Apostles of Living Water

John 4
“Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.”

Getting water was women’s work. Early in the morning, the women would rise and meet at the well with their jars. As they collected water for the needs of their household, the sound of their laughter and conversation filled the square. They told jokes and folk stories and caught up on the news around town. They talked of their difficulties and supported each other.


Getting water was like a ritual of solidarity for them. Together they shared the burdens of their lives. Together they lugged the large jars back to their homes and began their chores for the day.

She was not part of it, however. She had come to the well at dawn a few times, but the other women never spoke to her. You could tell from their silence and cold looks that their minds were made up about her. She was an outcast to them, a woman who was living with a man, the fifth man she’d been with. Looking at her gave them both the feeling of repugnance and smug superiority.

So instead she came at midday, when the sun was hot and the other women were in the cool of their houses. The sweat ran down her back as she hauled gallons of water back to her house. It was easier to bear than the other women shaking their heads in pity and disgust.

The water jar was the symbol of her life: A household possession which could be used and abused, cared for or cracked. She had been passed from man to man until she no longer had even the dignity of marriage. She was as disposable to men as a leaking jar is to a woman. Discarded by men, rejected by women, she was tethered to a fate she could not change.

And then one day, she saw a stranger at the well. He too was there midday, tired and thirsty after travel. From his manner of dress it was clear he was a Jew. “What is he doing here?” she wondered.
She knew Jews and Samaritans didn’t mix—like oil and water. Hundreds of years ago, Eli the priest had set up a shrine at Shiloh. Some of the people felt this was wrong, because they believed that the true place for worship was the traditional site, Mt. Gerazim. It was a deep divide between the people, so deep that many of the Israelites broke away and followed King David in Jerusalem. His son Solomon built a temple there and Jerusalem became the center of the faith. The people who followed him became known as the Jews.
Some of the people, though, kept worshipping at Mt. Gerazim. They believed they had maintained the real Judaism. They were known as the Samaritans. Since those times, Jews and Samaritans were like feuding brothers, each claiming the other had been led astray by Satan himself.
“Why didn’t he go the long way around like all the other Jews do?” the woman wondered, knowing that most Jews avoid going through Samaria. “Jews think this is where all the half breeds and heretics live.” But she said nothing to him. It was never appropriate for a woman to talk to any man outside the family, Jew or otherwise.
And then, as casually as if he were asking his own sister, he said, “Give me a drink.”
She could have averted her eyes and turned away like the other women did to her, but instead she looked straight at him and said, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask of a drink me, a woman of Samaria? How can you break the boundaries that separate us, Jew to Samaritan, man to woman, stranger to stranger?”
And he said, “If you knew who I am, you would ask me for water. The water that I give is Living Water. It is a great flood gushing over the earth. It knows no boundaries. It is for all people. And those who drink of it will never be thirsty again.”
Can you imagine it?  Never being thirsty again! Never again having to endure the sweat of hauling water or the stares of the other women. “Where can I get this water?”  she asked.
“Go, call your husband, and then come back,” he said.
Why did he have to bring that up? All her shame, all her pain at being rejected, kept down, welled up within her. And suddenly she was angry. He was like all the rest. “I have no husband,” she said.
She thought he would turn away at her brazen retort. After all she was damaged goods, a pariah among her own people. But to her surprise, he stayed with her at that well. He didn’t seem concerned that everyone could see that he was talking to her. Everyone else had laughed at her interest in religion; they thought it was funny that the woman with the worst reputation in town was interested in such holy things. But this stranger took her seriously. He entertained her questions and listened to her. Slowly her anger faded.
When he looked at her, he looked into her eyes. And it was as if for the first time someone really, truly saw her.
Something in her began to break. It wasn’t her heart which had been broken a thousand times before; it was the constriction of her life, the bonds of oppression – the confines of the water jar. Jesus touched in her an inner spring that would gush up to eternal life – a spring that would overflow to others, like a river bursting its banks to set a new course. She was a broken vessel, but she was not to be discarded. She was a vessel broken so that the Living Water could flow from her, through her, beyond her.
“Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city.” She left her water jar and her old life where people told her who and what she could be. She returned to the city undaunted by the taunts and stares to tell of the stranger she met who was not constrained or contained by the boundaries that keep people hemmed in, the man who spoke of water – of life-giving water for everyone. She returned to the people who had cast her out, to tell of the stranger who set her free from the containment of stereotype, from the destructive patterns of self-hate and despair. She returned to tell of a man who knew everything she had ever done and saw the gift that lay within her.

“And many in that city believed because of the word of the Samaritan woman.” Her true identity was not the Woman of the Water Jar. She was the Apostle of Living Water.

We each have our own water jars, the symbols of our stunted lives. We too have been told what to do and who to be. But that is not who we are on the inside. Within us there is an inner well, an identity and calling given to us by God; a spring gushing up to give us life. 
Leave behind your water jar. Abandon the things which hold you back from your Living Water. Leave behind sexism and shame, duty and deception, prejudice and arrogance. Jesus has already looked into your heart and has seen your unique calling: His creative Spirit is within you, stirred up and bursting at the seams.
Water that stays in the jar becomes stagnant, like the Dead Sea. Living water runs free. We who have tasted this water are also set free to love as Jesus loved, without reserve; to serve as Jesus served, the insiders and outsiders alike. We are like a river bursting its banks, charting a new course, breaking the boundaries that held us in. We are part of the great flood to cover the earth, to wash it clean, and bring the new life of spring. To spread Jesus’ Living Water, our Living Water, to this thirsty world.

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