Water for the Journey by Philomène Luyindula

Water for the Journey by Philomène Luyindula

A few years ago I heard Kole Omotoso speak at a world refugee day event. Kole Omotoso is the very nice yebo gogo man on vodacom’s adverts, he is also a famous Nigerian academic and renowned author. He was speaking of what people pack for a journey and the answers he got from his children on what to take in case of emergency. He came to the conclusion that if one needs to run and there is only one item to take, it should be a container that can contain water. Wherever there is water, you will be able to drink some and sustain yourself. No matter how creative one could be, I doubt we can better that idea.

Kole Omotoso was speaking of a tough context, not the type of journey for which one can walk through one’s house and pick and choose between things but more the type of journey that is prompted by loud noises, fast heart beats, fear of violence and terrible visions. The type of journeys that make people move fast until they find a place of refuge.

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-15)is one of water for the journey and it is also about finding a place of refuge. Hopefully Lent for you has been a journey of tasting, watering or being refreshed by the living water that Jesus offers. And this journey has to culminate in being safe in the best place of refuge.

The Samaritan woman is alone, no mob around her or at least not at the time that we get a glimpse of her life. She is alone because she is accused and judged. She is probably lonely and she might be surrounded by muttered whispers, silences or loud noises when she walks past others. People might look at her threateningly, speak about her or pretend not to notice her. She may experience fear or she may be longing for something different. We assume that before she gets to the well, she expects nothing different – she doesn’t imagine a new path, a new journey for herself. The well might be her place of refuge – no matter how inadequate, it might be the safest space she’s found. Her spirituality is connected to it and there she is alone.

Alone until Jesus arrives, that is, and engages her in a conversation, thereby crossing boundaries that hold no water... because after all, what is this rule of separation between men and women; of arrogance about one’s ancestry, culture or religion; or even of looking at the ins and outs of other people’s consenting intimate encounters? It is at the well that we meet her. Here she answers Jesus’s questions, conscious of all the barriers that are meant to separate them. At this stage she hasn’t yet connected with him as someone who shelters and provides true refuge.

In their conversation beside Jacob’s well they move from discussing real physical drinking water to other water which is essential for all our journeys. After their conversation she leaves her water jar and goes back to the city to call the people to come and meet the Messiah. Maybe it is Jesus’ behaviour that moves her – his knowledge of her personal history without judgement, his understanding of her needs, her questions and her life, his open interaction with her despite cultural norms. Or maybe she responds to all the images of water that Jesus speaks of: life, abundance, satisfaction, depth, free flowing.

There is something about water that meets our yearnings - stopping to thirst, purity, being washed clean. The woman responds to Jesus’ offer of water that will gush up to eternal life with: ‘give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming to draw water’. Of course we know that she will still have to draw water from the well, but something new has happened and in a sense she will no longer have to draw water again. She and her community are transformed by their interaction with Jesus. She probably realised that her interactions with others might never be the same again when she felt compelled to go and tell others, even leaving her all-essential water jar. We skip a few verses and we hear the people’s response: ‘we no longer believe just because of what you have said, now we have heard for ourselves, and we know this man really is the saviour of the world’.

It is amazing what a conversation about water can do. People who were at best nasty enough to isolate this woman now speak to her and in sharing their gratitude about having their lives transformed by Jesus, they have to acknowledge her as a person who is truthful and who pointed them in the right direction. They also have to acknowledge that she has become the bearer of life-giving water and that through her they have met the one who will help them never to thirst again. In fact, they have found a safe refuge, a place where they can be together, where there is no longer separation because of judgement and other barriers.

You might be one of the people who really had to run with a container and nothing else, hoping to find water on the way. Or you might be a person who luckily hasn’t had such an experience but still are aware of your need for life-giving water. That water is something that you find in Christ. May your Lent journey be truly life giving.