What do you appreciate most about water? A Reflection by Sue Belanger

Last fall, I had the opportunity to participate in a 5K fundraiser which supports our hospital’s nutrition center. As part of the event, information booths sponsored by social action groups lined the perimeter of the gathering space. One in particular was staffed by a volunteer from the Natural Resources Council of Maine with information about the 50thanniversary of the Clean Water Act, which was sponsored by our Senator at the time, Edmund Muskie. As we approached the table, we were asked to write on a post-it note, what we appreciated most about water. An interesting question, right? “What do I appreciate most about water”? Many of us may take water for granted, an abundant resource where we live, it’s all around us in lakes, streams, and the vast ocean within a short drive from where we live. My home is about 500 yards from a river, a waterway that provides opportunities for excursions, fishing and swimming. As I read the board where the post-its were placed, I saw the words, “life”, “recreation”, “refreshment”, “sport”, and “availability”. I realized there are as many perspectives as there are people. 

In this week’s readings, water is a central theme. As Christians, we recognize water as “cleansing”, “healing”, and “life-giving”. In the reading from Exodus, Moses is confronted by his people for taking them away from their homes to a place where water is scarce. Worried they will die of thirst; they press Moses into action. Concerned for his own life, he calls on the Lord for help. Moses, who we know was called by God to lead his people, trusts the Lord to respond, and in front of the elders, strikes a rock, a most unlikely place for the flow of water, and yet, water flows. However, Moses, annoyed by the Israelites’ lack of trust in God, calls their location Massah (testing) and Meribah (quarreling or strife). 

I’m often amazed by the parallels between the stories of the Bible and our current day lives. Drought? Check. Mistrust of leaders? Check. Community testing and strife? Check. Unquenchable thirst? Check. Restlessness in a foreign land? Check. Failure to trust in God? Check. 

As we turn to the Gospel for this week, we read the story of Jesus journeying through Samaria, a foreign land, where he has an interaction with a Samaritan woman at a well. The encounter is at the warmest time of the day, which is considered an unusual time for gathering water. The woman is alone, no doubt suspicious of this man sitting alone beside the well. He asks her for water, and she recognizes him as a Jew. Rather than acquiesce, she pushes back, questioning the stranger. It’s likely she has encountered challenges from strange men in her past. So why this woman, at this moment, in this place? 

This is a story of ultimate acceptance and mercy. In the depiction of this story from the series, I, Jesus meets her resistance with a gentleness that is apparently unfamiliar to her. Jesus’ responses are unexpected, yet kind. We see from the interaction that she has a low self-image, noting that no one will be seen with her, and the reason is “a long story”. While she listens to what Jesus has to say, she’s not convinced of his notion of “living water” and challenges him with the statement, “prove it”. Jesus then reveals the secrets of her life. Her reaction is that he is there to condemn her, but further interaction with Jesus reveals a new way to think about God, and she is still not convinced. She continues with the statement, “until the Messiah comes and explains everything and sorts this mess out, including me, I don’t trust in anyone”. Jesus provides more intimate details about her life, and then reveals himself as the Messiah and in that moment, she believes him. She goes so far as to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah and convinces the Samaritans to believe. 

This is one of my personal favorite Gospel stories and it aligns with what we know about the gospels, which is they “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. For Jesus to reveal himself as the Messiah to a woman who was ostracized by her community, with a questionable relationship history, seems unlikely to most, but perfectly consistent with our notion of God in the person of Jesus. 

As we consider these stories and their applicability in our own lives, a few questions come to mind… 

Can I welcome strangers from foreign lands in the way Jesus did – without judgment?  Am I open to building welcoming and inclusive communities? 

When do I resist Jesus? Is my self-image so low that I feel unworthy of God’s love and mercy? Do I believe that Jesus accepts me as I am with my past failures and sins?

What are my personal areas of “unquenchable thirst”? What are my deeper hungers and thirsts which only the Lord can satisfy?

As we continue through Lent, let’s remember the answers to our problems, our difficulties, our unhappiness don’t come from here on earth. If we want to be quenched, we must fully surrender all to God and accept the mercy and love He grants to each of us. It’s only then that we can be like the woman at the well- filled with living water and a desire to live our purpose.  

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