The Woman at the Well : Fr John Allen 19 March 2017
There is an Orthodox Jewish comedian who offers his interpretations of how he imagines scenes played out throughout the Old Testament. In one rendition, Moses is walking with the Israelites through the desert and they say “Oi, Moses! It’s great that you brought us out of slavery, but the sun is beating down on our heads and we are still covered in muck from crossing the Red Sea, and we have nothing to eat!”
Moses sighed and said he would talk to the Lord about it. Sure enough, manna fell down from heaven, enough for everyone to eat. Moses said, “Are you happy now?”
They responded, “This isn’t really a full square meal Moses, and some of us are gluten free!” Moses sighed and said he would talk to the Lord about it.
Sure enough, quail flew down out of the sky, enough for everyone to catch and have some meat. Moses said, “Now are you happy?” The Israelites responded, “Well we got all of this food, but now we don’t have anything to drink it with, we will die of thirst!”
Moses grit his teeth and ran over to a rock, struck it and water immediately gushed out! He turned to the Israelites and shouted “There, NOW are you happy?” They all looked up from the water pooling at their feet, shrugged and said “What, no cups?”
The story of Moses striking a rock on the middle of the desert to
provide water for the people of Israel is one that resonates with us for
very obvious reasons. The symbolism of the story that Moses leads the people through a desert called “Sin,” and they cry out and complain bitterly about their thirst. And then God miraculously provides water for them to drink, by having Moses strike a stone, and water pours forth for all to have and to drink, thus God graciously quenches the thirst of a people who before were complaining and bitterly challenging Him only moments before. The parallels to our spiritual journeys with God are undeniable: we who are thirsty in the desert of sin are given life-giving water by a gracious God, even though we did not deserve it as well. But, there is a deeper symbolic level to this story than this.
When God gives Moses the instructions of what he should do in
order to bring the water to his people, listen to the words He uses:
“Behold, I will stand before you on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”
Now, take note that when God says this, He specifically says that His very own presence will be upon the rock, when He simply could have said, strike the rock I show you…but this way, in order for the people to have their thirst quenched, God Himself must be struck, and struck by the very people whom He is saving.
A powerful foreshadowing of what would happen when Jesus
would be struck by His own people, so that salvation could be poured out for all of us. And this was not a fact lost on the first Jews that came to understand Jesus as their Messiah, for Paul blatantly states in Corinthians: “for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” John the Gospel writer, who was there in person at the crucifixion, took special note of the fact that when the Roman soldiers pierced the side of Christ, not just blood poured out, but water as well.
Which makes John’s telling of the story of Jesus at the well with
the Samaritan woman more interesting. That famous story where Jesus reveals that He is the source of Living Water. And it is a conversation that Jesus, the God Incarnate, starts by saying “I am thirsty,” like the grumbling Israelites did so long before. Who is to say God does not enjoy a bit of irony?
But like the story of the ungrateful Israelites in the desert, Jesus
finds Himself speaking with someone who is in practically every way not deserving of what He is offering. This woman is the living definition of nearly everything that the Mosaic Laws condemn: A member of a religion that skewed God’s word, a person of multiple divorces and an adulterer. By the standards of the culture of the day, a honorable Jewish teacher like himself shouldn’t even be near her.
And yet, Christ not only initiates a conversation with her, to her own surprise, but shows respect and kindness to her, despite knowing everything about her. And beyond even that, He offers her this Living Water, the water that will satisfy the thirst of our hearts and souls, that comes from Him alone. And unlike the Israelites, who continued to complain, her response was quite different…. She was overjoyed, excited, and runs home to her village. She cannot wait to share about this man, this man who offered her this “living water.”
And, through this story, John the Gospel writer calls us, his readers
to remember that this life-giving water came via our God being struck on our behalf “The Rock of ages, cleft for me” as the song says, and we are called to life not of grumbling, complaint and doubt, but like the Samaritan woman, a life of thankfulness, that moves us to action.
But this can be hard… in our daily lives, our day to day activities with long work hours, chores, responsibilities. I have to confess, that while reading these passages, I felt convicted about the fact that I am addicted to complaining. Work is stressful, my house keeps breaking on me, etc, etc. But in reality if I step back, I should be thanking God for all His many blessings. In more ways than one, I am sitting there looking at the water cascading around my feet, and saying “What, no cup?”
You know, I felt so tired and stressed this week that I didn’t even
really stop to notice that St. Patrick’s Day came and went a few days ago. I only just remembered in time to throw on green shirt while walking out the door so my coworkers didn’t pinch me. And that really is too bad because the story of that man really has a lot to say about remembering to be thankful for the life giving water that Christ has poured out for us.
The St Patrick’s Day holiday, unfortunately, has become a day of drinking, pinching, wearing green and joking about how God invented whisky to keep the Irish from conquering the world. But in reality, it is a day celebrating a quite remarkable man of God. He grew up in Great Britain, and though he came from a very devout family, he himself never bothered with the church as a young man. One day Irish raiders crossed the sea and captured him, brought him back to Ireland, forcing him into slavery. Now if anyone had the right to complain, to feel bitter, and frustrated, it was him. But during that time of slavery, he found turned to something better: Faith.
In his own recounting, St Patrick wrote: After I arrived in Ireland, I
tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realize now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.
Patrick, in the midst of the most complaint-worthy situation,
learned to give thanks and praise to the One who was with him in it. And
this thankful, lively faith inspired him, like the Samaritan woman to action. For as we all know, Patrick would one day go back to the very people who enslaved him, and share the life giving water that he himself had found there.
We all live in the midst of hectic and sometimes frustrating lives. I
know that each one of us face unique challenges that consume our time. There are a million articles out there talking about the stresses that have been heaped on us by modern day life.
But God extends His hand to each and every one of us, each and every day, with new mercies. He bids us to come and drink. For He loved us so much that He was willing to be struck for our sake so that we could. This fact excited and moved the Samaritan woman to action, and Patrick as well, and so too should it for us. For if we can turn to others around us with that in a world drowning in business, perhaps they will pause and realize that they are thirsting too. So my brothers and sisters, let us remember what God has done for us…and to give thanks instead of complaining.
I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone
lying in deep mire, and He that is mighty came and in His mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for His great favors in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot