Here we have yet another story about Jesus breaking foolish taboos and customs by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. Of course, not all customs are foolish. Rules help us live together. But there are some customs and rules that should be broken, and they should be broken in the name of love – customs such as racism, sexism, nationalism, tribalism, religious intolerance, homophobia, and xenophobia. Many of those things are often woven into the fabric of societies and are blindly followed by even the most loving, best-intentioned members of the society. We all have our bigotries and prejudices, and we always will – it is not good, but it is true. The mark of a mature person is one who knows her or his own bigotry and yet lives beyond it, breaking free from the harmful rules. For instance, getting a drink of water is more important than dying of thirst because of our need to cling to old opinions and beliefs. We all know that, but it takes this story from the gospel to remind us of the fact.
If we really mean it when we say that Jesus is fully human, then we should be open to the fact that he carried around emotional baggage from his own culture. Any thing other than that would be less than human. But we must also realize from the gospel stories that he viewed and treated people as the holy beings that he knew them to be, regardless of what the social and religious customs dictated. Any thing other than that would be less than human, also. He had his culturally inbred prejudices, just like all of us, but he did not let them get in the way of love and compassion, just like all of us are trying to do (and will one day accomplish). He did not need the woman at the well to inform him that she was a Samaritan and therefore he ought not to be asking her to share anything. He knew it, but he also knew that getting a drink of water, as well as offering the living water of the Holy Spirit to her, was more important than caving in to any social pressure he was feeling. And in the act of sharing both types of water, the cultural prejudices of both Jesus and the woman lost some of the control over their lives.
Even while they were sharing water they had a religious and cultural argument. The same thing might happen to us as we share with people different from us, It does not matter if we consider ourselves to be liberal or conservative, open-minded or firmly-anchored, on the left or on the right. All parties have legitimate questions, and all parties might never come to an agreement, but we can still share the water of life and love that we all need in order to live. We should always ask ourselves if protecting our opinions and beliefs is worth dying of thirst or letting others die. The water is the important thing – our opinions and perceptions of it are secondary.
We live in a desperately thirsty world. Withholding life and love for any reason is wrong. God freely offers us the life-giving water of the Holy Spirit, so that we can in turn offer it to others. This living water has many names and forms, but they are all simply aspects of God’s love and life, from which our love and life spring. Living water is evident in every simple act of kindness, in every word of praise, in every refusal to spread gossip, in every negation of self-indulgence at the expense of others, and in every tear of sorrow and joy. The living water of God’s love and life is shared every time we are joyful at another’s good fortune, as opposed to being jealous. It is shared every time we risk our social standing by defending a less popular person’s rights. It is shared every time we admit to others and to ourselves that we might be wrong about something, or that other opinions might be just as valid as ours, as opposed to desperately clinging to our political, religious, or academic beliefs and loyalties. The living water of love can dwell in us only when our over-inflated and fearful egos are brought under control and denied their desperate attempts to control everything so that they can nestle in their beds of false security. We must be empty enough to let the water in, but strong enough to ask for it and accept it out of love, rather than out of fear.
Having the living water of love in us is no good unless we also let it out. Giving it away is the only way we can receive it. We become channels of love; receiving it from God and giving it to others. But Jesus tells us in this story that we shouldn’t stop at being merely channels. We are to become sources of love and life ourselves – “springs of water gushing up to eternal life,” We are to fulfill our destiny as God’s children, and add our own infinite spring of love to God’s. If we are all honest, none of us could say that we are completely fulfilling that destiny right here and now, We are God’s children, but we are children nonetheless. We all have a lot of growing to do. Sometimes, we throw tantrums and refuse to accept the water of life offered to us by God and the other people around us. Sometimes, we are fearful or greedy and won’t give any of our love and life away. But there are those times when we do open ourselves enough to let God’s Holy Spirit flow through us, and we all know how good and right that feels, because it is in fact our true mode of life. Unfortunately, after that happens, we tend to once again shrink back in fear and close up. Doing that doesn’t mean we are evil. It means that we are human and we just forget how truly holy we are. We simply need to grow. Every time we open up and let the water flow, we grow a little more. What we need to do is keep reminding ourselves of our need for growth.
There are many ways we can use to remind ourselves to grow: prayer, scripture study, service to others, and giving money and time to good causes are all things that can bring us into a state of mindfulness. All of these are good disciplines on the road to maturity. They might seem difficult and inconvenient at times, but those are the times when growth has its biggest potential.
We can choose to dry up and shrink away, rather than overcome our fears and prejudices in order to accept the water of love from a dubious source, and we can choose to let others go thirsty because we are uncomfortable with their opinions and beliefs, rather than simply offering them water and a place to sit in the shade. Or we can remember that the important thing is the water. Our opinions of it and the person offering it are secondary and changing. There is a story from the Egyptian desert monks about a young monk walking with his elder by the seashore. The younger monk is thirsty, so the older monk prays over the sea water and it becomes fresh. After the monks have drunk their fill, the younger one begins to fill his water bottle. The older monk asks why he is doing that, and the younger monk explains that they will likely be thirsty again before their journey is over. The older monk tells him that is not necessary, as he says: “God is here, God is everywhere.”
God is here, God is everywhere. Just take the water as it is given to us. If we are worried about impurities, at least take the water and leave the impurities behind. The very fact that the water is offered to us in love makes it holy. And lest we start feeling all magnanimous and benevolent because of our acceptance of gifts from those deemed less acceptable, we need to remember that it just might be that in the eyes of the person offering it to us, we are the unclean Samaritans.
Getting a drink of water – sharing life and love, growing into our full potential as children of God and helping others grow – is much more important than our perceptions and opinions about the water. God is here, God is everywhere. May we share our love and life freely, and may we freely accept it from all of God’s children. AMEN