3rd Sunday of Lent (March 23 • 2014)

‘Living Water for the Thirsty’




Romans 5:1-11

John 4:5-26



Friends, imagine having a spring of water that never dries up. Would it not be fantastic? You no longer need to worry about paying the water bills or worry about timing your sprinklers in the garden. You can spend as much time as you would like to in the shower. You can replace the water in your swimming pool as often as you can. You can even make millions if not billions of dollars by selling the water. After all, water is a precious commodity in a dry continent like Australia.

Lately, you may hear the news about the now former Assistant Treasurer, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, being accused of corruption. He was accused of making 20 million dollars from an infrastructure deal given by the state-owned Sydney Water Corporation to Australian Water Holding, a company whose board he was a member of.[1]  Whether he will be found guilty or not, I think that the case has clearly shown to us the high economic value that water has in this country. Someone can indeed make a lot of money by selling or buying the supply of water in Australia.

Therefore, if I had been the Samaritan woman, who had a conversation with Jesus by the well of Jacob in the city of Sychar, I would have been very interested in his proposition of the water that could make one thirsty no more; of the spring of water that would gush out forever! If I had that kind of spring of water, I would retire early and spend the rest of my life selling my water to big water corporations in Australia and around the world.

But, if we think that Jesus was talking about real water, than we misunderstand him completely. The Samaritan woman herself misunderstood Jesus in the beginning of her conversation with him. Jesus was using water as a symbol of something else that he offered. Last Sunday, we heard how he asked Nicodemus to be “born again”. Nicodemus misunderstood him. He thought Jesus asked him to literally return to his mother’s womb (John 3:1-4)! Not even our modern medical technology and science can help him revert to a foetus and return back to his mother’s womb! No. Jesus was not talking about being literally born again; he was talking about being “born from above” or “born from the Spirit of God” (John 3:1-8). Later, when his disciples asked him to eat something, he talked about food that they did not know about. The disciples thought that he was talking about real food, but Jesus talked about food as a symbol of doing God’s will (John 4: 31-34).

So the water that Jesus offered to the Samaritan woman was not real water, but a symbol of something else. “But what is that something-else?” one may ask. Different people have different opinion about what did Jesus mean with the ever flowing water that would make people thirst no more. To answer the question, I believe, we need to look at the social context in which Jesus and the woman met.

Unlike Nicodemus, we know nothing much about the woman. One thing that we know is that she was a Samaritan. Now, we hear a lot about the Samaritans in the Gospels, but who were they? They were the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel who, after the death of King Solomon, son of King David, separated themselves from the Kingdom of Israel and became an independent Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Jews, on the other hand, were the descendants of the tribes who stayed loyal to the House of David. Therefore, we probably can compare their animosity towards one another with the animosity between the ethnic-Ukrainians and the ethnic-Russians in Ukraine nowadays.

So it was quite controversial for a Jew, like Jesus, to approach a Samaritan woman like her. But there was something more. It was unbecoming of a self-respecting Jewish man to have a conversation with a woman,[2] let alone for a rabbi, like Jesus, to have a conversation with a woman, who had a ‘dubious’ reputation like her. She had five husbands before and the man who currently lived with her was not even her husband. Many people today may actually find nothing special about the fact that she had five husbands previously. After all, Hollywood actresses like Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor had multiple husbands in their lifetime (five and eight respectively). Many people today would also shrug their shoulders when they hear that the woman lived with a man out of wedlock. For Jesus’ society at the time, however, such status was not only unusual; it was against the social norm and thus was unaccepted.

So the woman was the complete opposite of Nicodemus. Unlike Nicodemus, a respected Pharisee who inhabited a central and important role in his society, the woman lived on the margins of her society. Unlike Nicodemus, we don’t even know her name. Yet Jesus broke all the social taboos of his time so that he could reach out the woman. Jesus did not necessarily criticise the social norms of his lifetime. He, however, wanted to show to the woman, as well as to the people in his lifetime and today, that she still had a value. The water of life that Jesus offered, therefore, was his own unconditional love; a love that breaks down all barriers to reach out to people like the Samaritan woman and restore their dignity.

Indeed, as what Paul declared in his letter to the Christians in the city of Rome, Christ died for us when were still sinners. When we were still weak, Christ died for us, the ungodly. We were reconciled to God through the death of His own Son when were still God’s enemies. Friends, I believe none of us here can claim that he/she is better than the Samaritan woman. We all have or have done things that we are not especially proud of. Yet, just like the Samaritan woman, we are all the recipients of God’s unconditional love through his Son, Jesus. This love knows no boundaries. This love needs no precondition. This love restores broken life and brings new life.

Mama Jean was an African-American woman who worked as a slave in a farm in Georgia in the US. Mama Jean was a special woman. She had a spiritual gift that no one else in the farm had. She was the first person whom people asked for help. She had treated many people using her own mixture of medicine using different herbs and roots.

One day, a timid, lost, frail, and lonely boy arrived in the farm. The boy had been living with polio for three years. The doctors had told him that there was nothing they could do to improve his condition.

Mama Jean never knew the word atrophy, but she could see how the boy’s legs had lost most of their muscles and strength. Therefore, every night, she would come and kneel next to the boy’s bed and massage his legs. When the boy cried in pain, Mama Jean would sing him old songs and tell him stories.

Mama Jean never learnt about hydrotherapy, yet she knew that there was strength in running water. So, one day, she took the boy to a nearby creek. She asked her grandsons to help the boy into the creek so that he could learn moving his legs again in the water.

Then, one day, when the boy was twelve years old, Mama Jean led him into a yard. There, she made him stood with his back against a mighty oak. She took his crutches and braces, moved away from him a dozen paces, and told him that God had told her that it was time for him to walk without help. The boy was afraid. He had tried it before and never succeeded. But Mama Jean kept on encouraging him to walk until the boy begged her to stop and started crying. Suddenly, Mama Jean’s voice changed dramatically. She no longer spoke with a  gentle voice, but with a raised voice, sharp and strong, full of command. “You can walk boy!” she said, “The Lord has told me. Now walk over here!” She knelt down and stretched out her arms towards the boy and, suddenly, the boy found courage greater than his fear and took his first step, and another, and another, and another, and another, until he finally reached Mama Jean and fell into her arms. They both cried as they embraced one another.

It took another two years before he could walk normally, but, since that time in the yard with Mama Jean, he never used crutches anymore. He moved on with his life and worked in different circus as an adult. Looking back to his past, he thought of Mama Jean and the lesson that she taught him that “nothing is a barrier when love is strong enough - not age, not race, not death, not anything!”[3]

Indeed, nothing can stop the love that Jesus had for that Samaritan woman by the well and for us on the cross. That love is strong like a water current that breaks all the rocks on its path to give life to the land. And those who receive this love must and will become themselves a wellspring of love that gushes out to others around them. Amen.

Let us pray. 

God, you offer us the water of love. We turn to you in trust, knowing that your faithful provision can fulfil all our needs. May our gratitude propel us out to share the good news of new life with other thirsty people. Amen.


[1] Bourke, Latika, Labor Calls on Arthur Sinodinos to Make Full Statement to Senate Regarding Australian Water Holdings Probe, on (updated: Wednesday, 19 March 2014, 3:05pm AEDT)

[2] Richard E. Gribble, Through the Lens of Go, from the book, SERMONS ON THE GOSPEL READINGS - Series I, Cycle A ( - Third Sunday in Lent 2014)

[3] Paraphrased from "Maum Jean," in William J. Bausch's A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers (Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty--Third Publications, 1998), pp. 104 -106 in Richard E. Gribble, Through the Lens of Go, from the book, SERMONS ON THE GOSPEL READINGS - Series I, Cycle A ( - Third Sunday in Lent 2014)

[4] Burt, Susan and Friends (Eds.), Seasons Fusion for Congregational Life -Lent Easter 2014, New Zealand: Wood Lake Publishing Inc. (2013), p. 56