Today, I want to open my sermon with a story that I heard from my friend. He was a military chaplain. And his church served a regiment that was in charge of keeping the national border in a very mountainous region. The church was located in more than halfway up a high mountain. You know every church has long-standing building issues… and there’s nothing much we can do about them. Anyway, the main issue for this church was water supply. Because the mountain was too high and the church was far from the valley, the pump couldn’t draw enough water. They could use some trickling water, but in summer, the water situation got so worse. Some soldiers had to bring water from the valley to the church using this ancient device.
What a labor! One day, my friend found the soldiers digging up a big hole. They were trying to dig a well, and of course, it was a total failure. The big hole could contain some water whenever it rained, but it dried up soon. A year later, the church installed a water tank. It helped a little bit, but it also dried out whenever there was a draught. Through these struggles, my friend suffered much. But he said he learned one thing for sure at the end of his military service. He learned a very plain and yet precious truth, the truth that tells us so much about our life and faith. The water that comes from outside will dry up anyway; the water that never runs dry is only the water that springs from within, springs from an inner source.
How about our lives? We live our lives struggling to satisfy various needs and desires in us. There are many kinds of thirst—thirsts for safety, for affection, for financial security, for relationship, for knowledge, for honor, for power, and so on. And whenever we try to relieve our thirst by grabbing what we thirst for, then what comes next? There comes another thirst, even more intensively sometimes. And how about our spiritual thirst? As finite humans, we are bound up with the bondage to sin and death. And whether we feel it or not, we have the longing for spiritual liberation. But we have no way to satisfy this thirst by our own efforts. Then, what’s the solution for all these thirsts in us? What can be our permanent water supply for our thirsts? Here, we better remember the water that comes from outside will dry up anyway. The trickling water from a faucet, the water from a valley at a distance, the water from rain, the water from a water tank…all of them dry up eventually without the ultimate source. The water that never runs dry is only the water that springs from within, springs from its inner source. Then, where can we find this water source within us?
In today’s Gospel story, there is a woman whose deep thirst dominates her life. She is a Samaritan woman. Her thirst-profile is complex. Besides her basic human needs and desires, there are more serious thirsts within her. Let’s take a look at her ethnic background first. In Jesus’ time, between the Samaritans and the Jews was a very clear separation. The Jews and the Samaritans were both Hebrews. Yes, they were Abraham’s offspring. However, the Samaritans inter-married non-Jews and their bloodline got mixed up. So, the Jews didn’t want to interact with the Samaritans denouncing that they were impure. So, while the Jews kept the temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans needed to have their own temple on Mount Gerizim. When Jesus asks a drink, see how the Samaritan woman replies: “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)” (John 4:9) As a Samaritan, she had been discriminated and would’ve had a certain thirst for dignity and recognition.
On top of these thirsts, we encounter a much graver thirst from her personal life. When “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back,’” the woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Then, Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, I have no husband; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” (John 4:16-18) We cannot know her entire story but one thing we can surely know is that she was going through a lot in her marital relationship, and she lived a shifting and twisting life of unrest. And this record was something she always wanted to hide but always followed her. Her complex past would have intensified her inner thirst for some self-esteem and some respect, and also for peace.
Recognizing her burning thirst, what does Jesus say to her? Does he say, fill your thirst with the water from outside, water of dignity, water of recognition, water of self-esteem, water of respect? No. At the Jacob’s well, Jesus says, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14) Jesus gives her the water of grace, the water of new life, which become in her a spring of water. And he gives this living water to all of us today, and it becomes the inner source of our spiritual hydration, the water that never runs dry but gushes up to everlasting life. This is the solution for our thirst, for our longing for liberation.
The Bible testifies the stories of those who met Jesus. Jesus filled their spiritual thirst by giving them the living water of grace. Then, they were liberated from the chain of thirst in their life. With this everlasting water source in them, they could endure desert like conditions of life. And they could be content in any circumstances. More importantly, they became a channel of the living water and shared the water with others.
Have you ever felt the thirst like the Samaritan woman at the well? Or right now, are you feeling like you are the one who asks the water, who is in need of re-hydration? In this season of Lent, I hope that we may continuously find the living water of grace in us and stay hydrated. Through worship services, prayers, and meditations, I pray we can keep having the living water flow through us. And be free from our thirst. We are living in the age of spiritual dehydration. People take all kinds of temporary solutions to draw water from outside to fill their thirsts. To them, let us show how we can content ourselves with our faith in Jesus, who is the source of all our lives and blessings. And let us share this good news and help our friends not stay thirsty but stay rehydrated with the living water from inside. The water that comes from outside will dry up anyway; the water that never runs dry is only the water that springs from within, springs from its inner source. Let us give thanks to our Lord, the fountain of living water and the stream of abundant grace, and keep our faith in him who comes to us first and dwells in us. Amen.