(Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/XYUGkx0fQes)
5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)* 10Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ 11The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ 13Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ 15The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’
16 Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you* say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he,* the one who is speaking to you.’
27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ 28Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah,* can he?’ 30They left the city and were on their way to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ 32But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ 33So the disciples said to one another, ‘Surely no one has brought him something to eat?’ 34Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35Do you not say, “Four months more, then comes the harvest”? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36The reaper is already receiving* wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, “One sows and another reaps.” 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labour. Others have laboured, and you have entered into their labour.’
39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because f what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.’
We’re already deep into our Lenten journey towards the cross. In just a few weeks, we’ll enter Holy Week and once again walk with Jesus through the agony of his crucifixion and rejoice in his resurrection. But before we get there, we are blessed with this season of introspection and deeper reflection on Jesus’ encounters and teachings. His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well allowed Jesus to illustrate his life-giving abilities by distinguishing between water and living water. Though he makes such a distinction, he doesn’t fully explain what he means by the expression, “living water.” We’re left to reflect on it further, exactly what this season of Lent is encouraging: deeper reflection.
We began this season of Lent by remembering on Ash Wednesday the three core disciplines that we should commit ourselves to during this time: praying, fasting, and giving alms. Jesus advised us to engage in these activities privately and without seeking recognition. But why these three activities? Why didn’t Jesus tell us to go fishing or exercise or write letters or any number of other activities? Why must we engage in these three activities in particular? Perhaps because they all have the common aspect of denial. Praying pulls our attentions away from ourselves and whatever situations we’re in and refocuses us on God and God’s grace. Fasting denies us of necessary food and giving alms denies us of money for personal use. All three activities are ultimately about denial: denial of self and selfish urges. It’s no wonder that their considered “disciplines.” Discipline involves sacrifice and hardship. Having discipline is not easy—it’s hard!
So why are we called into these disciplines of denial? Some think that it’s to help us appreciate that which we are denied even more. It’s true, we value our situations more when we are aware of God’s presence and his unending grace and mercy in them. It’s true, we value food and money more when it isn’t taken from us, especially in our times of need. But does denial only serve to help us appreciate our situations, food, and money more? Can’t we simply appreciate all that is given without denial? Of course, we can! We can always carry a grateful heart without being denied. We simply need to always be aware that everything we have is a gift from God. Nothing lasts forever. Our God is a good and gracious God who loves us and gives to us abundantly. Our God provides for us in our times of need. It is right to place trust in God’s grace and mercy. He does provide! If we but trust in him with all our hearts, then we don’t need to experience denial to help us appreciate all that He gives.
Some think we are called into the disciplines of denial to help us better know the suffering of Jesus. A lot of Jesus’ suffering had to do with denial. He had so very little and yet people wanted all that he had. They wanted his time, his miracles, his teachings, his love, his dignity, and ultimately his life. And because they wanted what he had, he had to suffer through denial. He had to suffer through being stripped of all that he had and all that he was. When we deny ourselves, we are entering into the same experience of suffering that Jesus went through. This has an amazingly humbling effect on us. When we suffer, we quickly realize that we are not God. We are small, fragile creatures with limited time in this world. Suffering helps us draw nearer to God…nearer to a reality in which there is no more suffering. Also, by knowing the suffering of Jesus, we better understand the sacrifice he made on our behalf. Jesus didn’t need to suffer. More importantly, Jesus didn’t deserve to suffer. Jesus suffered so that we might not suffer, or at least not as much. When we are called into the disciplines of denial, we appreciate the fullness of Jesus’ suffering.
Though a fuller appreciation of our situations, our food, our money, and Jesus’ suffering are excellent reasons for denying ourselves through this season of Lent, I like to believe we are called into the disciplines of denial simply to experience the peace of Christ. There is a great peace, a great acceptance of the world and all its ugliness, that is found when we simply deny ourselves and allow Jesus to lead us. Denial is about giving up in order to receive. Jesus enters the void and fills it with a peace unlike any other peace. It is a peace of resolution. It is a peace of perfect order. It is a peace of love and generosity. It is a peace of hope. It is a peace of absolute contentment. This is the peace of Christ.
I once heard that the “peace that Jesus gives is not the absence of trouble, but it rather the confidence that he is there with you always.” This almost seems counterintuitive—of course peace is the absence of trouble! What other word is there to describe a situation without trouble?! But again, we’re not talking strictly about peace but the peace of Christ. The peace of Christ is an assurance in times of trouble. The peace of Christ is a shield to be used in times of trouble. The peace of Christ transforms times of trouble instead of simply destroying them. We don’t necessarily need to be without trouble. We live in a world where trouble is lurking around every corner. No, what we need is someone or something willing to be with us as we go through the trouble of this world. We need the peace of Christ that transforms trouble. We need the peace of Christ that protects us from trouble and gives us the confidence to walk through the troubles of life.
Which brings us back to the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. As I mentioned earlier, he uses the opportunity to distinguish the water of the well from his so-called “living water.” What did Jesus mean by that strange expression? Water can’t become alive. Water is an object that sustains life but, in itself, is not alive. Water can’t reproduce. Water doesn’t rely on anything to exist. Water doesn’t grow and eventually die. Water is just not alive! So how can Jesus refer to a ‘living water? We see similarity in distinguishing between peace and the peace of Christ. Living water does more than simply sustain life. Living water grows and transforms life. Living water not only sustains but it enhances life. Living water walks with and through life, in much the same way that the peace of Christ does. Living water is more than simply water—it is life!
As we continue through this Lenten season, let us practice the disciplines of denial. If not prayer, fasting, or giving alms, find some type of activity that allows you to experience denial. Your appreciation of whatever it is you denied yourself will undoubtedly increase as will your appreciation of the suffering of Jesus. Perhaps most importantly, your denial will create a void for Jesus to fill. What he fills that void with, whether his peace or his living water, will undoubtedly transform your life. Jesus is life and love and truth. Let us be ever thankful for…one man’s peace.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.