Jesus sat by the well in the pounding noonday sun. He looked right inside the woman of Samaria and told her: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” (John 4:13-14)
One day I saw it lying on the coffee table. I had never paid it any attention, but now I picked it up. It was Garden & Gun magazine. The first thing I noticed was back roads and unconstructed southern people. I had never seen as many Land Rovers and Orvis fly rods and shrimp and grits compressed into one place. There were hand-forged knives, the smell of steaks at Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, Mississippi. Lots of okra. Blues bands in little dives on county roads. There were good-looking women in black-and-white pictures who telegraphed they did not know they were good looking. There were guys smiling in bow ties around a fireplace in a little inn in Charlottesville. The tides pulled me further in. Live oaks, tidal creeks, and distant music. A Labrador Retriever was collapsed on a cabin floor, gazing up with lazy, contented, and wise eyes. There were happy people talking about Lowcountry living.
How had I missed this?
I wanted everything in the magazine. In fact it became a door. I wanted to step inside. No, I wanted to be Garden & Gun magazine. If I could get in there, if I could get stained by it, if I could drink of its water… then…
That’s why Jesus said to the woman words that need to be chiseled over the hallway of everything in this world. “[Drink of this water and you will thirst again; but if you drink of me], the water I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The water of this world will never be enough or travel deep enough back to where Nicodemus had to go. The well water of this world leaves the Samaritan woman empty all over again. The moment you give your heart to it, like the circus, it is always packing up and leaving.
Alister McGrath, in reflecting on the philosophical principle called the hedonistic paradox, pointed out that “pleasure, beauty, personal relationships: All seem to promise so much, and yet,” he says, “when we grasp them, we find that what we were seeking was not located in them, but lies beyond them.”
On a hot day in Samaria, Jesus tells this desperate and exhausted woman that she can stop. What she really wants is right before her. The living water which gushes up in the heart to eternal life sits right in touching distance. “Why don’t you just collapse here,” he says. “Collapse in me.” Repent, believe, and drink.
Why not do that now? Drink of me, and you will never thirst again.
And so what are you seeking? What of this world do you just have to have? What is your Garden & Gun?
The Rev. Dr. John M. Barr (retired) was Rector of Church of the Holy Comforter in Sumter, South Carolina, and our Lenten preacher for April 10 & 11, 2014.