Saturday April 20, 2013

The opening verses of Genesis are clearly among the hits of Scripture; In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. And there was evening the there was morning, the first day.

And God said, Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.

So, God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome.

And it was so. God called the dome sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And so it goes on.

The story of Jesus and the woman at the well is high on the New Testament best-seller list (text - John 4:1-15) If your issue is gender equality, then the story shows Jesus as a forward thinking, first century man who talks to a lone woman about theological issues. If your issue is inclusively, then that conversation transcends the religious enmity of two long-estranged people. If you believe in the unique revelation of God in Jesus, then he is offering himself as the one true spring.

What is missing in all the books written about the passage is the actual water in the well.

How deep was it? How is it fed? Was there only one? How far did the woman have to walk? John did not care. If you read John literally you miss the point. His concern was the metaphor: The true vine, the good shepherd, the living water, Jacob’s Well never slows up in the first testament. People who have never sat at a well do not realize how much water we use. Those of us who use 5.7 billions gallons a day to flush toilets, who take 30 minute showers and who rinse the dishes before putting them in the dishwater have little, idea that women in dry places carry have their weight in water on their heads. Instead of going to school or working for a wage, they go to the well at least three times a day. When we were living in our 1797 house in Sunderland for decades, my wife and I were among the 14 percent of people in the US who still relied on a well for water. When neighbors nearly lost their well water, they would come to our place for water since our well never ran dry. Now that we live in Bennington, we never have to worry. Just turn the faucet on and the water runs out of it. When we were living in Sunderland, we also learned that our own well was no substitute for neighbors. There is no such thing as our water or our neighbors water, but if our water was in his backpack or the woman at the well had a spigot at her house, they never would have met. But they did meet at Jacob’s Well and had a conversation that we are still having today. As our daughter would say, How cool is that? John could have used the conversation as a purely Christological moment, but because the woman was preaching on the big book of nature as well as the little book of Scripture, the living water was the actual stuff in the well from the deep of creation. This was the living water of the one, true God, the Universal solvent. Through it, a Jewish stranger and a Samaritan woman have a life-changing conversation, she said. We are afraid of running out of water, but that can be creative feats. If we had enough, we would never talk about it. We would never go to the village well, with its power to change lives.

God could use our fear of scarcity to bring us back to life, to relationships that give life. Sometimes it is the water of life, and sometimes it is just water. The woman asks Jesus to give her the water of life so she will never be thirsty again.

Jesus changes the subject. He can’t or won’t do that. The thirst brought them together. So first, Jesus won’t give it to her, and second, he doesn’t install private spigots. He is a well person all the way. There is one water and one God, and it is not mine, but ours. Let those who are thirsty drink, she said.

David J. Bort is a retired United Methodist pastor and a member of the Greater Bennington Interfaith Council.