They were soldiers a long way from home on Christmas day. They were at the end of a long series of battles, but they had been successful and their enemies seemed about ready to fall apart. They didn’t think much of their enemies or the country they were serving in: they didn’t speak the language but it didn’t matter for they were some of the best soldiers in the world and they could do anything they wanted to. It was time to take it easy; it was time to relax and not worry. So they settled in to celebrate Christmas without a care in the world, other than missing their loved ones who were on the other side of the world.
In the middle of the evening’s festivities, their commander was handed a message. He didn’t think much of it: it was just a crazy note from a local who probably didn’t know anything and he just stuck it in his pocket. He should have read the note: the next morning his soldiers were attacked and within 90 minutes of that attack he was dead and his soldiers were either killed or taken prisoner. They found the note he didn’t read, a note warning him of the impending attack, in his pocket. This isn’t a sad story for us: it was General George Washington who attacked these soldiers a long way from home the morning after Christmas, and Colonel Rall’s failing to read the note in his pocket is one reason that we’re living in the United States of America today.
Who we listen to makes a big difference. Consider the Samaritan villagers of today’s gospel story: what did they think when someone they shunned came running about telling everybody about a prophet she saw in the market place. We can tell she was an outcast from the beginning of the story because she’s getting her water at the middle of the day. In that climate you do heavy work first thing in the morning, and the fact she’s getting her water at midday means that the other women in town won’t abide her presence.
Jews didn’t travel through Samaritan territory as a rule, and men didn’t talk to strange women, so the beginning of the story can lead us off into one of those “hmm” situations. The woman might have been thinking: “Is this guy number 6?” But Jesus turns the tables on her. Flowing water is ideal, but it doesn’t happen where people need wells. Flowing water is pure; flowing water is fresh; and flowing water is a lot better than well water. So she’s hooked. Tell me more, I’m interested. Then Jesus uncovers her life, and turns her world upside down.
Even though she’s an outcast, she knows what’s acceptable for church. She knows where her people worship, and where the Jews, the people who hate her people say worship should happen. She knows the topography of the theological debate, and where she is in it. And Jesus breaks this apart as well.
The disciples in the meantime are afraid of what Jesus may have done. They’re on the edge by going to Jerusalem through Samaritan territory anyway, and nobody in Galilee did that. Keeping ritual purity was important when you were on your way to the Temple; and if Jesus has accepted something from anyone in town, he makes himself ritually impure and his journey to Jerusalem is useless. It turns out they have nothing to worry about, but there are a few tense moments.
How does she respond? She tells everybody. She tells everybody who can’t stand her, everybody who has a grudge against her, everybody who’s related to husbands number 1-5 who have gone home unhappy. They must have listened in incredulity simply because the woman approached them with such enthusiasm. They came, they listened, and they embraced someone who gave them the living water. They overcame doubt, prejudice, status in life.
As we seek the living water of Christ, how open are we? Are we as broad minded as we think we are? Do we limit who we listen to, do we assume that some classes of people have nothing to say to us that is relevant to our journey of faith? Are we willing to walk around at odd times of the day, talk with odd people, accept different insights? Do we let ourselves get stuck in conventions of believing we think acceptable, get stuck in our part of theological landscape feeling that I belong here and someone else belongs there and that’s how it will always be.
Jesus offers us much, but to accept it, we must be willing to try something we’re not sure of. We don’t know what being here will lead us: it’s led me a few different places since I left my hometown. I’ve been all over the topography, and it’s turned my life around. Some of you have probably had similar experiences. It takes a leap of faith, a leap outside of where we feel comfortable, a leap away from where we thing things ought to be. But what Christ has to offer us is something we cannot do without. Christ offers us the waters of eternal life.