Our story today starts with the word "so." S-O, "so" -- two little letters, too significant to skip. "So" is a conjunction here and the function of this conjunction is to inform you that you are entering a story already underway. "So" in this case implies a causal relationship. It would be as if I said: "So, I went to the house on the hill" or "So, she finally made that trip to Bangladesh." It shows that something has already happened in the narrative which is now (at least in part) causing what is about to happen. A conjunction with a causal relationship. So, when we begin with the word "so," we must realize we begin with a backstory.
"So [it says] Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar."[i] Jesus had been down in Judea out in the countryside with his cousin John: John the baptizer, John the testifier, John the voice of the one crying out. Jesus and John had been down in a little town called Aenon near Salim.
Aenon literally means fresh spring or natural fountain. So for those of you with a more-gooder-vocabulary than myself, you might already know this is an aquatic sanctuary of sorts. But for those of us who are a bit slower, the text in the previous chapter goes ahead and spells this out for us, it reads: "Jesus was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was abundant there."[ii] Water was abundant there. Now, I don't know what your definition of abundant water is. Sounds kind of subjective, doesn't it?
I was at Great Wolf Lodge with my daughters a couple weeks ago. It's essentially a hotel with a gigantic indoor water park. And I stood there while a bucket filled with 10,000 gallons of water was dumped over my head from a height of 50 feet. Now that felt like an abundance of water to me, but I know it is all subjective, right?
My wife, Meg, and I once spent some time in Kenya in a part of that country where you weren't supposed to drink the water before you boiled it and tested it, and did all sorts of stuff to it. And I remember coming across a bottle of water. Just what we would consider a normal half-liter, 16.9-ounce bottle of water. But it was pure, and it was filtered, and it was clean and we didn't have to do anything to prep it at all. We just twisted it open and drank. So, that too for us, in that moment, felt like an abundance of water.
We don't know exactly how much water Jesus and John and the disciples had as they were splashing about in the baptismal waters of Aenon near Salim, but we know their subjective view because the narrator tells us "water was abundant there."[iii]
Well, not long after this, word about this little sacramental oasis spread as word often does about good things like this. And word got back to a group of Pharisees that Jesus was baptizing-up a storm out there. Jesus figured they'd be coming out that way soon. Jesus knew he'd have to argue minutiae law with them. And Jesus decided he had better ways to send his next couple of days.
So, he left the text says. He left Judea, started back to Galilee, passing through Samaria on the way. And this is where our passage for the day picks it up. It says, "So, Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar."[iv]
I don't know why, I just like knowing the backstory. I like making these connections. It helps me frame the narrative a bit better. It gives me a new view of what is happening.
Now, for instance, the text says that Jesus was "tired."[v] Well, he had just traveled a long way. We're not exactly sure how far, but people estimate that it was about 20 to 30 miles. Of course he's tired!! He has definitely already gotten in his 10,000 steps for the day and then some. Knowing the backstory makes it more real in a way. I really like knowing the backstory.
It says he's tired so he sits down at the well.[vi] And because we know the backstory, we get this irony. You remember from where he had just come with its abundance of water, and you realize that he is now sitting down at a well which is kind-of the opposite of that. If you have to dig a deep hole and lower a bucket into the ground hoping to find some trickle of an unknown, unseen stream; I think it is safe to say that water is no longer abundant there.
Yeah, backstories add depth. They increase our understanding. So, when we are given hints or clues by the narrator or whomever, I think they are well worth exploring. And this is especially true when it's Jesus who alludes to a backstory.
"So, Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar."[vii] He was "tired."[viii] He sat down at a well. And as he sat there, the text says, a woman approached[ix] and somehow, in some way, Jesus seemed to know the entire backstory of this woman. Like, he knew she had been married five times before, and he knew she had just moved in with someone else. He knew why she tried to avoid everyone else in town, because he knew the stigma that had been placed upon her long ago. He knew how all this pained her. He knew how she pretended that it didn't.
Yeah, Jesus seemed to know the entire backstory of this woman. He knew her question about worship location was really a question about freedom, spirit and truth. He knew her faith in the Messiah, in the one to come, was more refined than any of his disciples at that point. He knew she was hopeful, but with hesitation. He knew she was strong, but beginning to waver. He knew her. He knew all of her.
I guess this shouldn't be all that surprising to me. I figure, Jesus knows all our backstories; perhaps even better than we know our own. And I figure this, I guess in part, because Jesus definitely knew the entire backstory of this woman. He even knew the abundant thirst she had. A thirst she had not yet even realized herself.
Dieticians are now saying a large percentage of us are constantly thirsty, but we don't seem to get what this means. Either we sense that our mouth is dry so we grab a diet soda, which actually dehydrates us more. Or we don't realize that it's thirst at all and we just feel the need to put something in our stomachs so we grab chips, or cookies, or containers of carbs that we don't need. They say hunger and thirst trigger the same signals to your brain. And so it is easy to get confused between the two.
I wonder if this is, at least in part, what contributed to her abundant thirst on that day? And I wonder if this is, at least in part, what contributes to our abundant thirst this day? Perhaps we too get confused about hunger and thirst? It's easy to do. Notice the disciples went out to get food,[x] but the only thing Jesus wanted was a drink.[xi]
Or perhaps we try to quench our thirst in the wrong ways. I know a guy who first lost his job, then lost his house, and eventually lost his family because his drink of choice for his thirst was his success. And when he wasn't finding it in the normal places that he had become accustomed, he turned to alcohol instead. I know of a girl who was so hungry for the attention of her parents that she started cutting herself. She had an abundant thirst and she thought their approval was the only way to have it satisfied. I once met a woman who channeled her insatiable thirst into controlling others, which caused her to try and manipulate everyone in her life to the point in which she had no one left in her life.
I wonder if sometimes we just can't tell how thirsty we are, if we just don't get what that means, so then over time we become abundantly thirsty. And I know we're getting kind of subjective again; but I think, I think, I think this time you know exactly what I mean.
Yes, it can be hard to realize that we are thirsty. But, the woman who approached the well eventually also approached an awareness of her thirst. Now slowly and cautiously, what she did approach is reality. As Jesus spoke to her, she approached it. As the Spirit moved within her, she approached it. And I also believe it happened as she sensed the time. "It was about noon."[xii] The text says: "It was about noon."[xiii]
"So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar."[xiv] He was tired.[xv] He sat down at a well. And as he sat there a woman approached.[xvi] "It was about noon,"[xvii] noon-time, solar noon, high noon. That small sliver of temporal space between the A.M. and the P.M. when the sun is at its highest point above the horizon. "It was about noon."[xviii]
And if you think about it, at noon the sun is straight above you, rays are shining at full volume. It seems to turn up the temperature on things a bit, doesn't it? "It was about noon."[xix]
Shadows are scarce. They are at a minimum. There are fewer places to hide; hide from others, hide from yourself, hide from reality. "It was about noon."[xx]
The heat and its intensity can begin to feel truly oppressive around this hour. Thirst could easily be at its worst. "It was about noon."[xxi]
This is the broad-daylight. You are fully-exposed. When you are under the blatant, brazen brilliance of noon, things suddenly come to light. Things suddenly become more clear. They are realized. They begin to make sense. "It was about noon."[xxii]
We don't know for sure that that time of day had a tremendous effect on her sudden realization of her own abundant thirst, but we do know for sure that it had something to do with quenching it.
You see, a few chapters later, in the Gospel of John, Jesus had just been betrayed, arrested, and denied. Jesus had been beaten, mocked, and struck repeatedly at this point. Jesus was hurting. He was with Pilate. Pilate was talking with Jesus, but Pilate was also talking with the assembled crowd. And the crowd had a hunger on that day. They seemed to be extra hungry for something on that day. Because when Pilate told them he found no case against Jesus, the crowd got angry and cried out: "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!"[xxiii] And so they led him out on a death march, carrying his execution on his back, feeling the effects of that abundant thirst. And the text says: "It was about noon."[xxiv] This is the only other time in the bible that this exact phrase is used. When all that took place, "It was about noon."[xxv]
I just have to think that there is some sort of correlation there. The same time she realized her abundant thirst is the same time Jesus once-and-for-all gave that living water. The same time she realized her need is the same time Jesus met it. And isn't this how it still works? It's when we realize something is lacking that Jesus shows up to provide.
As the woman approaches Jesus, Jesus approaches the woman about a drink. She responds with confusion. Jesus says: "If you only knew, you'd ask me the same and I'd give you living water, life-giving water, life-sustaining water, the living libations -- water."[xxvi] She again shows trepidation. Jesus says, "Well water is for now, my water is forever. It's a water than never runs out. It's a water than never runs dry. It's an abundant water you could say."[xxvii] And I know, I know that's a subjective claim; but I think, I think, I think once again you know exactly what that means.
"The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.'"[xxviii]
"So," he did. Jesus did. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN
[i] John 4:5, NRSV
[ii] John 3:23, NRSV
[iii] John 3:23, NRSV
[iv] John 4:5, NRSV
[v] John 4:6, NRSV
[vi] John 4:6
[vii] John 4:5, NRSV
[viii] John 4:6, NRSV
[ix] John 4:7
[x] John 4:8
[xi] John 4:7
[xii] John 4:6, NRSV
[xiii] John 4:6, NRSV
[xiv] John 4:5, NRSV
[xv] John 4:6, NRSV
[xvi] John 4:7
[xvii] John 4:6, NRSV
[xviii] John 4:6, NRSV
[xix] John 4:6, NRSV
[xx] John 4:6, NRSV
[xxi] John 4:6, NRSV
[xxii] John 4:6, NRSV
[xxiii] John 19:15, NRSV
[xxiv] John 19:14, NRSV
[xxv] John 19:14, NRSV
[xxvi] John 4:10, my paraphrase
[xxvii] John 4:13-14, my paraphrase
[xxviii] John 4:15, NRSV