Sunday March 19 – Lent 3
Living water / Need that leads to faith
But God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)
Fountain of life
We your desert wanderers come to you
thirsty and parched
Become in us a spring of eternal life
bubbling and brimming over,
to eternal life
in the power of the Holy Spirit
through Jesus Christ our Saviour, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
God had heard the cries of Israel in slavery in Egypt and raised up Moses and Miriam to deliver Israel. He had rescued them bringing them through the waters of Red Sea; and now in Exod 17 the Israelites are wandering in the wilderness.
The people had journeyed “as God commanded” (17:1) and are camped at Rephidim. Rephidim had no water supply and so naturally the people were thirsty; life in the desert was tiring and it taxed the body and the soul. Although the Israelites had seen God perform the most remarkable miracles to save them in the past, they did not turn to God for help, but turned in complaint to Moses. Give us water to drink!
Moses questioned the people’s motives and they responded by turning to one another and complaining against Moses. Why did you bring us out Egypt if this is what would happen? Our children and livestock will die!
Moses did what the people should have done in the first place; he turned to God who directed him. God asked Moses to strike the rock with the staff he had carried on the miraculous journey across the Nile. This produced the water they needed. God was present, his compassion was toward his people, and he met their needs. Israel had failed: they had turned to a human to save them, they had complained and quarrelled, but God had remained both present and faithful.
Venite, exultemus Domino – O come let us sing to the Lord!
In this psalm of praise verses 1-7 give reasons to praise God. God is the rock who brings salvation (deliverance) as he has done in the wilderness. God is the creator of the mountains, the sea, and the dry land; he is a great King and God; he is their faithful shepherd.
The psalmist cries out for Israel to bow down before God, to kneel before the Almighty Lord. For he is our God; we are his people; he is the faithful shepherd; we are his flock.
In verses 8-11 the psalmist recalls the story from Exodus 17 through the divine voice: God laments Israel’s hardened hearts at Meribah. God is pictured in anthropomorphic language where he “loathes that generation,” where God is “angry” and “swears” that Israel “shall not enter my rest.” Gone are the picturesque scenes of the shepherd with his feeding sheep; God responds to humanity’s lack of faith with stark judgment.
Before this passage, in Romans 1-4 Paul has outlined the problem of sin and the solution to sin: Jesus Christ crucified.
Through legal, court-room language, Paul has explained the plight of humanity and God’s preeminent grace in and through Jesus Christ. Now in Romans 5 he moves to relational language where he starts to unravel the effects of their justification by faith (5:1): This is Paul’s theology of grace, where humanity has peace with God; and they stand secure ‘in this present age’. But they also have the future hope as participants in the glory of God in the final days of judgement.
But this eschatological hope is not divorced from the present world’s problems.
Paul describes the ethical dimension to Christian hope. He lays out the causal chain: from suffering and endurance, to character and hope – which is secure because God has poured, and continues to pour, his love into their hearts by the Holy Spirit who is God’s gift.
Paul reiterates that this was not anything humanity could do for themselves, they were weak (5:6) and in sin (5:8), but God “proved” his love for humanity by paying the penalty of sin, so they “will be saved” from the “wrath of God” (5:9). This salvation is both secure (5:1) and is ongoing as a future event (5:9). God’s reconciliation has made enemies into friends; this should be their true boast.
This story is paired with the story of Nicodemus. He is a Jewish leader and a man of privilege. She is a Samaritan woman who has no privilege; she is drawing water alone at noon, a sure sign that she has little community standing.
This is a divine encounter (Jesus “had to go” through Samaria, 4:4) in the same way that the earlier story in the wilderness of Sin was directed by God (Exodus 17:1-7). Both stories tell of God’s gracious provision of water for those who are thirsty.
The text is a dialogue of misunderstanding which refers to different levels of meaning. These ultimately disclose God as the giver of living water and this woman’s extraordinary faith in Jesus, the Messiah.
The disciples go into the city to buy food (and so exit the stage) so Jesus was alone.
After his journey, he is naturally tired and thirsty as he sits down at Jacob’s well (Genesis 48:22).
A Samaritan woman comes alone to draw water. This was normally a communal task done early in the day before the sun was too high in the sky. So this lone figure at the well reveals her socio-cultural situation which is later disclosed (she has had many husbands and is now with another man to whom she is not married).
A male would not normally bother talking to such a woman, and she was a Samaritan, which Jews were especially careful to avoid being near.
It is extraordinary therefore, that Jesus asks her for a drink; as water transmits impurity.
This begins John’s pattern of misunderstanding: the dialogue that follows makes clear both human needs and theological truths.
The woman clearly has needs well beyond the need for water for daily life, she needs God’s living water which will “spring up to eternal life” (4:14). This echoes as the Israelites in the desert who also had two needs: the first practical – water to drink, and the second spiritual – the knowledge of God which sustains the soul.
The woman’s conversation with Jesus shows that her faith is bolder and deeper than that of the Jewish leader, Nicodemus.
He comes in the dark; while she does in the day. He calls Jesus “Rabbi” (3:2), while she calls him “Messiah” (4:29).
She even leads others to Jesus saying “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done” (4:29). John tells us that “many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony” (4:39).
In a Gospel which presents “belief” and “testimony” as the greatest indicator of faith, she is given as an example for others to follow. She questions God, responds to God, moves toward belief, and then shares her testimony with others.
Rev Dr Sarah Harris lectures in New Testament Studies at Carey Baptist College and the Graduate School and is Priest Assistant at the Cedar Centre Anglican Community Church, Beach Haven.