Lent 3A, 2008
John 4: 5-7, 9-15, 19-26, 39-42

A Liturgy is also available


For us in Australia, one of the driest continents on earth, water is a precious commodity.
      Water is everything.
      Water is life…

Perhaps you have recognised those words.
If you haven’t, let me tell you they come from our Baptism liturgy here at (NN).
      And no doubt you have noticed that one of the liturgies I have written for the Sacrament/Celebration of Baptism
      focuses on the active, dynamic symbol of water.

Well, so too does the story we heard this morning
from the storyteller/theoloian we call John.

And if we can remember for just a moment that we are in the middle of the season called Lent,
which begins with stories around a time in the desert,
a place of little to no water,
I hope we might find today’s story a lovely juxtaposition.

So let me explore this story and our context just a bit.


Because Australia is one of the driest inhabited continents on earth,
and coming out of one of the longest droughts in its recorded history,
      I reckon we might have some inkling of how precious water is.

Our maps boldly show some rivers that only flow once a year.
And in some cases only flow a few times in a century.

Numerous travellers, from the early explorers through to present day ‘grey nomads’,
have perished for lack of water.
      No water, no life.
      Water and life go together.

To survive in the Australian desert
“is to know the sources of moisture and how to tap into the watertable”  (Ferguson & Allen 1990:37).

And that’s what the early European settlers found so difficult.
 A dry, hot place.
 A place that had to be ‘conquered' to get anywhere.

So hostile and barren did the land appear to them,
they could never dream of co-operating with it.

On the other hand, Aboriginal people treasured
and memorised every watering hole.
      This was especially so in the dry inland.

From one generation to the next, they sang songs
which were like maps of their territory.
And in these song-maps the precious water holes were prominent.
      They treasured water.
      It meant life.

Now a quick look at the collection of stories told by John,
shows he tells several stories using water.
      Water turned into wine.
      Water to wash disciple’s feet.
      Jesus walking on water.

And of course, there are all those exciting fishing stories, which only someone
with the name of Rex Hunt, would claim are the really good bits!
(The other Rex Hunt is a TV presenter/personality in Australia - of a Fishing program,
whose claim to fame is, he kisses each fish he catches before he releases them!)

Today’s story of a Samaritan woman Jesus met at a well, belongs in this collection.

In this story John has Jesus asking the woman for a drink of water.
Indeed, the conversation between the two,
is the longest of any Jesus is supposed to have had with anyone.

Traditionally, the substance of the story is said to be about ‘liberal’ Jesus
talking to an immoral Samaritan ‘outsider’ woman.

And, so this line of interpretation goes, Jesus issues a call to her to:
“clean up her act, get right with God, and join the Jesus team to preach God's word of forgiveness and love”.  
(McKinney. PST Web site, 2008)

But as many scholars have pointed out, this and similar interpretations
are an awful misreading of an important story.

Let’s stay with the story… with the help of Amy-Jill Levine,
Jewish new testament scholar:

(i) The woman is not an outsider.  Jewish Jesus is.
She is a Samaritan, and they are on her home turf.

(ii) The woman’s visit to the well in the daylight,
is a storyteller’s device about seeing the ‘light’,
rather than an indication of social ostracism.

(iii) There is absolutely nothing that indicates she is ‘sinful’ or sexually promiscuous.
“The… woman (might be) unfortunate, but she is not sinful…  The only ones who condemn her are the biblical scholars.” 
(Levine 2006:137)

Another who has helped me appreciate this story beyond the traditional,
is a bloke called Rick Marshall.  Let me share what he says.

Taking John’s image of a well and the rising up of the water, Marshall says:
“Who knows where (the water) comes from.  But we drink it and go on living our lives...  That’s how the creative, transforming power of God is:  Who knows where it comes from, but it sustains us and we go on living our lives.  We are called to trust the ‘Living Water’.” (Rick Marshall. P&F Web site, 2005)

It sustains us and we go on living our lives.
“We experience the creating, transforming power of God routinely, quietly moving through life, our life.”
(Rick Marshall. P&F Web site, 2005)

I wonder if this is also what the storyteller we call John had in mind,
when he told the story of Jesus asking a woman for a drink.

I would like to think so!


The preacher was a great success.  Thousands came to learn wisdom from him.
When they got the wisdom, they stopped coming to his sermons.
      And the preacher smiled contentedly.

For he had attained his purpose, which was to bow out as quickly as possible
for he knew in his heart that he was
only offering people what they already had,
      if they would only open their eyes and see.
  (Anthony de Mello)

That’s how the transforming presentness of Creativity God is.
It sustains us as we live our lives, quietly moving through life, our life.
      So we might live life to the full,
            love wastefully,
            and be all that we can be.  
(John S Spong)

de Mello, A. The Song of the Bird. 10th edition. India: Anand. Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1988.
Ferguson, G. & R. Allen. ”Thirsty in a Dry Land: The Migrant Experience of the Absence of God” in G. Ferguson & J. Chryssavgis. The Desert is Alive. Melbourne. JBCE, 1990.
Levine, A-J.
The Misunderstood Jew. The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish JesusNew York. HarperOne, 2006.