Someone stopped me on the street after church yesterday, and explained his reaction to the Gospel lesson: Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the Well. He heard it as a story about a woman who met Jesus, they talked, they talked about her husbands, he talked about living water, and then she went off and told everyone about it. He wanted to know “what the big deal is?” I’m always grateful for his responses to the lessons, because he’s a concrete thinker. His questions help me remember the density of certain scripture lessons which deal mostly in metaphor. Living water is a multivalent image: there’s no one equasion that works.
A few years ago, at one of our Bishop’s Convocations, Bishop Payne gave us a breakdown of a typical congregation’s pattern of thinkers. Only about 12% are comfortable with metaphor. And most pastors are in that 12%, so it’s a challenge for me to remember to bring straightforward concrete thinking into sermons, when I want to riff on a metaphor. Most of the people listening to preaching are straightforward, concrete thinkers, what Myers Briggs would call “sensing, judging.” But maybe riffing on a metaphor can be something like offering different concrete interpretations, a foothold for the mind.
When Jesus is talking about living water, he’s talking about forgiveness, endless chances to start over again when we’ve messed up.
When Jesus is talking about living water, he’s talking about spiritual refreshment, the way a glass of water refreshes your body. He’s talking about a kind of thirst that only he can quench.
When he’s talking about living water, he’s talking about himself, the way you feel alive in the presence of someone who loves you.
When he’s talking about living water, he’s talking about rebirth, new life, renewal. Though that may be too abstract, too.
When he’s talking about living water, he’s talking about the “aliveness” of Christian life. Think about water, what it does: it cleanses, it moves, it’s clear, it’s fundamental to our existence, it refreshes body and mind, it’s pervasive in the environment, even the air we breathe has water in it–moisture, it runs, waters flow towards other waters, it’s powerful, it moves and breaks down obstacles, even flowing through rocks.
John’s the Gospel of Signs, and the gospel of metaphor. The next few weeks will be a challenge, to somehow open the language up, so that the Gospel, the “big deal” really does get unleashed.