March 12, 2023 at St. Peter, St. William, & St. Agnes Churches in Naples, FL
Exodus 17, 3-7 + Psalm 95 + Romans 5, 1-2, 5-8 + John 4, 5-42
Many who study and pay attention to social and political things believe that the next big war will not be over oil, but over water. The growing concern everywhere and even here in Florida where you can see water nearly everywhere is over fresh clean water. Those of us who have been there can easily see that the great tension and struggle between Israel and the Palestinians is really over who controls the water coming out of the Golan Heights. One of the great challenges that keeps Africa from prosperity is the lack of clean water. We know what happens to the human body when dehydration sets in, and it’s nearly the same thing with human societies and communities.
The conversation in this Gospel between Jesus and a Samaritan woman is about their shared human need, thirst. Coming to recognize that they share the same need, begins to break down the enmity between the two of them. Step by step, the two begin to reveal themselves to each other because they both have the same need as the they speak of their deepest thirst which is not really water, but for worship, salvation, and the search for truth.
They listen to each other, and as they do, their perceptions of each other begin to soften and shift. Jesus never calls her a sinner even though he’s heard she had five husbands. There is no judgment at all in his conversation. He just listens and shares his own need. She listens, and she moves from calling him a “Jew” to wonder if he might be greater than Jacob as she begins to recognize him as a prophet. Then, she comes to realize that he is the Messiah running to tell others. It all happens because of a simple conversation and the willingness of two people who could not be more distant and more opposite to discover their common need and listen to each other.
This Gospel has a lot of theology in it with references to water that are so important to us nearing Easter’s vigil. There is some wonderful theology here in this contrast between a woman who comes at noon in the daytime to a man in the previous story who comes to Jesus at night. All so important to us nearing Easter’s vigil when we gather in the night drawn into the light and take people to the water of everlasting life. Lots of sermons have been preached about that and should be again.
Yet, there is something more here than these theological themes that reveal so many important things to us as we near Easter. There also is a simple lesson about the power of a conversation that explores shared human need. It reminds us of what good listening can do, listening without judgement, listening with respect for the honest expression of a deep longing and human need that is probably shared.
In sitting with this beautiful story, I am struck by the fact that she leaves her bucket empty, and Jesus seems to never get a drink from that well. Maybe it wasn’t about water all, but rather a mutually shared desire and need for respect, for peace, for someone to listen, and someone to just understand. I think that our faith will be more easily embraced and joyfully lived if we can simply see that in spite of whatever divides us, we all need the same thing, some good love and respect. When we start to listen instead of argue and make pronouncements, call names, and point the finger of blame at people we might get what we really need and so will everyone else. That will give us a taste of the Kingdom of God to which Jesus came to lead.