In Exodus, in Paul and in John – humanity acts ungraciously and is made gracious by acts of God.
The dialogue gets tetchy. Or rather the people rail against Moses (he reckons they will stone him!) and we get a glimpse into the nature of the divine –human relationship – God cares for his people, despite their mean-mindedness. So, we see a God who looks after his people and assuages their thirst. Slowly, slowly, a picture is painted of the God who rescues all humanity out of sheer gratuitous love – not because of any merit on our part. It comes from God’s immeasurable “grace-full-ness” to save us.
Paul, as usual, goes straight to the heart of the matter – “Through our Lord Jesus Christ we are at peace with God…. we have entered this state of grace.” We grow used to talk of “grace” and can be dulled to its real meaning. Much of the way we are tempted to relate to God is based on the acceptance of a system of merit. We work somehow to merit God by something we can do or say. Paul obliterates this silliness of ours: “what proves that God loves us is that Christ died for us while we were still sinners.” The engulfing love which is God has been covenanted down the ages and then becomes man and “speaks” in ways we can just about comprehend – in dying for us. It is mysterious and mind blowing but if we can just cling on to the edges of belief – it becomes a source of the most revolutionary joy. And that joy is meant to be for all.
This famous conversation, first humorous and teasing, and then ultimately of life-changing seriousness between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar dramatizes all that Paul conveys and which the myths of Exodus foreshadowed. We have within us wells of living water which will spring up into eternal life. All else – divisions of race and clan, of religious affiliation and sacred tradition, of this place and that place in which to worship, of the rules governing male, female relationships, penultimate theologies – all these attempts to bridge the gap between God and humanity give way to and climax in the simple proposal: ‘God is spirit, and those who worship must worship in spirit and in truth’. Jesus provides the water of wisdom which can turn into the spring welling up into life everlasting for all humanity.
Jesus challenges the woman’s identity – he is a man, a Jew, unusually and against every social code, asking her, a Samaritan woman, at the well alone, for water. First, he is “Sir”, then a prophet, then the Messiah and then finally ‘Saviour of the world’. John has her move into full knowledge of the one whose conversation reveals him as Divine. She then takes on his role and becomes in turn an apostle to her people. The Samaritan woman did nothing to merit her call into being a spring of saving water – the reverse – she was by all accounts a somewhat colourful sinner! The Messiah saves – gratuitously. In Exodus, in Paul and in John – humanity acts ungraciously and is made gracious by acts of God.