Third Sunday in Lent
John 4:5-30, 39-42
Jesus has finished talking with Nicodemus—one must be born of water and the Spirit in order to see the kingdom. From there, He goes into the land of Judea and baptizes (though really, His disciples do the baptizing)—He makes of sinners righteous co-heirs who will see with Him the kingdom. But His time in Judea is short, and we are told just before today's Gospel lesson starts that, "He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria." (John 4:3-4)
He needed to go through Samaria, not around like many other Jews traveling to Galilee, because there was someone else He needed to talk to. He needed to talk to a Samaritan woman—unheard of on two accounts: being Samaritan and being a woman. And she not any Samaritan woman, but a woman who, it would seem to us, was looking for love in all the wrong places, having had five husbands (and most likely being divorced from them, otherwise, she would probably be referred to as a widow) and living with a sixth man who wasn't her husband.
She was the outcast in the village of Sychar, at least among the women, but certainly among most of the men, too. So much so that she wouldn't go to the well at the regular time, but would go at noon. She would rather bear the load of carrying her empty jar to the well and the water home under the heat of the day rather than under the heat of the other women of the village.
On this particular day, however, she's in for a lesson. She arrives at the well and is surprised to see a Jewish man sitting there. He further shocks her by speaking to her: "Give me a drink." "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?" she asks.
Dear woman, this is no ordinary Jewish man speaking to you. If only you knew who it was asking for a drink, you would have asked Him for a drink instead. His water is no ordinary water, much as He is no ordinary man, but it is water combined with the Word of God, much as He is the Word of God with a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. (cf. Athanasian Creed) Whoever drinks ordinary water will thirst again, Jesus explains, but whoever drinks of the water that Jesus gives will never thirst again. Furthermore, the water that Jesus gives becomes a fountain in the man that springs up into everlasting life. No, the water Jesus gives is no ordinary water, but living water.
Here is some theological math for you. Last week, we heard Jesus tell Nicodemus, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (John 3:5) A little bit later in John's Gospel, after feeding 5000 men, Jesus says, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63) So, it should follow, then, that Spirit + water = living water. What Jesus had talked to Nicodemus about is the same thing He now offers to the adulterous Samaritan woman. It is this living water that is necessary to enter the kingdom of God, this water combined with the Word of God.
Nicodemus and the adulterous Samaritan woman—in Jesus' time, you probably couldn't find two more opposite types. Nicodemus, you will recall, was a member of the Sanhedrin. He was a Pharisee with great responsibility and was, therefore, highly respected in his community. He was, as a result, most likely looked upon as a leader of the people even among those not of his community, say a Samaritan. The woman in today's lesson, however, was every bit an outcast, within her community and without—a Samaritan, a woman, and an adulterer. Yet Jesus' words are essentially the same to both of them.
As much as it should be clear from last week's epistle that justification comes by grace through faith apart from works, it should be clear from the sequence of events in John 3 and 4 that living water is necessary for all in order to enter the kingdom. He says this to a reputable man, sees to the task of baptizing, and says as much again to a woman of ill repute. Reputation is not a qualifier—in fact, there are no qualifiers—for the need of living water. All have need, regardless of reputation, age, race, or gender. For, as St. Paul says, "[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." (Romans 3:23) All have sinned: man, woman, child, Asian, African, Caucasian, Donald Trump, homeless guy...everyone! And, as the wages of sin is death (cf. Romans 6:23), all deserve death; and, therefore, all have need of living water to see the Lamb in His kingdom which will have no end.
Why? This living water changes people. Sure, they remain what they are as regards age, race, and gender, and usually reputation, but they are changed from the walking dead to the living. This is what Jesus meant when He referred to the living water producing a spring up to eternal life in the man who receives it.
Now, it must be said, such a thing is never easy, especially for who who can hear and understand his faults. The Law must first always have its way. Jesus confronted the Samaritan woman with her sin—she was an adulterer. Yes, He even confronted Nicodemus with his—"Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?" (John 3:10) The Law of God must kill the old, hard heart to make room for the Gospel to bring forth a fountain that springs up to eternal life. And this, not just once, but daily, and every moment of our lives. As we have been taught, receiving this living water "indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever." (Small Catechism, Baptism, Fourth)
That's not to say that it is any less difficult for one who receives living water at a young age, an age at which one may be able to hear but not understand his faults. Recall that all have sinned, and this includes the young, and so they, too, need living water in order to come into God's kingdom. They, too, need to hear the Law of God so that the old, hard heart in them can be killed to make room for the Gospel to bring forth a fountain that springs up to eternal life. And again, this, not just once, but daily, and ever moment of their lives, because even for them, receiving living water "indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever."
The Law must be heard by both old and young because both old and young must be shown their sin and, by this, learn that they are completely incapable of saving themselves, a fact that is painfully obvious for the young...and dreadfully scorned by the old—for the young are often incapable of doing anything for themselves, and the old despise having their faults pointed out. However, once the sin is shown and acknowledged by grace, then is seen the need for a Savior, and the Gospel is given which shows, nay gives, the Savior, Jesus Christ.
This happened to Nicodemus. Whether He received the living water the night that He talked to Jesus is not said, but the fruit of having received it is shown in later chapters of St. John's Gospel. First, when the council started trying Jesus in His absence, Nicodemus spoke in Jesus' defense. (John 7:44-53) Later, after Jesus had died, it was Nicodemus who helped Joseph of Arimathea spice and bury His body. (John 19:38-42)
This happened to the woman in Sychar. She, only having knowledge of the books of Moses, recognized that the Messiah was to come and tell them all things. I would imagine Jesus ever so gently telling her, "I who speak to you am He," or as the Greek text says, "The one speaking to you, I am." From there, she left her water jar, and this outcast woman sought out the men of the village to tell them of Messiah who had come. Many went to Him, and listened to Him, and received from Him living water, saying, "Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world."
"Now we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world." With knowledge of the Christ comes knowledge of the way in which He is the Savior of the world. With reception of living water comes reception of the gifts He bestows by the way in which He is the Savior of the world. For Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world in the way that He took upon Himself the adultery of the Samaritan woman, He took upon Himself the false or knowledge-less teaching of Nicodemus, in fact He took upon Himself every sin these two had committed and the sins of every person in Sychar, indeed every person in the world long dead, living, and yet to come—even every sin committed by the most and least reputable among us, the oldest and youngest among us, every male and female among us, everyone among us regardless of race. And He took them to a little mountain outside of Jerusalem called Skull and was sacrificed with them, nailed to a cross with them, destroying them.
And, as proof of His sacrifice, He was run through by a Roman spear, where at once there flowed from His side blood and water—blood, the demand for the forgiveness of sins, and water, the means by which sins are washed away. These are the signs we have now, the Holy Mysteries left for us, the Sacraments, which give us what the cross earned, including this living water—the life-filled waters of Holy Baptism, a gift needed by all to enter the kingdom.
For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith...to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:22b-26)
For, as has been said, all who are justified by God by grace through faith are made alive by living water apart from works, regardless of reputation, age, gender, or race. These all may be different, but the Jesus is the same Savior to all; therefore, the faith is the same and the forgiveness the same. Reputation, age, gender, and race—these all, more-or-less, remain the same after conversion, but all who are converted are made alive who were once dead in their trespasses and sins, for those trespasses and sins have been taken away from them and remembered no more.
For those who are made alive by grace through faith, this is a joyous thing. It is a joy shared by Nicodemus who stood up for the Christ and spiced and buried His body. It is a joy shared by the Samaritan woman who proclaimed the salvation of God to the people of Sychar. A joy shared by the people of Sychar who heard the Word of Jesus and believed that He was the Christ, the Savior of the world. It is a joy shared by you, dear hearers, for by faith, you have received this living water and have been made alive, though you were dead—that is to say, you are forgiven for all of your sins.