It is December in Canberra. I should be outside in the sun, with my singlet, shorts and thongs. Instead, I am sitting with a wool blanket on my lap, a cup of tea on the table, and a heater blowing at my feet. It has been wet and cold for the past week. But we did have a nice break in between last weekend, when the sun came out gently. It was a perfect day to start gardening – my first ever herb garden.
A friend from church, Janette, offered to help since I had zero knowledge about gardening. All I knew was that if I stick a root of a store-bought spring onion in a glass of water, it regrows. But otherwise, my lack of knowledge in gardening had proved true when I watered my basil that I bought from Woolworths every day until it wilted and almost died.
When Janette came over, I showed her my drooping basil. I wondered if I could transplant it into the soil still, considering that it had mould growing near the stalks. She had a quick look and pointed out straight away, “Oh that is a sign of over-watering.” With her fingers, she gently pulled apart the soil and said, “See, the roots are made to search for water. They have to stretch and grow in order to find and absorb moisture. What you did was feeding it too much water, so it stopped spreading. In a sense, it drowned.”
As we worked on our knees planting my store-bought basil into the soil, I mulled over Janette’s words. I did not know that watering plants too much would hinder their roots to stretch; hence, their growth too. And God reminded me of something. In our attempt to succeed or in the hours of our loneliness, we searched for something to quench our thirst, even for only temporarily – acceptance in the workplace, praise for the job well-done or respect from our peers. We also filled our time with shopping, television, video games or pornography to ease our longings. But they only dulled our senses, and we became complacent. Our roots had become shallow, our growth slowed down. In a sense, we were drowning in the sea of temporaries.
Yet there is another type of Water, the one the Bible talks about. It is the Living Water, the kind that flows like a river and gushes like a fountain. It is the water that fills you permanently. John 4:13-14 says,
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'”
In this story, Jesus encountered with a Samaritan woman. It was about noon, and Jesus was tired from travelling. As the disciples went into town to buy food, he sat down by the well, where the Samaritan woman was drawing the water. Customarily, this is a bit unusual because in those days women would usually do this chore late afternoon or in the evening, sometimes early in the morning, so they could use the water in their cooking, washing or feeding animals. It would also be the time where they would catch up with their neighbours, maybe with their children playing nearby. Yet this Samaritan woman was alone, drawing water at noon, under the scorching sun. We can argue that she might already have come out in the morning but already ran out of water. But we could also speculate that she felt obligated to seclude herself out of shame, of who she was and how she lived, that led her out to do this heavy task under the noon sun. For whatever the reasons, she met Jesus.
Another unusual thing about this encounter is the fact that Jesus was a Jewish man conversing with a Samaritan woman. In their culture, Jews and Samaritans were enemies. Their hatred for each other was dated back to the Old Testament time. For a Jew to engage with a Samaritan would have been abhorrent. Now Australia and New Zealand have a big rivalry between them as well. We argue over the origin of Vegemite and Pavlova. We fight to be the first in either Rugby or Cricket. We tease each other over our accents. But we are not enemies, at least not in the Jewish-Samaritan sense.
When Jesus initiated the conversation, he crossed the barriers of racial and gender classes to meet with her – this woman who had been in five failed marriages and now in a de facto relationship. She was not a woman acquainted with status, but more familiar with sorrow and shame. She trudged to this well every day carrying loads of burden that were not just the weight of her pitchers but the sense of failure and guilt over her life. Then Jesus turned up and said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
This Samaritan woman had been watering her parched soul with temporary companionship and security. Her life, her identity have led her to the margin of the society. People gossiped behind her backs and tolerated her presence. But that did not stop Jesus to cross all boundaries to offer her the Water of Life. Through Him, she would no longer thirst because He had found her. All doubts, fear, shame and disappointment were gone. Her past had been forgiven. She found a new identity in Christ.
So did we.
But her story did not end at the well. She ran out to tell the people in town about Jesus. And everyone came to believe that He was the Messiah they were looking for. Now that we know Jesus is the Water of Life, what do we do? How should it look like in our own lives?
Well, for a start, it should look like my transplanted basil, that hopefully will grow because I have decided to not over water it anymore (it could still die…but I keep my fingers crossed). Janette has taught me to gauge if the soil needs water by sticking my finger into it. If it is still moist, even though it looks dry, it does not need any more water. Hopefully, the roots get the message that there is plenty of moisture under the soil there… and they will stretch, absorb, and grow.
For us, instead of feeding our souls with temporary fulfilment, we should pursue God in every way we know how, whether through studying the bible, praying, going to church, serving in a soup kitchen, teaching children in remote areas, going on mission trips or telling people about Christ. Practising spiritual discipline is a way we can access that Water of Life that Jesus has offered to us. Christianity is a combination of faith and work. We cannot have one without the other. For us to grow and mature, complacency must have no place in us.
Before Janette left, she parted with some words of advice. “The hardest part for any gardeners is waiting for their crops to grow. Be patient.” We can get impatient and discouraged when our patch of dirt still looks like…the same old boring patch of dirt. But by doing the right thing – feeding the plants with right food and giving it sufficient water, they will hopefully bud and sprout. God’s creation, becoming the beings they were created to be. Just wait, and see.