the scriptures, we become spiritually dehydrated. If we do not practice love, justice, mercy and forgiveness on an ongoing basis we become spiritually dehydrated. Bottom line, if we don’t have a relationship with Jesus – we are spiritually dehydrated.
Jesus has a different vision for us – he wants to give us living water that will transform us – make us wholly hydrated spiritual persons. People that can go through the wilderness places, the challenges, of our lives and thrive. People who can take the steps to be free of whatever enslaves them. People who do not flee from the uncomfortable territory the Lord leads us through. People who can engage others unlike themselves -- with respect, with care and with love. People willing to listen, to change, to share, to help and care. That’s who we are called to be. Spiritually hydrated people – through Jesus, the thirst quencher.
God’s living water is love, through Jesus Christ we can see and taste. God’s greatest desire is to love and be loved freely in turn by us. It is of no surprise to us that among Jesus’ final words on the cross, he says, “I thirst” (John 19:28). Of course, Jesus may have been physically thirsty. The greater thirst, however, is the thirst Jesus has for us – to love us, forgive us, guide us to all righteousness – most of all to be connected to us and us to each other by love. Jesus, the living water, thirsts. We become thirst quenchers for Jesus.
Our journey through Lent is leads us into a spiritual wilderness – a sojourn to a place that pushes us out of our comfort zone. Lent is a call to go to the well. Our experience during these weeks as we journey with Jesus toward the cross awakes our thirst. What do we thirst for? To be more loving? To be more patient? To serve more? To be more giving? To stop fighting so much? To have more faith? What do we thirst for? It is God’s desire to give us these things and so much more: as the prophet Isaiah affirms: “The LORD will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. (Isa. 58:11)”
There is more. God places in us the desire to be the thirst quenchers in the world – not doubt to make clean water available to all. But to bring the spiritual water the world needs – to connect – to care – to love – to share the good news of Jesus Christ, who is Living Water. In a world where we are surround by wilderness of sin, brokenness, injustice and hatred; in a world filled with stagnant water that brings all sorts of sickness and malaise to people -- we are called to make of ourselves and our church an oasis – that place in the desert where water is found. Because we thirst.
The world thirsts. T
he world is full of Joey Moras, people thrown overboard by life, people treading to stay afloat, people with parched souls, brains pounding, begging for water, living water of Jesus. Who fills like Joey Mora today, adrift in ocean of life, lost, struggling to survive? Today, come to living waters. Today, drink deeply. Drink until you are full. Come to Jesus, the thirst quencher,” For as the prophet Isaiah promises us: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12;3), and Jesus assures us “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink… and rivers of living water will flow from within” (John 7:37-39). Let those living waters flow, in us, through us, around us, and so may the deep thirst of the world be satiated, through Jesus, thirst quencher. Amen.