Californians increasingly know how precious water is. Jesus said, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!” (John 7:37) How do we quench our spiritual and literal thirst AND work to share his “living water” with our neighbors around the world?
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The 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.) Jesus 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 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.” The 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.”
Note: At the beginning of the service, the music team presented an instrumental version
of Prince’s song, Purple Rain, arranged by Michael Conley.
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” ~ Prince
Regardless of one’s musical preferences, it’s likely you heard about the sudden passing of Prince Rogers Nelson at the young age of 57. The artist mostly known as “Prince,” and occasionally by a symbol and as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, influenced music for more than 30 years. Early in his career, he was a source of controversy for his simultaneously explicit and spiritual lyrics. Later, he expressed remorse for some of his earlier actions and even quit swearing.
We can dismiss Prince as a hypocritical or manipulative artist who just wanted your extra time and for you to purchase his album, or we can look deeper. While I do not intend to make Prince a saint, I doubt many of us here knew him personally. He grew up in a devout Christian home, and later in life became an active Jehovah’s Witness who quietly shared his vast wealth to make the world a better place. Prompted by the killing of Trayvon Martin, he funded YesWeCode to help 100,000 students in low-income areas learn technology and give young people an opportunity to succeed.
Prince actively studied the Bible, and tried to share his faith with others. Take his hit Let’s Go Crazy. I quoted beginning with, “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” He goes on to sing:
“Electric word life –
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night . . .”
Prince was a multi-faceted individual who did plenty of things for which one could write him off as an inauthentic person of faith.
What would Jesus do with Prince?
In today’s Scripture lesson, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman with a checkered past. They meet at a water well that was sacred for the Jewish people, the very one that Jacob gave to his son Joseph (think Technicolor dream-coat).
When many of us hear the term “Samaritan,” we might first think about a person willing to help a stranger in distress. In the context of this story, “good” was about the last word any of Jesus’ fellow Jewish people would have used to describe people from Samaria. It was a much more intense version of the feelings fans of the San Francisco Giants feel for fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers, or Warriors toward the L.A. Clippers.
Their hatred ran deep, as it had developed over many centuries.
After the death of Solomon, approximately 900 years before the birth of Christ, Israel had divided in two, with Samaria as the capital of the northern kingdom, and Jerusalem as the capital of Judah in the south. The combination of disputes over rightful claims to land and an understanding of religious purity fueled views. Jewish people considered Samaritans to be of a lower class. Among other offenses, biblical scholar Gerard Sloyan reports that the Samaritans had allowed Alexander the Great to build them a temple while the Judeans were in exile around 300 BCE. When they returned from exile, they could not accept the authenticity of any temple except the one they rebuilt in Jerusalem.
Samaritans and Jewish people each felt and behaved as though they were required to hate each other. Like he did in so many ways during his earthly ministry, Jesus behaved in a way that directly confronted cultural norms that dictated he should not speak to a Samaritan, and certainly not a Samaritan woman.
He did it anyway, and the subject was water.
Jesus seemingly rudely demands, “Give me a drink,” to which the woman replies, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Remember, Judeans and Samaritans were supposed to hate each other).
They go back and forth for a while, with Jesus introducing the concept of “living water”: “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?
“Living water,” as well as this entire passage, is open to literal or figurative interpretation. I invite you to consider both. The Greek text indicates that the water is of divine origin, and can refer to both flowing water and “life-giving revelation of the heavenly.”
Jesus and the Samaritan woman go on to discuss her past, which includes five previous marriages and a subsequent situation that could be described on social media as, “It’s Complicated.”
Feminist theologian and biblical scholar Sandra M. Schneiders argues that Jesus’ primary concern is not the intimate relationship history of one particular woman in, but “ . . . Is a classic denunciation of false worship.” More than a story about one woman at one well, Schneiders writes that the “Entire dialogue is about the ‘wooing’ of Samaria to full covenant fidelity in the new Israel by Jesus . . .” Prophets in the Hebrew Bible such as Hosea employed marriage metaphors to speak about entire nations.
Accepting the living water, the water of life, has personal and societal implications.
There are three aspects of this passage I’ve been thinking a lot about this week that can teach us a great deal about God’s call to us today:
While the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman models the beauty that can appear in covenant community, humankind is as tribal as ever. We naturally look out for ourselves and find it all too easy to ignore the other. According to water.org, nearly 700 million people, or 10 percent of the world’s population, lacks access to safe drinking water. That’s more than twice the population of the United States.
Jesus says, give me a drink!
Will we step beyond our own tribe, our political party, even our church walls, and share our bucket?
Will we quench our own thirst in the short term, or strive to fill the bucket with Living Water?
Calvary historian Joe Beyer shared a poem from an unknown author that appeared in the Calvary church bulletin on April 4, 1976:
“I was hungry
and you formed a humanities club
and discussed my hunger.
I was imprisoned
and you crept off quietly
|to your chapel in the cellar
and prayed for my release
I was naked
and in your mind you debated the morality of
I was sick
and you knelt and thanked God for
I was homeless
and you preached to me
of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.
I was lonely
and you left me alone
to pray for me.
You seem so holy;
so close to God;
but I’m still very hungry,
Jesus calls us to be more than this! It can be a beautiful thing when we respond.
Last week after Calvary members and friends made more than 300 lunches for the pack-a-sack extravaganza, a group of us had the blessing of distributing them with Salvation Army. One of our leaders named Larry shared his own experience with homelessness as we made our way toward Sixth Street and Mission. Larry quoted Salvation Army founder General William Booth who strongly believed in “Soup, Soap, and Salvation,” and said, “No one gets a blessing if they have cold feet and nobody ever got saved while they had toothache!”
We followed Larry’s lead on a particularly warm afternoon when one doesn’t even need a jacket in San Francisco, walking down an alley with many people shooting up and doing other drugs. Larry looked people in the eye and knew many by name. He didn’t curse anyone or even frown. Pointing to the table where our volunteers were stationed, he smiled and said, “We have some ice cold water down there, and some sandwiches, bars of soap, even some treats for your dog.”
Larry and our other leaders discussed the reality that what they are doing will not fix everyone, but shared how through the years many have come from those same streets and now serve people in need.
They told us how a sandwich and an orange and a cool drink provide a glimpse of Christ’s love and grace.
Living Water is still flowing in this world. Will we judge and dismiss, or will we share our bucket?
 Gerard Sloyan, John (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 53.
 Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John, [Rev. ed. (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 2005), 117.
 Sandra M. Schneiders, Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel, rev. ed. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2003), 137-140.
 Schneiders, 141.