Father Tony's sermon prepared for the March 15th service that was cancelled:
Text: John 4: 5-26 Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her " Give me a drink". [His disciples had gone to the city to buy food]
This Gospel story, if you read the whole narrative, seems as long as the Passion Narrative we, hopefully, will read on Palm Sunday. But what a message for us, especially as we in this nation and folk around the world struggle to contain and to limit the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.
There are at least three messages hope for us in this time of crisis:
1. First, once again we are called by our Lord to "drink from the wellspring of faith". In scene one of this story, Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for a drink of water from a well on a plot of land given to Joseph by his father, Jacob. Water and wells were so very important for the patriarchs and their families in the stories of these nomadic tribes. In Genesis 29:1-14, Jacob comes to a well in the middle of a field, and the well is covered by a huge stone. There are shepherds there with their flocks, and as Jacob is talking with them, Rachel, a kinsman's daughter, arrived with her sheep. Jacob tells the shepherds to roll back the stone from the mouth of the well so Rachel's sheep can drink, but the shepherds refuse, saying that they can't do that until all their flocks are gathered together there. So Jacob goes to the well and moves back the stone by himself so that Rachel's sheep can drink. Now the water is available.
This is really the whole theme of this Gospel story; it is the story of the opening of the well of eternal life--now! The One who provides, who is the 'living water', provides divine life in the present time. So we are called to drink from this wellspring of living water--now. I remember, years ago, when I went on a retreat to the ecumenical Monastery at Taize, France, I came upon an astonishing scene: the Iron Curtain put up by the Soviet Union had recently collapsed, and the pent-up thirst of thousands of young people for a drink of spiritual water had come to the well of Taize's springs of hope--5,000 folk each week that summer! It was so inspiring to watch them soak up the teachings of the monks and volunteers--available to all, across national, ethnic and racial divides!
In this Gospel story, there are several stones of discrimination and disbelief rolled back, The Samaritan woman represents Jesus' reaching out to all God's children. As a Samaritan woman, she was despised by the Jewish nation, for Samaritans were deemed to be 'unclean', having intermarried with foreigners. And, she was a woman, and a rabbi was never to address a woman in public. Tsk! Tsk! As Agatha Christie's Miss Marple would say: " It's just not done"!
2. In scene two of the story, the woman, who has just witnessed Jesus break the religious and social barriers between them, and is already confounded by this, is the more astonished when Jesus says to her: " If you knew the gift of God and who is saying 'Give me a drink', you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you 'living water'". Jesus offered her not just a slaking of physical thirst, a temporary fix, but water gushing up to eternal life. Which is to say that just as we need water to provide our bodies with the necessary hydration, we need this living water to nourish our souls. We need to drink from the cup of faith. Jesus' message: Ask for the living water of faith and trust!
There is a wonderful and compelling teaching here. Jesus asked for a drink of water, but before the woman even gives Him a drink, He gives her the water of life that never runs out. John Shea quotes the poet Rumi on this point: " Not only the thirsty seek water; the water as well seeks the thirsty". Jesus' message: He is the living water and bids us come to the well of faith.
For Jesus, however, the issue was neither her nationality or religious persuasion or her gender---it was the woman herself, one of God's children. His message? All God's children deserve the living water of eternal life. So, He rolled back the stones of intolerance and mysogyny. God's kingdom is all-inclusive.
Ever felt left out, that you didn't belong? There have been more than one times that I have gone into a gathering, a party or conference, and felt out of place--and no one invited me to join in. The woman at the well probably felt like that. And then, someone reaches out to you to welcome you! The stone of isolation is rolled back. Jesus did that for the Samaritan woman and the message for us all is that the living water of Jesus' love is here for us all---now!