A number of years ago, I was playing in a ball tournament in New Minas, it was the hottest weekend of the year, blazing sun, there’s a distinct lack of trees on a ball field.
There was some humidity and of course, we are all sweating. We were sponsored by Pepsi, so there was LOTS of Pepsi products to drink, but after a while, Pepsi does nothing to quench your thirst. In fact, it winds up making you thirstier.
A member of one of the opposing teams had a number of big jugs of water and after they beat us soundly, offered to share it with us. I was over to that dugout faster than I had ever rounded the bases to take them up on it. That water, that sweet, sweet water is a taste I will never forget. It’s the only time I have ever experienced water as sweet… and I could almost feel my poor dehydrated cells expanding as my thirst was quenched by that sweet, sweet water.
There is nothing that is more basic to life than water. Our bodies are between 50-65% water, babies even higher. We can last for 3 weeks without any food, but only 3 days without life-giving water.
It’s no wonder that on 28 July 2010, through Resolution 64/292, the United Nations General Assembly explicitly recognized the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights.The Resolution calls upon States (meaning countries) and international organisations to provide financial resources, help capacity-building and technology transfer to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all. (http://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/human_right_to_water.shtml)
Water is explicitly mentioned in the Bible 707 times. And of course, in this particular scripture passage, John has Jesus referring to himself as ‘living water.’
There is a lot going on in this story and many commonalities between Jesus and the Samaritan woman: They shared the same bloodlines. Both Samaritans and Jews were children of Abraham. Both held Mosaic law in common. Both believed in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).
Both believed in holy ground—and, in fact, met and conversed at Jacob’s Well—the well used by Jacob (Rebekah’s husband), and then passed down to his descendants—which would include both Jesus and the woman.Their people were enemies. Cultural and racial disparities, hundreds of years old, permeated the relationship between Jews and Samaritans.
They knew their sacred history. They were both people of story, people of God, people of the word. They knew their traditions, their history, their conflicts, and their biases. They were both cast-outs in their own cultures. Jesus had just come from difficult times with the Pharisees, that branch of Judaism that tended to keep score. Of late, they had been keeping numbers on who was baptizing more people—John the Baptist or Jesus. Tiresome. Irritating.
Because of the many men in her life, the woman was also a societal cast-off, which explains why she was going to the well at midday, long after other women and girls had collected their water in the cool morning hours.
They both invited people to enter into conversation, rather than remaining silent.
Trademarks of Jesus’ ministry—inviting others to be in relationship with him, inviting people to drink of God’s eternal living water, inviting people to live a life reflecting God’s abundant life—was shared by the woman when she said, “Can this be the Messiah? Come and see…” (Adapted from Bible Women: All Their Words and Why They Matter by Lindsay Hardin Freeman)
When I look at this passage through the lens of First Nations experience, two things spring immediately to mind: We, and I mean our ancestors who first came to this land, used Jesus as a weapon, rather than a cup of living water. Thereby crushing their spirits. And there is a water crisis on one third of First Nations reservations. Think about that for a moment… ONE THIRD… imagine if one third of our towns were in the midst of a water crisis? There would be massive amounts of investment.
I take clean water pretty much for granted in Canada, relying on our municipal systems to keep it safe and drinkable and have only ever been on one boil water advisory.
Are some of you on wells? I have only lived on a well once and had some challenges… but the proper system, which included a UV light and reverse osmosis, quickly solved them.
So imagine 20 years of a boil water advisory… which is the case in Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/neskantaga-first-nation-demands-action-on-20-year-boil-water-advisory-1.3256929)
The question at the back of my mind when writing a reflection is ‘so what.’ So what does this mean for us in these two faith communities? Why does or should this matter to us?
As always, I look to Jesus… a man who went beyond the cultural norms of his day to embrace those who were on the outside… the man who when asked, ‘Who is my neighbour’ told a parable in which a Samaritan, a Samaritan, was the hero of the story!
Remember what I said earlier about Jews and Samaritans being enemies?
While I don’t think we and our First Nations people are enemies, in fact, I wonder if most of us just don’t think about them very often, except perhaps when we hear something that just reinforces our stereotypes. Do we appreciate their history, culture and spirituality? Do we know anything about First Nations people? Do we recognize that First Nations people are in the forefront of trying to protect our water.
We have taken a first, very small step, by engaging in the Blanket Exercise, and I wonder how we can take another step. Not as an act of charity, but an act of neighbourliness. An act of being partners in this beautiful country we call Canada. A place where we all have the opportunity to drink deeply from the well of living water that never dries up.
I am going to close with this poem by Carrie Newcomer; it’s entitled Cups Full of Light.
You always arrive bringing light.
Carried in chipped pitchers,
And wide wooden bowls.
With simple affection
You slosh it out like soapy water
Washing down all the mud and debris
The world had tracked so carelessly
Across my secret hearth.
Some have come bringing boxes
Of shadow and dark
Usually tossed unceremoniously
Into my oblivious arms
Then leaving me to figure out
What to do with a handful
Of bitter pills.
But you have always
Arrived bringing dawn.
You open the windows,
Repair the screen door,
Pour out and share
Cups full of light,
You let me drink it all down,
Wiping my thirsty soul,
With the back of a grateful hand.
Thanks be to God for water… for relationships… and the opportunity to forge a new path in following Jesus… amen.
March 19, 2017 – Elmsdale Pastoral Charge – Lent 3
Rev. Catherine MacDonald