The water of life

John 4:5-27

Lent 3A – 3/19/17

St. Paul’s, Alexandria

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales


It’s been a long walk for Jesus ¾ Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Jerusalem, and now heading back by way of Samaria. It’s no wonder he is tired, and thirsty, and when his disciples go off to buy food, he is glad to stay behind. Without a bucket, though, he is very aware of his thirst, aware that, like all God’s creatures, he needs water to live. He sits there alone, until a lone woman comes along, and he asks her for a drink.

It’s been a long walk for the woman, too. Here at noon, she comes alone to the well because she’s not part of the companionable group that walks from the village morning and evening. She’s grown used to this shunning by her neighbors, but she needs water to live. So, in the heat of the noonday sun, she has made her long walk to water.

And there, at Jacob’s well, a Jew and a Samaritan make the long walk toward one another ¾ crossing boundaries designed to keep their tribes apart.

In another time, another place, two people from different tribes also found themselves drawn together by their common need for water.

Nya, a girl from the Nuer people of South Sudan, made her long walk to water every day, twice a day. The journey to the pond was long, but the container she carried was light. Finally, at the water hole, she used her hollowed-out gourd to fill the container with water for her family, then started the slower journey home with the heavy jar balanced on her head. Nya did the same thing each afternoon, which meant that school was out of the question for her and her younger sister Akeer.

That was in the rainy season, but in the dry season her life was even harder. That was when her family, and most of their neighbors, camped out near a lake that was little more than a puddle. Then, to retrieve the water deep underground, Nya dug with her hand until her whole arm was inside the damp clay. Little by little the hole began to fill with muddy water, which Nya retrieved and sifted through a cloth handkerchief. This went on every day for months, until the rains came again.

Many people, including little Akeer, became sick from dirty water. Akeer was one of the lucky ones, who received treatment at the clinic that saved her life. But what would happen next dry season?

Something like living water would happen for Nya and her whole village. One day some men showed up with a noisy machine and set to work clearing land. Over many weeks, they chopped and burned, and then began to drill. On the day that clean, clear water gushed forth from the dry earth, the whole village rejoiced. Despite her shyness, Nya went over to thank the crew leader, the tall man who had made this happen. Everyone wondered who he was, as he did not have the facial marks that distinguished Nuer men. Some said he belonged to the Dinka people, who were thought to be enemies of the Nuer.

This man was Salva Dut, who had walked across Sudan, and Ethiopia and Kenya and finally made his home in Rochester, NY and connected with another St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The organization he began, Water for South Sudan, has drilled many wells for his Dinka people and now, for the Nuer, too.

Salva’s and Nya’s stories are told in a small, powerful book called A Long Walk to Water.[1] It’s good reading for World Water Day this Wednesday and every March 22, a reminder that 700 million people ¾ 1 in 9 human beings[2] ¾ live without a safe, accessible water supply.

Jesus, who needed water as much as any living creature, offered the woman in today’s gospel living water. Living water ¾ grace, truth, divine love ¾ is something only Jesus can give. Jesus has given, and will continue to give his living water to us.

But in today’s long gospel reading, it’s easy to overlook one small detail. Did you notice that Jesus never did get the cup of water he asked for? Jesus is still thirsty, and what we do for others in his name, we do for him.

In thanksgiving for the living water given to us, to whom will we give the water of life?


[1] Linda Sue Park, A Long Walk to Water (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).


About threegreatdays

The Rev. Dr. Rosemary Beales is a Godly Play Trainer in the U.S.; an Episcopal Priest; Chaplain at St. Stephen's & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Virginia; a Godly Play Practitioner since 1996; and a mother and grandmother. Every day I get to be with 400 children at school and on weekends when I'm lucky, with my four terrific grandsons and three lively granddaughters. As a Godly Play practitioner, I want to spread the word about this life-giving, Montessori-based way of nurturing children in the Christian story and life. Godly Play, the creation of the Rev. Dr. Jerome Berryman and his wife Thea, is used in many denominations and in many countries, and has been translated into at least seven languages. This blog is not an official publication of the Godly Play Foundation (see but seeks to be a clearinghouse for ideas and experiences of teachers, trainers, and parents. Join the conversation!

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