‘Jesus said to her ‘Give me a drink.’

Author: 
Fr Alec
Date: 
Sunday, March 19, 2017 - 9:30am

John 4.5-42 

 

One Christmas, I was in Clapham visiting a friend. We had been in a play together earlier that year, and were meeting up as a cast for a reunion. After we has spent a while catching up, out of nowhere he said to everyone

’Let’s go carol singing.’

And so we did. Up and down the street we went singing carols and spreading a bit of seasonal cheer. At one house where we stopped, a lady came to the door and said,

‘Oh dear, what a shame. I’ve just put some mince pies in the oven. If you’d come a little later you could all have had one.’

I was in the process of telling her not to worry, as this seemed to me a polite way of sending us on our way empty handed, when my friend broke in…

‘Splendid!’ he said, ‘we’ll be back in twenty minutes!’

Later, I asked him why, when we were about to have dinner, he had been so keen to get back and relieve the poor woman of her mince pies.

‘I was brought up to accept everything that’s offered to me’, he said. ‘It’s as much a kindness to receive something generously offered as to give something yourself.’

As he saw it, we had given this lady an opportunity to be generous, and that in itself was a gift. And this has stayed with me. There is real value in allowing yourself to be the one who is cared for rather than the carer, because this creates a relationship. A relationship into which the other can enter on their own terms.

 

I felt this acutely during my time in Army chaplaincy. As a non-combatant, I would go about unarmed, entirely reliant on the care and protection of those around me. But there was never a hint of resentment. I would never have gone out on patrol with the soldiers had I not been asked,

‘Padre, you will come out with us, won’t you?’

It mattered to them that I was there, not so much for my own sake, as because I was the Padre, the man of God, a reminder of the reassuring presence of Christ in even the bleakest circumstances. I relied on them completely, but for them, that was something they were happy to offer- it just mattered that I was there.

 

I think there is something of that sense of vulnerability in our gospel today. Jesus is very tired, and hungry and thirsty, and he sits by the well in the heat of the day awaiting his friends’ return with lunch.

It is an unusual time of day to collect water from a well – a time when no-one else would be around, when only those who lived on the margins of the community might venture out to meet their needs unmolested. And along comes a woman (whom we discover later to have had quite an involved marital history), with whom Jesus would inevitably have exposed himself to judgement by having any kind of casual unsupervised conversation.

 

Add to this the fact that she is a Samaritan, and the contact becomes a matter of religious and racial purity as well. When we tell the story of the Good Samaritan, we often gloss it with a few hasty words about the friction between Jews and Samaritans without going any further, but it helps to understand what is really going on.

Each group, Jews and Samaritans, had a claim to being the true people of God. Samaritans worshipped the same Lord, yet only accepting the validity of their own version of the Torah – the first 5 books of the bible. As far as the Jews were concerned the Samaritans were a mongrel group interlopers who had picked up scraps of the Jewish religion when the Jews returned from exile in Babylon five centuries previously. The Samaritans, however, saw themselves as the faithful successors of the Hebrew patriarchs holding the purity of their faith against the debased teachings of the Jews, which had been irreparably compromised by their long exile amongst the heathen.

We can hear some of this rivalry echoed in Jesus’ words, when he says

‘You worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.’

Religious figures from both sides warned against rendering oneself unfit for ritual purposes by having anything to do with the other.

 

Yet all of that, the scandal, the rivalry, impurity, is set aside when Jesus turns to the Samaritan woman and speaks to her from his need. From his vulnerability, and says ‘Give me a drink.’

Jesus, the Son of God, from the weakness of his humanity, draws close to her through his thirst. And from this basis he is able to offer her the Water of Life, the joyful rushing spring of grace within her that will transform her existence, and that of everyone whom she meets.

Jesus recognises difference here, and he names it. But he demonstrates also in word and action that in Him, God is overcoming difference, overcoming stigma, overcoming the sins of the past, and offering the freshness of New Life and New beginnings. He knows her through and through, but comes to her as a supplicant, as one in need of her grace.

And this is how God comes to us all. In humbleness and need. In the simplicity of the sacrament. In the faces of our brothers and sisters.

And this is perhaps how his church should approach the world, not as those who arrive with fanfare to bestow the gift of truth on an ignorant world, but as poor beggars who have nothing to share but lives transfigured by God’s gr