John 4:5-425 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." 8 (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common 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 no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" 13 Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." 15 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." 16 Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." 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 have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" 19 The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." 21 Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 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 seeks such as these 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" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." 26 Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you." 27 Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" 28 Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, 29 "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" 30 They left the city and were on their way to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." 32 But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." 33 So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" 34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Do you not say, "Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. 36 The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, "One sows and another reaps.' 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor." 39 Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."
If there is one entity in this world of ours that is in shorter supply than money it is time, and this much I am sure that we can all agree on. While the demands on our time increase with no sign of slowing down, the amount of time, unfortunately cannot keep up with the demand, and so we live like maniacs, hurriedly commuting to and from work, attending work functions, grocery shopping, working out, squeezing a little bit of time with the family whenever it is possible. Day planners and to-do lists take on a nightmarish aspect as we look at the tasks that need to be accomplished and question aloud just how all that is asked of us is going to get done. It often feels as though the world itself were on a treadmill and just when we believe that we have caught up to the necessary pace, someone hits the accelerator. So, we do what we can to cope. We multitask and organize with a religious fervor. We connect with friends online. We take what little free time we may have and cram as much “quality” time into it as we possibly can. We catch up on phone calls while we are driving home from work and interrupt that phone call to pick up the take out food we ordered for dinner. All of this creates a deep cultural anxiety. We may not have any idea where we are headed, but we can be sure that we will arriving there with speed.
The deeper question, I suppose, is how do we relate to God and our neighbor under this threat of ever-decreasing time? Here I mean not necessarily making time for God in terms of prayer, Bible study, etc., as important as those things are, and yes, they are vitally important to our lives as Christians. But rather, how do we begin to understand who God is when we have so little time and when this force of immediacy makes getting through the day a huge victory? I guess the question that I am asking could simply be put in this way: has this shortening of time conditioned us to the point that it is really, really difficult to even understand what it means to talk of God as something that exists outside of space and time? In the same way that someone who has been out at sea for a long time has a hard time walking on the land, I wonder if we have inadvertently lost a sense of the eternal through our anxious focus on the immediate present. I mean, what does “eternity” mean when we can barely make it through the day, much less the week?
These questions provide an interesting backdrop to the lengthy discussion between Jesus and this unnamed Samaritan woman. Now, as we observed last week, John is a pretty complicated story-teller and there are always multiple layers to his narratives. To say that there is a lot going on in this story is to speak in pretty gross understatement. Knowing, however, that we will not cover all that is here, Jesus, too, is interested in this question about time and about how time is marked and measured. So Jesus, here in hostile territory, left alone by the disciples who have gone into town to stock up on supplies, meets this woman, this woman coming to the well in the midday sun, this woman who could have never anticipated that this simple and routine trip to the well would quite literally result in a life changing experience. You see this woman who, though she goes unnamed will be, by the end of the story, an apostle of the Christ, she is, I think, living in the same sort of time that we are. While the pace was clearly a lot slower, what with no running water, to say nothing of automobiles, smart phones and all the rest, she is doing what we do: she is going about her daily routine, and she is abruptly interrupted by Jesus at the well, who initiates a conversation that he really should not be having. Yes, her initial astonishment that this man, this Jewish man, is talking to her, reveals the scandal of the situation: a man should not be talking with a woman out in the open like this, to say nothing of a Jewish person and a Samaritan woman having this conversation. This dialogue does not border on the scandalous; it blows right through the social and religious decorum of the day, hence the disciples amazement when they return on the scene. Yes, so initially, this woman is interrupted by an encounter that could get the town gossip mill churning, but that is really only the beginning.
For as the dialogue with Jesus unfolds what emerges is so much more than a clash of ethnic and religious difference, it is quite literally a clash between the human and the divine. Jesus’ presence at the well is nothing less than the encroachment of divine time into the mundane and routine experience of this woman’s life. Even as the woman does not quite understand what this conversation is about Jesus tells her the following: “the hour is coming and is now here.” Yes, the hour, the divine hour of God showing up in the flesh, of God taking the every day and the mundane and turning them into the theatre of his activity, the hour in which a trip to the town well can become the occasion to meet God in the flesh. In the person of Jesus Christ, this hour is now here. Given how incredibly jarring this is, we should not be surprised that the woman resists it, for we do the same. “I know that the Messiah is coming,” says the woman, but there is yet a more gracious word to be heard. There is no need for this dear woman to consign her hopes to a nebulous future. It is not just the Messiah is coming, it is that he is already here, right in this present moment; what she anticipates as a future event is right there in front of her, asking for a drink of water. Yes, this Christ is on the scene and because he is, divine time, the eternal, has been let loose in the present moment. Time’s present tense, the grind of routine and sameness, this is now the vehicle for God’s activity, for the Christ has come in the flesh.
The hour is coming and has already come. What does the eternal mean for us who seem to have less than 24 hours in the day? Well, in this Jesus, in this Christ, the harvest is already ripe. The eternity that we will inhabit, that gushing spring of living water, that has been poured over into the present, for wherever Christ, there, too, is this living water. Believe me, dear people, if I could give you more time in your days to spend with your loved ones or simply doing something that refreshes you, I would. Unfortunately, these genie-like powers were not granted to me at my ordination. So, this I cannot do. What I can tell you with the utmost certainty though, is this: the hour is coming and has already come. Christ is already here, already with you and will by no means ever leave you, no matter your rush and your worry, no matter the fact that our daily planners often look like a cruel practical joke. No, the living water, the Christ who breaks into our present lives as they actually exist, he is with you in the routine and the mundane, in the compression of time and in the scurrying about that we call living, and while Christ’s presence does not somehow cut our “to do” lists in half, his presence among us provides the strength necessary to do what needs to be done, to know that our future is ultimately in him and his sweet love and forgiveness. Yes, that our futures, in this Christ, have already met us in the present tense, and that the eternal love of Christ has invaded this present time that is marked by anxiety and fear. For Christ poured his living water over your heads at your baptisms and he waits to again give you his living presence at the table. So come forward, now, come and take this love eternal into your bodies. For your future in Christ is waiting to meet you. In Jesus’ name, amen.