Way to Be Human

By Sarah Cornwell

A Reading from John 4:1-26

1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” — 2 although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized — 3he left Judea and started back to Galilee. 4But he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. 

7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 


On Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is a delightful recurring character named Q, who is a member of the Q Continuum, an immortal and largely omnipotent alien race. Q is the puckish troublemaker of the Continuum and in one episode, he is banished, and as punishment for his past sins, must live a mortal existence in a human body. Q is appalled by the weakness and indignity of the human body and terrified by the prospect of dying.

In today’s gospel, we see Jesus’ human body showing weakness and indignity. Jesus is tired and needs to rest. He is thirsty and needs to ask a stranger for a drink. Q and Jesus react quite differently to this state of affairs. Q is disgusted and becomes preoccupied with himself and his own experiences. Jesus, in his fatigue and thirst, offers to help another who is experiencing an existential fatigue and thirst. His own need points him to addressing the deeper need in another, that is, the longing for permanent relief from a life of degrading sin and fear of death.

We are Q, self-obsessed, desperate to achieve omnipotence and immortality entirely on our own terms, with no dependence on others. We are the Samaritan woman, performing the same sins over and over again, permanently married to that life, coming back to the same wells to draw water to sustain our parched lives.

What is clear at the end of the Star Trek episode and at the end of the gospel reading for today is that Q (though imperfectly for comedic effect) and the Samaritan woman are capable of contrition and redemption. As humans created in the image of God, we are not without hope. We can be deep into our cycle of sin and still a weary Jesus can show up at the well to offer us what we ultimately seek, believing we are capable of receiving it.

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Armagh (Church of Ireland)
All Saints’, Beverly Hills, Calif.


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