What is the Living Water?

Third Sunday of Lent, Year A

Exodus 17:3-7
Romans 5:1-2, 5-8
Gospel: John 4:5-15, 19-26, 39, 40-42

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our Gospel story today was about the woman at the well. She’s a Samaritan woman and she encounters Jesus at the well. She knows there’s a social distinction between Samaritans and Jews. She comments on that, and Jesus tells her, I’m here for everybody. That’s the short of it. He says there will come a time when all of us will worship together. Now, we worship in separate places. There will come a time we all worship together. He’s telling her who He is. She says, well, the Messiah will come and tell us everything, and He says, “I am He. I’m the Messiah”.

This is a passage where Jesus reveals to somebody, verbally, who He is. I want to focus on this story about the woman at the well, what it means to us, and why we’re reading about it during Lent. Jesus tells her that He’s Living Water. What is this? What is the Living Water? Jesus often uses images to describe who He is. In this passage, He tells the woman that He is Living Water. In another He tells people He is the Bread of Life; in another He tells people He is the True Vine; in another He says He is the Gate; in yet another He says He’s the Good Shepherd; and in yet another He says He’s the Light of the World. Jesus uses these images to tell us who He is, because images like that are powerful and they can stay in our minds, and they can change us. They can show us who Jesus is in a way that we can understand internally. Jesus also defines Himself. Sometimes He gives a definition of who He is. He does that here. He says He’s the Messiah. In other places He says, “before Abraham was, I am”. He’s telling the hearers He’s God. In another place He says I am the Resurrection and the Life; and in yet another He says I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He tells us He is God. He is our pathway to life. Why this image of water?

That’s the one in our Gospel reading today and that’s the one I want to focus on. Why does He use this image of water to tell the woman who He is? We know that during Lent we commemorate Jesus’ time in the desert. As He prepared for His ministry, He spent 40 days in the desert, He fasted and prayed. He got hot, He got hungry, and He got thirsty. We all know what it’s like to be thirsty. Think about it for a minute. Remember a time when you were really thirsty. As I was preparing this message, I was thinking of a time when I had been out for a run. A long run, it was really hot, and I was incredibly thirsty. I still remember that. It was years and years ago. We can all think of a time like that, when we were really thirsty. Now, remember what that was like, when you were really thirsty and you got a drink. Oh, it felt so good! I remember, I had red Gatorade after that run and it felt so good. That’s peace! That feeling you get when you quench that terrible thirst – is a feeling of peace. But we always get thirsty again, right? That’s what Jesus tells the woman. She says, you know, how can you get water out of the well? You don’t even have a bucket. And He says, I’m not talking about that water. If you drink that water, you’ll get thirsty again. The water I offer is a water that will quench your thirst forever. It’s Living Water. Water that will quench your thirst for good. He tells her that He’s the Living Water. He uses this phrase. He says, this water will create within you a spring of water, welling up to eternal life. This is the water that’s given to us by the Holy Spirit. When we drink physical water, we always get thirsty again.

During Lent, we focus especially on penitence, and charity, and disciplines that we take upon ourselves. We’re trying to get rid of things that separate us from God in one way or another. When we drink regular water, we always get thirsty again. Things that separate us from God, the things that we’re penitent for during Lent, sin, anything like that, separate us from God. If you think about things like that, they’re a kind of thirst that can’t be quenched, whatever it is. They’re something we’re chasing after, whatever it is, even if we get it, we won’t be satisfied. We’re going to want more and more and more of whatever it is. Or we’re going to want it again and again and again. The world is always presenting us with things like this, through advertising, through messages we get from other people, and so forth. Get this and you’ll be satisfied; get this thing, and you’ll be okay; get this thing, and you’ll be happy. Those are things that distract us from God, that separate us from God. Only God can really satisfy our thirst, and that’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Our Old Testament message today has an image of this. It’s from the passage of the people to the Promised Land. The people had been freed from bondage in Egypt and they’re wandering through the desert. They’re hot, and they’re tired, and they’re thirsty. They say to Moses, where can we get water? God tells Moses, take the staff that you used to part the Red Sea, take it and strike the stone, and water will come out. It gave them water. The water came from God. This was the message to the people. This is the message that Jesus is giving to the woman at the well. That He is the source of the water they need, the Living Water. How does this work? This is something we can reflect on during Lent.

Paul gives us an idea about this in his letter to the Romans, chapter 5, which we read from today. He says a couple of things that are very relevant here. He says, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that peace I said that we felt when we quenched that terrible thirst? This is the peace we get from God. This is what Paul is talking about. How do we get that peace? Paul writes, “the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” He’s telling the people that the Holy Spirit brings the love of God into our hearts. God becomes present within us, and this is what quenches that thirst, this is the Living Water that Jesus is talking about, that He tells the woman at the well about. Paul’s talking about the same thing.

Okay, so why are we reading this during Lent? What does this have to do with Lent? This is a time when we discipline ourselves, in some way or another, to grow closer to God. Maybe we give up something, or we take on additional things, like we pray more or read the Bible more, or maybe we do things for other people. All of these things have something in common: they get us out of ourselves. I talked about this before. A minute ago I said, when we’re doing things that are separating us from God, this is what we mean by sin. We’re doing something that separates us from God. A common thread that draws different forms of sin together is selfishness, or self-centeredness. It’s me. Me. Me. I’m focused on something about me. I’m not focused on God. I’m focused on me. When we’re in sin, we’re selfish, and we’re pushing God out of the way. This is what separates us from God. God always wants to be with us, but we push God away. This is why Lent is a time of penitence. It’s a time to turn away from those things and to focus on things that will draw us closer to God, that remind us of God. Maybe, you know, we miss that ice cream or whatever it is. Maybe we spend more time reading Scripture. Maybe we’re doing something for another person. Whatever it is, it’s taking us out of ourselves. When we’re focused on God, we’re getting out of ourselves, and we’re getting ourselves out of the way to make room for God. This is the reason for these Lenten practices: get ourselves out of the way and make room for God to come in. Then, like Paul tells us, “the love of God is poured into our hearts”, like water, the Living Water that Jesus told the woman at the well about. And this is the water that quenches our thirst. And this brings us peace. True peace. The peace that Paul is talking about. The peace that we get from the love of God that’s poured into us like that Living Water.



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