Water: Cool, Clear, Water
My father loved the music of a group called Sons of the Pioneers. The refrain of one of their songs, Cool Water, included the phrase, “Water, water – cool, clear water.” The song told the story of at least two people traveling in a desert, presumably in the American West. One of them was hallucinating due to dehydration, seeing “big green trees and the water running free and it’s waiting there for me and you.” The other assured him that what he was seeing was not really there.
The song has been running through my head today as I think of the readings from Exodus, John’s Gospel, and Paul’s letter to the Romans. Water and God’s care for us run through them as a theme.
The Hebrew people had escaped from slavery in Egypt. They had crossed through the Red/Reed Sea. They had experienced the cleansing of bitter water at one place in the desert so they were able to drink it. Another time, when there was no food, God sent manna and quail each day for them to eat. Then they arrived at a place that came to be known as Massah and Meribah. (Ex 17: 3-7)
There was no water for this large group of people to drink. People can’t last long without water. Why had Moses led them out from Egypt to die of thirst in the desert? Moses appealed to God for help and was told to take the same staff with which he had struck the river and parted the sea and to use that staff to strike the rock in Horeb. The Lord promised to be there in front of him as he struck the rock. Water would flow from the rock for the people to drink.
In the presence of the elders of the people, Moses struck the rock and water flowed forth, demonstrating once again that God was with them on their journey.
Many years later, Jesus and his friends were traveling through Samaria, another dry land. They stopped in the town of Sychar, the location of Jacob’s well. (Jn 4:5-42) This town had been given to Joseph by his father, Jacob, in ancient times.
Jesus waited beside the well while the rest went into town to buy food. A woman came to the well to draw water for the day. It was the wrong time of the day for a respectable woman to come to the well. Respectable women came early in the day. She was not a respectable woman, as her conversation with Jesus later demonstrated. As it turns out, she had had five husbands and was now living with a man to whom she was not married.
Jesus asked her for a drink of water from the well. This was shocking. Men didn’t speak to women in public. Men didn’t ask strange women for water. Jews didn’t speak to Samaritans. But she didn’t run away. She challenged him, asking why he was asking her for water. Jesus answered that rather than question him, she would ask him for living water if she knew who he was.
Two things pop out here to be noted. First, living water in those days meant running water, not that from a well. Secondly, John’s gospel assumes that Jesus knew what he was doing at critical points in his ministry. His actions were signs to let the world know that he, the Word of God, had come into the world and spoke with authority.
When Jesus spoke of living water, she assumed he meant running water. But there was none there, only well water. So, she challenged him. “Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this cistern…?” But Jesus didn’t back off. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again…” He told her that the water he would give would quench thirst forever and continue to grow within the person who drank it. It would lead to eternal life.
The conversation went on for quite a while. It ranged from her marital history to where people were supposed to worship and the dawning realization on the woman’s part that this man might be the anointed one of God, the Christ. She called the rest of the town to meet him. Jesus and his friends stayed in that town for several days. As Jesus told his friends, God’s harvest of people for eternal life was ready. It was time to spread the word, to reap the harvest sown for centuries in the hearts of the people.
It all started with a request for a drink of water. Cool, clear water in the middle of a hot day of walking.
By the time Paul came on the scene, Jesus had died and risen again. The community was growing and spreading outside Palestine. He had been part of spreading the word well beyond the original lands and was now writing to the community at the heart of the Roman Empire. The Church of Rome. (Rom 5:1-2, 5-8) And what was his message?
Paul wanted all to know that God is still loving and protecting each of us. Through God’s actions, the Holy Spirit of love has been poured into our hearts. Through Jesus’ death, we received the gift of reconciliation with God. We can live in right-relationship with God, the Most High. We can experience peace, harmony, tranquility in our relationship with God and with each other. All because God is present among us and pouring out the grace, the share in divine life, that makes our restored relationship possible.
Water comes and goes in everyday life. Some years we have plenty of it. Some years it is scarce. In some parts of the world, rain is a daily reality. In other areas, an inch or less a year is all that is normally expected. This year in California, we’ve had massive amounts of rain in just a few months. We have a Mediterranean climate, which in part means we have a rainy season and a dry season. Most years, rainy season is relatively mild. This year, when there’s only an inch and a half of rain in 24 hours, it seems like a small amount! Why, one day there were three inches!
But through it all, we need water to drink. We thirst for water. We thirst for other things too. Power, prestige, security, friendship, respect, love… The list can go on and on. What do you thirst for? What do I thirst for? Do we thirst for the cool, clear water of eternal life?
Lent is a time to ask ourselves these questions.
And when the Lord appears in our lives, in his many disguises, will we be ready to receive living water from him?
Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent – Cycle A