This has been a pretty insane week. We started, last Sunday, with Daylight Savings Time, which threw us all off of our sleep patterns. Then, as we needed the week to recover from losing an hour, it turns out there was a full moon, which does no favors for anyone who works in the medical field or with children. And as if that wasn’t enough to ratchet up the crazy, this past Friday was the thirteenth. It’s a week that seems to have been designed for the full brunt of the coronavirus arriving in our area and all that that means.
With it, so many of us are experiencing significant changes to how we organize our lives. Jobs that can be done remotely are mostly opting to have people work from home. The normal routine of meeting up with colleagues during the day is disrupted. Schools are canceled for the next several weeks, forcing parents to figure out childcare. Colleges are going to remote learning for the rest of the semester. And then we make the difficult decision not to meet in person for worship today. If you didn’t have anxiety already, this week certainly hasn’t helped.
Because for some of us, anxiety is already a part of our daily lives. It’s background noise. Seven in ten Americans lives paycheck-to-paycheck, on the edge of anxiety basically at all times. Trying to keep up with the news lately has turned me into a ball of worry. There are so many things to be anxious about that worry is normal, when you think about it. The only difference is that this week, that worry has gotten magnified by all the changes we now have to figure out in our day-to-day.
That low-grade, everyday anxiety is center stage in our reading from John today. Like women around the world, the woman at the well was the one tasked each day with getting the water for household chores. Like millions of women and girls, she knew a lot was dependent on her getting that water each day. But this woman had the added anxiety of not wanting to interact with the other women who gathered at the well in the morning. Her social distancing was less about avoiding diseases and more about avoiding passive-aggressive gossips.
This particular day, though, there was the new obstacle of a man at the well. An added anxiety, if you will. But what she probably imagined was going to be a difficult situation she had to somehow extract herself from turned out to be the single longest conversation recorded in the gospels between Jesus and literally anyone else. There is more back-and-forth in this conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well than anyone else in all four of the gospels. And it’s not just about trivial stuff, either. They get deep into the weeds talking theology: exploring what “living water” is, discussing where the right place to worship is, even leaving room for disagreement. No one else in the gospels could say they went toe-to-toe with the Son of God and held their own.
But impressive as that is (and it is), it wasn’t just theology that Jesus wanted to discuss with her. See, deep in the anxiety that she carried with her every day was the isolation of being judged without being known. She carried the burden of being stereotyped and ignored. But Jesus knew her. He saw her as a whole human being, and a person who desperately needed connection to others. And it was in that act of seeing her, really seeing her, that she realized what that living water that he was talking about, was.
And she needed to share it. She needed to share that not-quite-knowledge with others, to invite them to know the person who so clearly knew her. To find friendship with the Messiah who was offering something that could lift her from the background anxiety of coming to that well every day to draw water. And because of her witness, because of how she had been freed from her burdens of anxiety, she brought the whole town to know and trust Jesus. It was this amazing miracle of overcoming her fear of not having enough, of not doing enough, of not being enough. By seeing her as a person, empowering her by taking her seriously, acknowledging her fears without judging her on them, Jesus gave her a well of living water—more than enough.
Because anxiety is rooted in the belief in not enough. I don’t have enough money to pay rent and the light bill. I am not good enough to deserve love and respect. I do not have enough toilet paper to make it through a quarantine. Believing in not enough always fills us with anxiety, because even though we tell ourselves over and over again that worrying will do no good, somehow our subconscious assumes being anxious about something will make us better at getting from “not enough” to “enough.” And that anxiety can grind us down and make us cynical, assuming this fool with no bucket doesn’t realize the well is deep. But when anxiety turns into cynicism, cynicism can close us off to hope.
So God reminds us that there is living water, to fill us up with hope.
God showed that hope to the Israelites in the desert, by giving them a cold, hard, rock and making it pour with water to quench their thirst. God sent down manna from heaven to feed them in the wilderness when anxieties about not enough food set in. God provided the widow who hosted Elijah with oil and meal that lasted them for the rest of the famine. God turned two fish and five loaves into enough to feed thousands of people. God took death—the ultimate “not enough”—and brought life from it. And it’s not just in the Bible that we can see these miracles of living water.
Again and again on my Facebook feed, I saw people posting that they were ready and able to provide food for any parent who was anxious about not enough for their kids who wouldn’t be provided food at school. I’ve seen people spontaneously organize a community program to run errands for adults with higher risk in the pandemic, so they can minimize their exposure. And even now, as you watch this on your screen, by physically distancing yourself, you are helping to slow the rate of this pandemic, literally saving lives. If God can do these kinds of wonders in the midst of a pandemic, where else can we see God’s living water bubbling up to eternal life in our world? (No really, tell me in the comments where you’ve seen God providing enough in the world!)
I know it can be easy for anxiety to take over in times like this. But Jesus is the living water that is enough for us. Jesus is always present to provide, in ways that are obvious and in ways that aren’t so obvious. Jesus calms our fears by reminding us that he is enough, that he will provide, that hope remains. Let’s trust that Jesus keeps his promises, that even while we patiently wait out this physical distancing to save lives, the gospel is being proclaimed and enough is being provided for each of us. Together let’s look for how that living water shows up in the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.