Thursday, November 3, 2011

Living Water

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour (John 4:1-6).

Why did Jesus not baptize personally? I don't know why Jesus did not baptize personally; however, I read an interesting idea on the Internet regarding this passage. Imagine the foolish pride of people strutting around Jerusalem because they had been baptized by Jesus Himself![1] This turned out to be a big problem for St. Paul in Corinth, where people were apparently boasting and taking pride in whomever had baptized them, thus shifting the focus from Christ, where it belonged. Paul writes, "I thank God that I baptized none of you accept Crispus and Gaius. So that no one may say that you were baptized in my name," (1 Corinthians 1:14). Baptism is a person being buried and raised with Christ.[2] The servant of Christ who administers the baptism is of no consequence.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 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" (John 4:7-10). 

Who are the Samaritans? Why is it significant that Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink? It is commonly held that the Samaritans were descendants of the Jews who remained in Palestine after the Assyrians defeated Israel. The Samaritans inhabited the area between Judea and Galilee. They came from mixed marriages between Jews and Assyrian settlers who entered the Promised Land.[3] [4] For this reason the Jews of the day despised the Samaritans. They also regarded the Samaritans observance of Judaism as corrupted. It goes without saying that contact with the Samaritans was to be avoided. The religious beliefs of the Samaritans are summarized below:[5]

  • There is one God, YHWH the same God recognized by the Hebrew prophets.
  • The Torah was given by God to Moses.
  • Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, is the one true sanctuary chosen by Israel's God.
  • Many Samaritans believe that at the end of days, the dead will be resurrected by Taheb, a restorer (possibly a prophet, some say Moses).
  • Paradise (heaven). The priests are the interpreters of the law and the keepers of tradition; scholars are secondary to the priesthood.
  • The authority of post-Torah sections of the Tanakh, and classical Jewish rabbinical works (the Talmud, comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara) is rejected.
  •  They have a significantly different version of the Ten Commandments (for example, their 10th commandment is about the sanctity of Mount Gerizim).
In traveling from Judea to Galilee, one could reasonably expect a Jew to avoid the land of the Samaritans. Jesus, however, goes through Samaria, which was the most direct route between the two locations. No doubt this surprised not only the disciples, but also the Samaritans themselves. Due to the long history of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, it would be quite surprising that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan - a woman that, given their low social status at the time - let alone ask them for a drink, and engage in a long conversation with them. Jesus, however, used the opportunity of the water, and the well, to preach the gospel.

What is "living water"? "Living water", quite simply, is the Spirit. Jesus explains this to the Jews on the last day of the feast in John 7:37-39, when he says, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" While no specific scripture verse is cited by either Jesus or St. Luke, Jesus' words call to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah:

"And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire and scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail," (Isaiah 58:11).

Jeremiah also writes about the fountain of living water:

"For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hued out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water... O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water," (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13).

These “waters” give life, and strength. That Jesus is speaking of the power of the Holy Spirit becomes evident on the day of Pentecost.[6]

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).

What does it mean to "worship the Father in spirit and truth."? Why does Jesus say that the Father is seeking such people to worship him? Jesus says true worshipers of God are those who worship the Father in spirit and truth. St. John wrote that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.[7] Jesus is saying that true worship is that which is done in his name and through him; in other words, that we believe Jesus is who he said he was (Messiah), and did what he said he would do for us (save us eternally). Jesus would ultimately, as he tells his disciples, send the Spirit of Truth to guide them into all truth, and he binds that work of the Spirit to his Word.[8] Temples don't matter, mountains don't matter; faith in Messiah is what matters. Psalm 145:18 says, "The Lord is near to all who call on truth," that is, trusting in God's promise of redemption. Jesus is that promise in the flesh.

In Old Testament times, the people were separated from God by the literal, physical walls of the temple. Only the priests could enter the most holy place to offer the required sacrifices to make atonement for the people's sin.[9] Now, through Jesus, who is the propitiation for all sin, believers have access to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in men’s hearts.[10] Therefore, no animal sacrifice, or other human work, is necessary to - or capable of - gaining God's favor or forgiveness. Only faith in Jesus, which is worked in us through God's means, by God's power, and given us as a gift, gains us access to God.[11]

Since temples don't matter, does that mean that we don't have to, or shouldn't, be a member of a church? No. Simply put, if you go to church because it is "the right thing to do," and is "good," you may as well just stay home. St. Paul calls the Church Christ's body[12], and Jesus himself says that apart from him, we can do nothing.[13] Jesus wants us to gather around Word and Sacrament so that he can empower us to worship in spirit and truth. Jesus shows us this by his own example when he gathers with his disciples for the Passover; He promises to be among us, "... where two or three are gathered [in my name]."[14] Scripture shows us that the regenerate man, led by the working of the Holy Spirit, seeks out and craves fellowship with his fellow Christians. After Pentecost, the believers "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship..."[15] Luke further describes the method in which this was done:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number, day by day those who were being saved," (Acts 2:42-47).

These Christians, compelled by the Spirit as new creations in Christ[16], and moved by His power, gathered together around the word (apostles’ teaching), following the example of Jesus, who gathered with his disciples. The living waters of the Spirit watered them, made them grow, and they became fruitful. Consequently, they put off their old selves,[17] St. Luke records, and their love for God because of what he had done for them, manifested itself by their spreading of the Gospel and doing good to their neighbors.[18] Their good works, like good fruit on a healthy, well watered tree, were the manifestations of their faith in Christ.[19]

Rather than grumbling about all the things we don't like about church, or making "rational" arguments about why it isn't necessary to be an active part of a Christian fellowship, we should all follow the example of the early church described in Acts. We all need to gather together in worship, study and fellowship, and show our faith through our works. “For,” as St. James writes, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”[20]

End Notes

[1] “Did Jesus Baptize Anyone?” Wiki Answers,, (October 24, 2010)
[2] Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12
[3] J. I Packer, and M.C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980) p. 509
[4] 2 Kings 17:24-28, 33-34
[5] “Samaritans” Wikipedia (October 24, 2010)
[6] John 16:7; Acts 1:4-8
[7] John 1:17
[8] John 15:26; 16:13; Romans 10:17
[9] Leviticus 16; Hebrews 7:26-27
[10] Hebrews 9:11-14
[11] Ephesians 2:4-9
[12] Romans 12:4-5; Colossians 1:18
[13] John 15:5
[14] Matthew 18:20
[15] Acts 2:42
[16] 2 Corinthians 5:17
[17] Ephesians 4:22
[18] James 2:14
[19] Mark 4:20; John 15:16; Not just holy deeds, but love and witness leading to new disciples, as evidenced by Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-23).
[20] James 2:26