Jesus has always exercised a divine ability to ask his community a question that evokes transformative discernment or make them an offer that they cannot refuse. Questions such as:
- “Do you want to be made well?” – to the man by the sheepgate at the pool.
- “Who do you say I am?” – to the disciples in respect to an understanding of his identity.
- “What is it you want me to do for you?” – to James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
Jesus often asks these questions to achieve two broad purposes; to comfort his audience or to challenge his audience.
In today’s gospel, the essence of the Messiah’s directive discernment to the unnamed woman at Jacob’s Well is this: Do you want to drink the water of eternal life? It is not only a question that offers the removal of earthly scales from her eyes. Nor is it just a transformative directive that will change the path of her earthly pilgrimage. But it is one that will usher in clarity in her life that may have already been darkened, due to the absence of the light of Christ.
Jesus’ divine question to the unnamed woman (who, at this stage, I prefer to call Zuri, which means beautiful, because Jesus recognized that she was created by God and therefore beautiful in spirit) - this conversation took place at Jacob’s Well. This verbal exchange is widely known by theologians and the church. This is because Jesus’ offer of absolution of sin and eternal salvation is to a stranger of a different gender, ethnicity, and religion. However, notwithstanding its theological notoriety, this story is peculiar for several reasons:
Firstly, Jesus, for once in his earthly ministry, cannot or did not have the ability to be resourceful enough to provide for his own needs. This is the same divine Jesus who turned water into wine, healed a blind man, walked on water, calmed seas, and yet could not find even a bucket to fetch water at the Well.
Secondly, Jesus, being a Jew, willingly engaged a Samaritan woman in an extended conversation even though relations between the Israelites and the Samaritans were fraught due to religious differences.
And finally, Jesus, in this story, although being exhausted and begging for water to drink, never actually rested or drank any water from the Well.
These observations are peculiar only because the crux of today’s gospel is embedded in the conversation between Jesus and Zuri, the woman at the well. In particular, Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus wasn’t referring to alkaline water or Desani water or Vitamin water. It was the water of knowledge, purification, completeness, and salvation. It was an unconditional offer of a new start in Christ. A new start with a purpose-driven life. One with no shame or eternal damnation. After hearing Jesus’ offer, I can only imagine that, for Zuri, drinking water never felt so good!
That’s why Zuri responded by saying, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
- This divine water, gushing up to eternal life, soothes the soul.
- This divine water provides comfort to the broken hearted.
- This divine water settles the spirit of those who are wrestling with their faith and purpose.
- This divine water affirms God’s Old Testament covenant with humankind. One of continuous relationship, love and protection.
This is the nature of the water that Jesus offered Zuri. A gift that she willingly accepted.
For us now today, over 2,000 years after this exchange at Jacob’s Well, the water of purification is often aligned with the water of Baptism. This symbol signals the cleansing of the soul and membership into the body or army of Christ. It is the resetting of the soul to be tuned with protection, abundant blessings, and knowledge of the presence of God.
But with the comfort of this open invitation by the Divine, we are not only comforted but also challenged by God. To drink this water and gain access to eternal life requires a total and consistent quest to seek out God in all things and in all aspects of our lives.
This story is not only an invitation to taste and see the goodness of the Lord, to bask in the fact that the water of everlasting life is readily available when we walk with thee. It is our challenge therefore to walk with thee daily; that we are willing to encounter Jesus through the eyes of the strangers we meet. That to live in the spirit of truth is to respect the dignity of every human being regardless of religion, race, sexuality, or gender. It is no coincidence that this gospel features two figures from drastically different backgrounds. However, there is something about the Word and presence of God that earthly and human inspired barriers always crumble at their foundation.
The danger of Zuri’s mountaintop experience at Jacob’s Well with Jesus is that hearers of the Word, this Word, may conclude that the only step required is to drink from the cup of Christ once.
Conversely, however, our call as “onward Christian soldiers” is to identify the Well within our lives and drink from this water continuously. The image that resonates with me most from this story is not two strangers conversing in a deep and loving dialogue at the Well, but of this woman walking with her empty bucket up a hill. Walking with purpose and intent, knowing full well that what she needs is for her bucket to be filled – for renewal, refreshment, sustenance and for survival.
This is the certainty of the life-giving water that Jesus speaks about:
- The certainty that, notwithstanding the difficulties that the journey to the Well may provide in our lives, there is always a certain path toward God.
- The certainty that the Well will always be there.
- The certainty that the Well will never be empty.
- The certainty that the Well will always provide spiritual refreshment.
- The certainty that when we partake at this Well, we can’t help but run and testify to someone that we have had an encounter with Christ. A God that knows us better than ourselves.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, drinking this water never felt so good.