He sits there listening to you preach. Sunday after Sunday, he shakes your hand on the way out. Rarely does he start a conversation. From what you can tell, things are going well. Yet, Sunday after Sunday, he struggles with depression. A list of things he has done wrong swirls in his head. His marriage. His children. His job. It is overwhelming.
They say still waters run deep and, if you were to start an honest conversation with your parishioner, you would find that to be so. Beneath his calm demeanor, politely greeting you Sunday after Sunday, lies a depth of depression troubling his soul.
Yes, still waters run deep. Yet, deeper still runs the Word of God. So deep that it has the power to restore your soul.
She came to the well to draw water. It was not a moment of rest and relaxation. It was work. Hard work. Hard work made harder by the burdens she carried. The men she had known. Or rather, the men who had known her, had used her, and had dismissed her with certificates of divorce.
So marked was she by all these marriages, that the man who now had her would not even give her the honor of being called her husband. So, she was living with a man who was not her husband. He was just one more man in a line of men, taking her, using her, and leaving her, each time a little less human in the eyes of others. She came to the well wanting water but what she needed was a word that gave life. What she needed was someone to restore her soul.
How does one restore a soul? The body can be healed. A surgeon’s hands can cut your flesh, open your chest, and reach in and actually touch your beating heart. But your soul… your soul is a different matter. It cannot be seen. It cannot be touched by human hands or examined on the operating table. Yet, it feels the touch of life. Abuse that ends one’s childhood too early. A miscarriage that abruptly ends one’s parenting. Divorce that tears marriage asunder. These things cut deeper than any surgeon’s knife. Touching your soul. Making it restless. Longing for life as God meant it to be.
Augustine said, “You made us for Yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” So, this one woman at this one well is not the only one who longs for restoration. We all have moments of restlessness.
It could be 3 am, as you lie there in bed, awake and unable to stop yourself from thinking. It could be 3 pm, as you worry about going home to a fractured family, wondering if it will ever turn around. Restlessness flows like an undercurrent through life, pulling us, dragging us downward, making us weary of living even as we go through the normal motions of a day.
To her, to you, the Shepherd comes.
John does not speak of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in this passage but that is what I see: A shepherd who knows when a sheep is weary and comes to offer care by sharing the water of life. “The Lord is my Shepherd,” we have learned to say. “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” Today, we see Jesus, coming as a shepherd, sitting beside still waters, restoring a soul.
Jesus begins a conversation with this weary woman. He offers her water. Living water. She does not understand. How can He offer a drink when He does not even have a bucket? Is He greater than her father Jacob? Well, yes. He is greater, because He is Jacob’s Lord. The water He offers does not come from any well. It comes from Him.
Jesus is the source of all living water. His life, His death, and His resurrection are a life-giving stream. Only in the gospel of John does Jesus cry out, “I thirst,” at His crucifixion. He becomes the thirsty one, longing for life. Bearing our suffering. Enduring our shame. He enters the depths of Hell itself and dies in our place that He might rise and offer us His eternal, life-giving stream. Jesus sits by the well as a shepherd, coming to offer this woman a life-giving stream.
For a moment, think about her experience. For once in her life, this woman finally meets a man who gives rather than takes and what He gives… oh, what He gives makes her a child of God. The honor she finds in Jesus frees her to speak in hope of the Messiah. The life she finds in Jesus is a gift that will never go away.
He still sits there, our Shepherd, by that well where, with a splash of water and God’s word, you are made a child of God. The words of our Lord run deep, deeper than any of your troubles, deep enough to conquer Hell itself that He might rise from the depths with life for you. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden,” Jesus cries. Today, Jesus comes to restore your soul.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42).
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42).
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 4:5-26 (27-30, 39-42).