And it came to pass that Jesus gathered His disciples around Him and taught them many things. And, behold, when He finished all His speaking Simon Peter said, “Were we supposed to write that down?” And Andrew said, “Do we have to know this?” And James said, “Will it be on the test?” And Phillip said, “What if we don’t know it?” And John said, “None of the other disciples had to learn this!” And Bartholomew said, “When is class over anyway?” And Judas said, “What does any of this have to do with real life?” And Jesus wept….
Jesus’ words are not mere information, tidbits to satisfy 21st century information junkies. Jesus’ words are not pithy little sayings to decorate posters and bumper stickers. His words are not spoken merely to be learned for a confirmation test.
Jesus’ words are life. Hearing them is life. Pondering them is life. Acting upon them is life. Especially for us Lenten pilgrims who get mighty thirsty along the path of this adventure, and are seduced by easy answers…avoiding the obvious that this is Jesus…so there’s always more here than we think!
This episode of the Samaritan woman at the well begins significantly. St. John notes that Jesus is in Samaria, at Jacob’s well and that He is tired from His journey. “It was about the sixth hour.” The superficial question is: do we need to know this? Will we be tested over it? Well…no…but obviously there’s more in those words!
“It was about the sixth hour.” St. John is not just telling us the time of day, that it’s Noon. This phrase is exactly the same phrase he uses in only one other place in his Gospel: Good Friday. “It was about the sixth hour” when the events of Good Friday began unfolding. The superficial thing is that St. John is telling us the time. But beyond that superficiality, what St. John is making rather obvious is that we must hear this episode of the Samaritan woman at the well together with the events of Good Friday.
What St. John is making obvious is that the cross of Jesus casts its shadow over this conversation. The Jesus here, who is tired from His journey and thirsts at about the sixth hour in Samaria, is the same Jesus who is tired from the journey of His earthly ministry, who says “I thirst” on the cross at “about the sixth hour” on Good Friday.
And right from the get-go, before any of the conversation unfolds—a conversation which can lead us astray to other issues—right from the beginning, St. John makes obvious that this is a significant exchange at work!
This tired, thirsting, about the sixth hour, Jesus is going to pour out living water…and in John’s Gospel, “living water,” is always a reference to the Holy Spirit! And both here at the well and later at the cross, both at about the sixth hour, Jesus pours out this living water, the Holy Spirit, by the words of His mouth, by what He says.
The words of Jesus, the things He says, are not little bits of information about God. Jesus’ words, the things He says, are not information. They are Spirit and they are life. Hearing them is Spirit and life for us. Listening to the things Jesus says is drinking this living water, the Holy Spirit. Pondering them is inspiration, a pouring in of the living Spirit.
In other words…as St. John would make obvious to us…what this Samaritan woman confronts that day at the well is not any different than what meets us here on any given Sunday. She comes to the well, as her custom is, to get something…but what she receives is so much more than she expected!
Oh, yes…clearly she is a sharp woman. She has information about God, just as we do. She too has learned her religious history, as we do in Sunday School and Bible classes. She knows about Jews and Samaritans, about their holy mountain and hers. She has information…as we do.
Now, yes, perhaps her life has been more…colorful…than ours has been (though we too have had our own colorful experiences). But she is, as St. John shows us, she is far more thirsty than even she knows in coming to this well. That she has already had five husbands in her life—and that her current significant other is not a husband—this is not information. It is sign…an obvious sign… of just how thirsty she is, and how long she has live with that thirst unquenched!
It would be easy to cast this woman as some kind of Black Widow, branding her with a scarlet letter! That she has to come to the public well in the heat of Noon (the sixth hour) instead of early morning or evening, when none of the other women of the village are likely to be around, indicates that she is shunned.
Oh yes…feminists like to make much of her, a woman who knows her mind and her power. A woman who plays by the rules of a patriarchal society, and wins, using and casting aside men as she chooses! But feminism, like chauvinism, is just another name for the same, deep human thirst…a thirst seduced by easy answers, and so tempted to avoid the obvious which St. John puts before us!.
It is the cross of Jesus which casts its shadow over this whole episode. Jesus’ tiring, “I thirst,” “about the sixth hour” journey at cross is here at the well. His death pouring out His life; pouring out His life for a thirsting Samaritan woman…pouring out His life for us thirsting adventurers, so like this woman are so easily and often seduced by easy answers. For it’s very easy to respond to this Samaritan woman incident by concluding: a sinful woman, a gracious Savior. A bad woman needs a pure Jesus. Simple!
Ah…but nothing about Jesus is simple! This woman’s serial marriages and her current living arrangement (which no matter how respectable you care to spin it, contains enough scandal to make the woman uncomfortable with Jesus’ questions)…this woman’s string of men is not the problem. It’s a symptom.
Oh…but we Christians (and especially us pastors)…we are very good at dealing with symptoms. We can role our eyes and cluck our tongues at the symptoms! And we can be very efficient and forceful at creating symptom-free environments. While the whole time, avoiding the obvious…this profound, aching thirst.
Oh to be sure, the woman’s life is a mess. 6th commandment mess! That she keeps trying to change the subject with Jesus is an indication of her own discomfort with the whole line of that conversation!
But her sin is only a symptom of her unsatisfied thirst for living water (a water she knows nothing about because she has never heard any words from Jesus). And that thirst is not satisfied by journeying to the right holy mountain. It’s not satisfied by learning more information about God. Nor is it satisfied merely by commanding the woman to get her messed up life put back together again.
Jesus did not go to His cross at about the sixth hour, thirsting and dying, so that we might have a new holy mountain, or more information, or symptom-free gatherings of pious faces. No! Jesus is the crucified Savior, who thirsted and gave up His life from about the sixth hour…so that living water, the Holy Spirit, could be poured out by the Word from His mouth.
Our human thirst for living water must be satisfied first…then the symptoms will be addressed by that Holy Spirit within us once-thirsty people, as Jesus says, “a spring…welling up to eternal life.” (Though in this world, those symptoms and their recurring thirst are mighty persistent.)
And our deepest human thirst—a thirst aggravated by all the crazed desires which seduce us with their easy answers—our deepest human thirst can only be satisfied by the crucified Christ, by the words that come from His mouth…from His mouth to our ears, to slake our parched, parched lives again and again.
“I who speak to you am He,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in her thirst…and to us. After all, that’s why Jesus speaks from His cross on Good Friday, “about the sixth hour”…pouring out His Words, His Spirit, His living water.
For St. John this is all so obvious! But for us…perhaps we are tempted to avoid the obvious. Jesus’ words…they are Spirit and life, for us to hear, to taste, to live. From His mouth to our ears…and in that, the deepest of human thirsts is satisfied!