Drinking the spirit

27 March 2011
Third Sunday in Lent
Lent 3A (RCL)

Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

The Gospel reading is very rich. At the level of narrative, it works well: a woman, out at the well at noon, not the usual time for women go to the well — indicates her shame (five husbands, etc.), yet Jesus is willing to speak with her, and ask her for a drink. Of course, I don’t like the way the story (at the level of narrative) ends — we no longer believe because of what you said, but we have heard for ourselves. Dissing the woman once more.

But read at the level the interaction of John’s community with other communities around it, it reads even more richly First, think of all the encounters that take place at the well. All of the patriarch (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) encountered the women they would marry at a well. Is the story-teller giving us a little wink, here? Jesus meets this woman at the well, just like the patriarchs? Second, I think the woman stands in for the history of Samaria. Jews and Samaritans used to be united in the time of David and Solomon; now they won’t even share utensils. John’s community is willing to share Samaritans’ utensils. Jesus asks her to bring her husband, and she says she has no husband. Of course, one of the words for husband is Ba’al. Samaria has had five Ba’als; the gods of five different conquerors: the Assyrians, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans and now, Herod who is not really their king. That’s why the conversation moves directly from her “husbands” to whether one is to worship on Mt. Zion or Mt. Gerezim. Jesus replies that the time is coming when people will worship in Spirit and truth.

This story, them may tell about John’s community’s encounter with the Samaritans, and their joining together. Then, the way the story ends makes more sense — the Samaritans have experienced Jesus for themselves, and not through the woman’s testimony. Think of Mary Magdalene in the garden witnessing to Jesus’ resurrection.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus never gets his drink of water — instead, he supplies those who believe in him with living water, that is the spirit, welling up in them.

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