Water is foundational to Christianity. It arises in the very beginning of Genesis, as the watery chaos depicted in Jewish cosmology. It is turned from this dangerous foreboding entity to life-giving gift throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament.
In today’s readings, water features prominently. God reminds humans that he gives life, and he alone saves life. When the people are without water in the desert, God brings forth water from the rock at Meriba and Massah, and it “flows” for the people. [Ex 17:6]
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, God’s love is “poured” into our hearts. [Rom 5:5].
And in Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus tells us:
“but anyone who drinks the water that I shall give will never be thirsty again: the water that I shall give will turn into a spring inside him, welling up to eternal life.” [Jn 4:14]
Notice that Jesus refers to the water springing up “inside” and “welling up”. These are important indications that Jesus is speaking of something very different from what the woman understands. She is giddy with joy; in the next verse she asks for this “water, so that I may never be thirsty or come here again to draw water.”
She takes Jesus quite literally, as do his disciples a bit later when they urge him to eat, and he replies that he has “food to eat that you do not know about.” The disciples ponder whether “someone has brought him food.”
It’s all quite amusing in one sense.
Yet, something very serious is about, and the Samaritan woman does seem to see that. She goes into the village and tells everyone about this man who has told her “everything she has done.” She becomes in the eyes of many a theologian, the first true apostle.
Sometimes I wonder what Jesus thought as he witnessed the “fundamentalism” of his disciples and those whom he taught. Taking his words literally when he sought to speak of deeper things, things of the heart. Jesus was talking about inner transformation and the water and food are metaphor for his words which lead us to growth.
So eloquently he offers us that if we listen to his words, accept “the Way”, we will have a spring within us, welling up to a journey’s end in eternal perfect union with God.
Did he chuckle as his disciples whispered about someone sneaking him food? Did he smile softly as the woman hoped for relief from her daily trudge to the well for water? Certainly these feelings would have been tempered with a degree of sadness.
As one reads and rereads the scripture, especially with the help of expert biblical exegetes and theologians, one I think, begins to tease out the depth of the real teachings of Jesus. His teachings were so radical, so “outside the box” that few if any understood them in their totality.
Arguments are made that John perhaps “got it” and certainly many believe Mary Magdalene did, as well as some of the more gnostic writings.
If we see Jesus teaching as mostly an interior change of being, and as a pathway to union with God in the closest sense, than many difficult passages open up to us to a deeper more metaphorical reading.
When Jesus speaks of water as becoming a spring and welling up within and that his food is that which they don’t know about, we see clearly that we are being asked to surrender to a new way, or “the Way.”
Today, look within and drink from the spring that wells within you.