Download or listen to The Third Sunday in Lent, “Searching for a Bride” (John 4:5-30, 39-42)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Maybe you didn’t know this, but if you’re a young man and you want to get married, you should sit down by a well. And the first unmarried woman who comes to give water to her flocks and herds is the one you’re supposed to marry. You didn’t know that? Well, it’s what Jacob does. He goes to the land of his uncle Laban and is talking to the shepherds waiting by the well, when he sees Rachel coming to give water to her father’s flocks and herds. Jacob is so enamored of her that he rolls the stone away from the mouth of the well by himself, when normally it took two or three men to do it. He meets her and marries her; it only takes 14 years, but eventually he gets there. It’s also what Moses does. He is tired from a long journey; he’s fled Egypt after murdering the Egyptian, and he sits down next to a well. When Zipporah, his future wife, comes out with her six sisters to give water to their father’s flocks and herds, they give Moses some water, he meets Zipporah, and he marries her. It’s also what the servant of Abraham does. Abraham made his servant swear that he would not get a wife for his son Isaac from the Canaanites, the idolaters; instead, he makes him promise that he will go to Abraham’s own land, to his own people, and get a wife for Isaac from there. So the servant goes and sits down next to a well. And he prays that God would give him success, and show favor to his master Abraham, and show him who Isaac should marry. He prays, “The woman who comes to the well and I say, ‘Give me a drink,’ and she says, ‘Yes, and let me give water to your camels also,’ let her be the one whom you have chosen for Isaac.” So Rebekah, Abraham’s great-niece, comes to give waters to her flocks; the servant asks her for water, and she says, “Yes, and let me give water to your camels, as well.” And the servant worships God and takes Rebekah back for Isaac. So, if you want to get married, sit down by a well.
Jesus is tired, tired of walking, tired of His journey. It seems He’ll go just about anywhere, even to a well in Samaria. And here comes a woman to draw water in the heat of the day. She’s got no flocks, no herds, no sisters with her. Whether it’s because she’s ashamed or because no one else wants to be seen with her, she comes at the hottest part of the day. And there’s Jesus. And He says to her, “Give me some water.” But she is no Rebekah. She might even be the anti-Rebekah. Rebekah, Genesis tells us, is a maiden, a virgin, unmarried. This woman is not—well, she’s been married 5 times, and now she’s living with a man who’s not her husband. So when Jesus asks her for water, she doesn’t say, “Yes, and let me give some water to your disciples also.” She says, “Why are you talking to me? Why are you asking me for water? You’re a Jewish man and I’m a Samaritan woman.” And John tells us that Jews and Samaritans don’t get along. It goes all the way back to the exile of the Northern Kingdom, Israel. When the Assyrians took most of Israel into exile, they left a few people, and then they sent some Assyrians back to marry the Israelites who were left. The Samaritans are the descendents of those marriages between Assyrians and Israelites. So the Jews of the Southern Kingdom would have nothing to do with those half-breeds in the North. They would go the long way around, just to avoid going through Samaria.
No, she’s no Rebekah. But Jesus is not the servant of Abraham, either. He says, “If you knew the One who is asking you, you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.” She says, “Where would you get this water? You don’t have anything to let down into the well, and it is deep. Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well?” Now that’s a good question: Is Jesus greater than Jacob? Is Jesus greater than Israel? He says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never be thirsty forever. The water I give will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Give me this water, she says, so that I won’t have to keep coming here to draw water. She’s like Israel in the time of Jeremiah the prophet, of whom God says, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and have hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns which can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). And she’s been digging wells, hasn’t she? Wells everywhere. She’s been married five times, and now she’s just given up. Now’s she’s just living with a man who’s not her husband. She has never been satisfied, never had her thirst quenched. She keeps carrying water in a jar with a bunch of holes in it, and by the time she starts to drink, the water’s all gone. Or it’s poisoned, and she knows it, but she just can’t help herself. And apparently the men in the town can’t, either. But now, now! Even with all that searching, and thirsting, even now she hopes: “I know the Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.” And Jesus says, “I am.” I am the Messiah; I am your God. Thirst no more, your true and eternal Husband has come. And she goes back and tells the people in the town: Here is a Man who has told me everything about myself. He can’t be the Messiah, can He? And they invite Jesus to come and stay in their town. He stays for two days, and on the third day there’s a wedding: We no longer believe only because you told us. Now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is the Savior of the world.
My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain and source of living water; and they have hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold any water. We’ve been digging wells, haven’t we? Anywhere, and everywhere. Searching, and thirsting. And there is no lack of opportunities to drink up: wear these clothes, listen to this music; buy this, eat this, drink this. And we take our fill. We try to put everything in buckets with holes in them. By the time we try to satisfy our thirst, all the water is gone. We try to fill ourselves up; fill our houses with stuff, fill our bodies with stuff, fill our time with stuff. But our flesh is like a bottomless throat, it can never be filled, never be satisfied. We go on drinking the poisoned water of all our relationships, all our sins, all our desires; we know better, but we just can’t help ourselves. We forsake God because it’s boring, or because we think we know what we need to know, or because He doesn’t fit our what we think we want or need. And then we go looking somewhere else.
But Jesus comes searching, searching for His bride. And it seems like He’ll go just about anywhere, even to East Wenatchee, Washington! Just a few verses before chapter 4 begins, John the Baptizer says, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom, and the friend of the bridegroom rejoices at the bridegroom’s voice” (3:29). John is the friend of the bridegroom, and Jesus is the Bridegroom. And He’s searching for His Bride. He searches and searches and searches, and when He’s weary, He doesn’t sit down by a well, He goes up on a cross and He goes down into death. And from there, the one with living water says, “I thirst.” The one who stood up on the last and greatest day of the feast and said, “Whoever is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink, and whoever believes in Me will have springs of living water welling up in him” (7:38). There, on the cross, He dies, and the soldier pierces His side, and blood and water flow. Out of His side, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh, comes a new and holy Bride. The Lamb who was slain is the Shepherd who leads His flock to springs of living water. He says, whoever is thirsty, let him come and drink. Let him come and drink without money and without price (Isaiah 55:1; Revelation 21:6). He was there in the ground two days, and on the third day there was a wedding, a resurrection. And now He has fulfilled the words of the prophet Hosea, “In that day, you will call Me your husband, says God. I will betroth you to Myself forever. I will betroth you to Myself in righteousness and justice, in steadfast love and mercy. I will betroth you to Myself in faithfulness. And you shall know Yahweh, your God.” It is with water that He does this, as He puts the wedding ring of baptism around your finger.
“Come to Calv’ry’s holy mountain/sinners ruined by the fall/here a pure and healing fountain/flows for you, for me, for all/in a full, perpetual tide, opened when our Savior died” (LSB 435:1). Opened from His side, flowing forever, welling up in you into eternal life. And you will never thirst forever. He is the rock of ages cleft for you; hide yourself in Him! Your Bridegroom is here, and He waits for you, week after week, to speak kindly to you and to give you the water of life. And so He will do, until the day of resurrection, when the wedding feast will begin that will never end.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/22/14