Streams in the Desert
The word Egypt almost certainly conjures up images of desert, pyramids, camels, sand, or an oasis and possibly Shamel Sheik if you have been there! It is a large country in Africa with a population of nearly 85 million, but with 95% of the population living in the narrow central strip of the Nile valley, the river being the lifeblood of that dry and dusty country. No wonder then that the theme of the service written by Christian women in Egypt is 'Streams in the Desert'. Just as in biblical times, piped water is not always available, even in urban areas, and water has to be drawn from the river, open wells and even canals that are often badly polluted. In a country where we have such an abundance of water that we often take it for granted, and even complain about our abundance, the many passages in the Bible that speak of the promise of water may not have the same impact for us as they will have for the inhabitants of countries like Egypt where every drop of water is precious.
Our reading begins with the words 'In Samaria." It is easy to skip over a minor detail until we realize that John is not providing us with a geography lesson but rather theology lesson. He is telling us that Jesus is temporarily leaving the safety of traditional Judaism and is going to people the Jews consider to be outsiders; and enemies.
The bad blood between Jews and Samaritans could be traced back over 700 years; 200 years before Jesus birth they had built a shrine on Mount Gerizim and declared that this shrine, not the Temple in Jerusalem was the true place of worship. Picture Jesus, he had just entered enemy territory, he is tired and thirsty from the day's journey, so he sits down by the town well around noon, For a few minutes he is alone, then a woman approaches to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink, and when he does, he breaks two social rules. One - Jews do not speak to Samaritans and Two - Jewish men do not speak to unknown women.
Normally women would have gathered at the well early in the morning, before the temperature rose to draw their water; It was a place for women to swap news and support each other. This woman is different, she is coming at noon, she was not part of that early morning group; However, before asking a question that reveals her story, Jesus asks her for a drink. She must have been startled that he spoke to her and she replies, "How is it that you, a Jewish man, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?" Especially as she knew that a Jew would never drink from a foreigner's cup. Jesus responds, with the punch line -
"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is asking for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water."
The woman replies, "You don't have a bucket and the well is deep. Where will I get this living water?" Jesus helps her understand that he is not referring to spring water; he's talking about life-giving water. He says, "Everyone who drinks of the water from this well will be thirsty again, 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." And she pleads, "Give me some of that water!"
The woman is often depicted as being a 'sinner' and an outcast because she comes to the well at noon to avoid the shame of mixing with the village women who despise her for her way of life. This might have been true but it is based on assumption. Jesus goes on to reveal just how desperately she needs this life-giving water. He says, "Go get your husband and then come back." The woman freezes and replies, "I have no husband." Jesus says, "That is correct. You've had five husbands and the man you are living with currently isn't your husband." And in those few words, she is confronted with the story of her life: with all the bitter disappointments, the poor decisions, the broken promises, the cruel words, the hurt feelings, the shattered dreams. In the middle of the day, with the sun beating down and her throat dry, the conversation with Jesus, made it abundantly clear that not only was her body dehydrated, her entire soul was parched. She was thirsty for friends, thirsty for respect, thirsty for forgiveness; she was thirsty for love and meaning and hope. We have no idea why she had so many husbands. Perhaps she had been forced into marrying her dead husband’s relatives as each husband died; life was extremely hard for widows and single women.
Have you watched Marathon runners in intense heat? Some runners grab the water and pour it on their heads. Others push on and after several miles; dehydration begins to take its toll. Some runners suffer cramps, others collapse and drop out. Those who stay in the race slow their pace, shuffling and stumbling their way along the course, until they collapse in a heap at the finishing line.
Many people are like Marathon runners. They have a deep Thirst within that is not being quenched, and they are just shuffling and stumbling their way through life. They bring their bucket to the well named “pleasure” and they get a sip, but it does not quench their thirst. So they trot over to the well named “wealth and lottery” and dip their bucket in, but it only provides temporary relief. They run to the well named “entertainment” which provides a momentary distraction from the things for which they truly thirst.
In desperation they may try to drink from the well named “drugs or alcohol” But all the while, they are shrivelling up inside, just like the Samaritan woman, parched and dry within – but she had not abandoned all hope, when Jesus spoke of living water, she was certainly interested. Jesus gives her living water – it is the ‘overwhelming love and forgiveness of God that embraces her and accepts her and heals her.’ That is what living water is; But it is not just for her. . God's love is never for us alone. It is always meant to spill over beyond us to others. Notice what the Samaritan woman does after she receives the life-giving water from Jesus. She leaves her water jar behind - a sign that she no longer needs it because she has been filled with living water - and she runs to her neighbours to share the good news with them.
Streams in the Desert, what it? It is living water, the life-giving Spirit of God that assures us that we are the loved and forgiven children of God. Life-giving water of the Holy Spirit that quenches our thirst for meaning and purpose; Life-giving water of the Holy Spirit that quells our anxiety about our fragile existence, and assures us that nothing can separate us from God. Life-giving water sends us out to others to overcome obstacles and to burst through barriers that separate us from each other.
We will all have had, or will have desert experiences, when we feel parched, shrivelled up on the inside, desperate for a drink of living water, maybe you are feeling like that today. The solution is simple as it was for the Samaritan woman, we just have to be humble enough to say, ‘give me that water’ and then stretch out our hand and receive Gods love and forgiveness that will quench our thirst forever.