Every now and then a little fantasy slips into my mind. If only I had a few million pounds then all my problems would disappear. Maybe you have it too? When we come to our senses we realise that being rich or good-looking would not really make us happy. Rich people can mask their sadness by surrounding themselves with lots of beautiful things, but in the end these things do not solve the real problem for us all, our awareness that we are more than just flesh and blood. That’s such an important point isn’t it? It is what is inside us, in our thoughts and feelings, in our need for love, in our appreciation of beauty, that we really find true happiness. In other words, to use Christian words, we are spiritual, we have souls.
In our Gospel today (John 4:5-42) we meet a woman who starts off by thinking in purely material terms. So when Jesus offers her “Living water”, her response is fairly blunt. Silly man, she thinks, and then replies: “You have no bucket sir.. and the well is deep!” She knows how to deal with stupid men who say silly things, because she has had five husbands and is now on a sixth! But Jesus persists, and so she goes along with his offer. Of course, she is still suspicious of him, not just because he is a man, but because he is one of those Jews who think Samaritans like her are nasty foreigners. So she challenges him on where is the best place to worship God, and is clearly quite amazed when he answers by telling her that we can worship God anywhere, because what matters is, as he says, that we “worship in spirit and truth.” Thus we hear Jesus summing up the message for today, that it is what is going on inside us that is most important, both for us and for God
Our problem is, of course, that we are trapped in our physical desires for this or for that, be it biscuits or cake on a plate for me, or clothes, or the latest computer game or gadget, or whatever. Despite our best efforts to be more spiritual, we constantly sink back into what satisfies our physical desires. In Christian terms we call that “slavery to sin” and we also say that we cannot get ourselves out of this mess, and back to true closeness with God, by ourselves. We need to think of the story of Adam and Eve that we heard the other week, and remember that we are the Adam and Eve in that story who are tempted by what looks good on the surface.
St Paul puts it even more bluntly when he writes to the Romans. (7:24) He says “Wretched man that I am. Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The answer is that no human person can solve this problem for us. No great politician offering a new solution, be it Brexit or Remain, or whatever, can make everything right. Nothing that we humans do can make us right, can save us. This is the heart of our Christian faith, that the only way we can be put right is if God reaches out to us, and the only way that can happen is by us putting our faith, our trust, in him. Thus the living water that Jesus offers the woman at the well is what we call the grace of God, or the Holy Spirit of God, that breaks through our human mistakes, and draws us, despite our failings, into union with him.
Yes, God the Holy Spirit is like water. Now ordinary water is amazing, for as each human and animal and plant absorbs water, the water disappear into each living being and becomes part of it. It happens to us physically, and a similar process happens when the water of the Holy Spirit enters into us. It actually frees us, rescues us, saves us, and makes us more fully who we really are.
This God does, as you know, in an amazing and powerful way by actually coming to us as the man Jesus, and then challenging death and hell itself by dying on the cross for us. It is his love pouring itself out for us from the cross that gives us a new kind of life, a life that takes us beyond the merely physical. This gift of his love and sacrifice for us wells up in us, if we accept it, to give us eternal life; and eternal life is not just life after death, but is life, real life, now. A life of service and sacrifice like his, yes; but also a life in which there is a deeper sense of who we really are and what we exist for. We may still enjoy physical things, because all good things are gifts from God, but we are taken beyond these surface things and realise what really matters for each one of us.
That is what the people say to the woman when she shares with them what Jesus has said. “Now we have heard him ourselves, and we know that he really is the saviour of the world”