Need, thirst and hunger feature prominently this week in the lectionary texts. In the gospel text we visit Jesus and and a woman at Jacob's well. Since the disciples bow out of the scene so quickly, the focus is on the man and the woman. Shades of Rebecca, Rachel, and Zipporah. I most appreciate Sandra Schneider's allegorical interpretation:
Jesus could be the bridegroom coming to claim Samaria as an integral part of the New Israel which he inaugurates; the Christian community. The Samaritan woman’s history parallels Samaritan national history. Assyrians conquer in 721 BC and bring colonists from FIVE foreign nations into Samaria. Schneiders asks, are the 5 husbands symbolic of Samaria’s intermarriage with foreign people and the acceptance of their false gods? And is the 6th ‘man’ who is not a husband, Rome? In Frances Taylor Gench Back to the Well (Louisville:Westminster John Knox 2004)
There are so many layers to investigate in John's gospel that heading down any path can provide avenues for sermon writing. I am always surprised by another consideration that I hadn't seen. New Proclamation (Dale Andrews) compares the thirst conversation with the woman alongside the hunger conversation with the disciples. One can look at the comparison of the woman, an ultimate outsider with Nicodemus in chapter 3, the ultimate insider. Reading John's gospel is like doing a Sudoku puzzle, there's always another line or layer to consider.
The focus on need is most interesting. Someone recently shared with me a workshop exercise that had individuals chart their lifelines with highs and lows and then chart their spiritual journeys. For everyone, the low points in life coincided with high points in spirituality. When God was most needed, God's presence was most near. Carlo Carretto wrote that nothing propels us towards tomorrow more effectively than suffering. (Why Oh Lord?) Paul points out the direct connection among suffering, endurance, character and hope. Looking back at my own life, I'd have to agree and even echo Paul's words, "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." (Rom. 5:5) There is no shortcut to character and hope, but God's presence journeys with us all the way providing for our hunger and thirst.