Sunday, March 19, 2017

Baptism, the Living Water that Wells Up To Eternal Life

5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. [1] 7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. [2] The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”(John 4:5-26 (ESV)
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And the woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
The Samaritan woman does not get what Jesus is talking about, or is purposely trying to avoid the matter at hand. Jesus is offering her forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life that comes with faith in him. He talks about it in terms of water, living water. This is what our baptism is, living water the wells up to eternal life. This is what Jesus is talking about with the woman in an enigmatic way. It is what he just finished talking to Nicodemus about. He had just left the Judean country side where he was baptizing, well not him, but his disciples. And now John wants to talk about what this baptism means at the beginning of his gospel, so that everyone will understand its importance for the Christian life.
It’s peculiar to John’s gospel. The Synoptics have Jesus being baptized and then the temptations and then his ministry in Galilee and a person gets the impression that there was nothing else. But John lets us understand that Jesus worked for a time with John the Baptist and was baptizing, well not Jesus but his disciples. So we learn something even from that little throw away line of John, when the disciples do the work of pouring water, or dunking or otherwise applying the water and saying the words, it is not the disciples that are baptizing but Jesus. He is greater than the disciples. They do this at his command. He gets the credit then. It is his baptism. But here it wasn’t quite the same thing as the baptism that Christ would institute after his death and resurrection, but a precursor to it.
John is an odd gospel, he wants to leave a gospel that will clarify things for people to come, fill in the gaps the gnostics of the time were exploiting, the gaps in the life of Jesus that had thus far been written, Matthew, Mark and Luke, the Synoptics. But he isn’t really concerned with chronology. And he is called John the Theologian because his gospel blends his interpretation with the events of Christ’s life. Sometimes it is hard to understand where the words of Jesus have stopped and where the words of John explaining what Jesus meant start and vice versa. He doesn’t merely record events as they happen in order, but pieces the life together to give a presentation of the Christian gospel, the good news the forgiveness of sins, and all that it means. So there is mystery that remains. A person can blend the Synoptics and John’s gospel as to the course of events, but there is always a bit of mystery to doing this.
So when John remembers this discourse with the Samaritan woman, as with Nicodemus, he is realizes that Jesus was talking about this baptism that would come. He does the same thing with the Lord’s Supper from time to time. Though the Lord’s Supper has not yet been instituted, John lets events like the feeding of the five thousand stand in as opportunity to then talk about what the Lord’s Supper is. So Jesus has not yet instituted Christian baptism, and yet there are parallels between what John was doing in the desert, what Christ was doing with him, and what would become of it. Jesus is training his disciples for a ministry to come that will have at its heart, baptism the birth from above that comes with the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, a well that doesn’t run dry, grace that overflows, living water that wells up to eternal life.
And here he is offering it to everyone as if it did not matter a bit who they were or what a mess they had made of their lives. And this woman certainly didn’t have it all together, her life was almost as messed up as your pastor’s, and she knows it. Here it is the seventh hour, that would be noon our time. They started counting the hours with the rise of the sun, more or less. The sun is high, and no one is at the well. Women went to the well in the morning, and in the evening to get water. Generally, that was there job. That is when they would all gossip about the goings on in town. Probably, about which one of their husbands was hooking up with this woman now. She seems to have made her way around the village. One can only speculate as to why. We don’t really know the backstory, but she’s been kicked to the curb enough that she doesn’t really care to hear what the other women have to say about her. Feeling used and abused, she comes at noon to avoid the stares, the cold shoulders, the tongue lashings. She’s alone with no one to love her. There’s a man in her life, but he refuses to be her husband. Probably a pay to play sort of scenario, but a woman’s got to eat. It isn’t like there were girl Friday positions open at the local office pool, or employment agency. Women like her without a husband were vulnerable, and men took advantage.
Then there is Jesus, true man born of a virgin, flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He stands here before her with nothing but love, love that would win for her the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He knows who he is talking to. But unlike the other men in her life, he isn’t there to take advantage of her. She doesn’t even know what to do with it. She’s shocked that he is even talking to her. Jews didn’t normally talk to women they didn’t know, and they didn’t talk to Samaritans either. She was both. And then, a man of God? She was used to the Pharisees. These were the men of God. Heads held high they looked down their noses at women like her. But here was a true prophet, who could tell her her whole life. And he talked to her as if she was a human, someone to be loved, someone to be cared for, someone worthy of eternal life. This is the true humanity of Jesus, the humanity that was created in the image of God, to share his love, his knowledge and his grace. It was a humanity so true that the rest of humanity could not abide with it but had to kill it out of jealousy, out of hate, out of evil that inhabits our hearts, sin that can’t see past our own wants and desires. Jesus was a true man, whose manliness would not be measured by the things of this world, those things with which the men of the world even men of God like the Pharisees measure a man’s manliness. It wasn’t in his beard, or his physical fitness, it wasn’t in his ability for sexual conquest, but in his love for humanity that would put all his own selfish desires aside for sinners who knew their sin, and desired forgiveness. To them he gives the living water that wells to eternal life.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all Understanding Keep your Hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.