3rd Sunday in Lent, Year A, March 27, 2011
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:11
Have you ever considered how something as simple as water can be a vehicle for evangelism, for the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ? Water is both basic and essential. It is necessary to sustain life, right? It is also a substance to which most of us do not give much thought until we find ourselves without it. So what does water have to do with evangelism?
For most of us, slaking our thirst is as simple as turning a faucet knob or pressing a glass to a dispenser in the refrigerator door. Water is cheap, readily available, reasonably clean, and something we take for granted. Take these facts, for example, from http://www.allaboutwater.org/water-facts.html:
- Between 70-75% of the earth’s surface is covered with water.
- 70% of an adult human’s body is made up of water.
- About 80% of an infant’s body weight at birth is water.
- Since the earth is a closed system, the same water that existed millions of years ago on earth is still present today.
- The average person in the United States uses 80-100 gallons of water each day. An American taking a five minute shower uses more water than a typical person living in a developing nation slum uses in an entire day.
- Of all the water on earth only about three tenths of one percent is able to be used by humans.
If you found these facts intriguing, ponder these facts from water.org:
- Nearly one billion people lack access to safe water, and 2.5 billion lack improved sanitation. More of the world’s population have cells phones than toilets.
- The ancient Romans had access to better quality water than half the world’s population today.
- Half of the world’s hospitalizations are due to water-related disease.
- 1.4 million children die due to water-related illness each year. That means every 20 seconds a child dies from something that should be preventable.
Still wondering what all this has to do with evangelism? Look no further than this week’s gospel lesson. Jesus is thirsty. He meets a foreign woman, a Samaritan at the town well, and asks for simple drink of water. The result is an amazing story about relationship and evangelism.
What can we learn from this story? First, we can try to look at the story with fresh eyes. Instead of focusing on the woman’s sin and reputation, why not focus on what this very ordinary human is able to do when her needs are met by Jesus and she is empowered to share the good news? Check out David Lose’s excellent reflection from the Huffington Post here. It will give you quite a bit of information to ponder.
Next, we can take a look at the details of the story, especially those that relate to water. Pull those literary criticism skills you developed in English class out of the dark recesses of your memory. You may be surprised at what you find. Don’t forget the importance of this particular well to the woman. Think carefully about the repartee between the two lead characters in this story. How does she finally make the connection between water and living water? When she goes to tell her good news, what does she leave behind and why might this be important to note?
Finally, don’t let verses 27-42 simply drop from the picture. Notice how the disciples do not even “get” the whole water thing. They are “astonished” that Jesus is talking with a foreign woman. They are concerned for his well-being and clueless about his reference to food they “do not know about.” We have no clue but a pretty good idea that Jesus’ harvest story flows through their hands like, well, water. It isn’t until the final verse that we find out the role water has truly played in the spread of the good news in Sychar–that of “liquid E.”
By “liquid E” I mean evangelism “E” word we Christians tend to get all squirrely about. Note that this evangelism isn’t a campaign, there is no door knocking or strategizing involved, and the budget seems to be zero. Yep, the story of the Jesus and the Samaritan woman of Sychar provides a great lesson for you and me about “liquid E.”
Jesus met this woman at the place of her need and in simple words and images. In turn, she spreads the good news by watering the faith of many others. As a result the effect is that of ripples from a single stone thrown into–you guessed it–water. From the waters of baptism to the living water of Word and Sacrament, you and I are empowered to spread some “liquid E,” a cool, clear, eternal thirst quencher.
Blessings on your proclamation!
Photos by See the Holy Land and used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!