Sermon 18: Holy Thursday, April 1st, 2021
Text: John 4.1-30 (cf. Matthew 11.28-30)
“I am He” by David King
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, giver and sustainer of our life together – open our eyes to the water that flows from the side of your son, pierced in death yet yielding life. Let us taste of his body, the bread of compassion; open our eyes to his living heart, that with your son on easter morning all creation may rise. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: AMEN.
In the thought of the ancient Church, John’s Gospel had a place of preeminence in terms of how they thought about the person of Jesus Christ. John, the Church Fathers argued, had what is called a “high christology.” A high Christology meant that they understood the relationship between Jesus and God to be very close, indeed, to be indivisible. Jesus, according to John, simple is God, the second person of the Trinity. In the prologue to John’s Gospel, what we commonly refer to as John 1, the Evangelist tells us that the Word of God, the one he will identify as Jesus Christ, was with God in the beginning, is of God, and indeed is God. As the ecumenical councils of the first centuries of the Church’s history affirmed – against all other interpretations – is that this Word was the one who made possible all of creation. As John is sure to remind us, this is the One “through whom all things were made, and without whom nothing came into being” (John 1.3). A portrait emerges of a Christ who carries in him the fullness of God; a portrait, that is, that is quite divine.
John knows the truth about Jesus, however, and in our scripture today confronts us with the other end of the story. It is the 6th hour, John says, and Jesus is weary. Quite simply, John tells us, “Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, therefore, being weary with his journey, sat at the well” (v.6). We are confronted, that is, with the humanity of God. John tells us that Jesus is weary from his journey, not that we would pity him, but that we would notice that it is truly God who walks in our shoes, whose feet are tired, whose very body needs rest. John confronts us with the depths of the human experience of Jesus Christ – an experience taken up and made God’s own. That which is inexhaustible, that wellspring of Living Water: his feet are weary.
Not only this, but Jesus thirsts. Like us, he is thirsty. He is human, with needs and basic desires. And as he sits at the side of Jacob’s well, with not even a bucket to pull water to quench his thirst, a woman from Samaria comes. He asks her, in the most human of fashions, “water, please – I am thirsty, and I have no bucket to draw with.”
The Samaritan woman, surprised to be addressed by one who appears a faithful Jew, asks of Jesus: “how is it that you, being a Jew, would ask me for water?” To which Jesus replies: “if only you knew the gift of God, and who it is that asks you for a drink of water, you would have asked for the living water, and I would have given it to you.” If you simply knew me, Jesus says, you would have life, and life abundant.
Several verses later, Jesus says to her, “You worship what you do not know,” Jesus says to the woman. “You worship,” that is, what you cannot know. Jesus does not mean that the woman is unaware of what she does or where she worships or what she believes. Jesus does not call into question her practices or critique her on the merits of her faith. Jesus does not judge her – as he has already said, she had five husbands, and yet he does not reject her but instead calls to her: “Woman, believe me!”
Jesus says, and listen carefully here for the grammar: “You worship what you do not know.” “You worship what” – Jesus indicates an object. The term ‘what’ tells us that the object of the woman’s worship is a what, a thing, an unknowable, untouchable thing; an impersonal, far-off, unintelligible, impassible, unknowable thing. He continues: “You worship what you do not know.” Jesus emphasises to her that the lord she has sought before is no lord, but an distant, silent, unknowable thing, a thing that cannot be known and therefore cannot be loved, a thing that stands in silent apathy towards the condition of the world. In words of love Christ confronts her with no argument or judgment, but with himself. Jesus, the man who is weary and thirsty, the man who sits to rest his feet, offers to her, without condition or exception, himself.
But the woman, hearing his words, says to him: “I know the Messiah is coming, the one who is called Christ, and when he comes he will tell us all things.” Far off, still, is the messiah she seeks.
But then – and we really must listen here – then we hear the Saviour say those three words: “I am he.” Look at what Jesus does: he turns the logic around. He turns from “you worship what you do not know” to “I am he.” In short, he turns towards her, in the flesh, in bone and in blood, and implores her, “see, you know me! I am not far off! I am here in this body, here standing with you, here speaking to you. You no longer need to worship what you do not know; turn to me, and know that I am he. “I am he,” Jesus says. “I am he,” the one you seek. “I am he,” the one who first sought you. “I am he,” the one who seeks you now. No longer are you alone, searching out in the darkness for that which does not call you. No! Here I am, here, and nowhere else. Here I stand, knowable, offering myself for your sake – the Father revealed to your very eyes, in your very flesh.
“I, the one speaking to you, am he,” Jesus says. “I am he,” who speaks to you in the flesh, who spoke you being, who called you out of nothingness, out of death, out of death-in-life. “I, the one speaking to you,” I and no other! The one who is truly deserving of praise, the one who is truly worthy of worship, the one who shows you the Father – “I am he!” Jesus says.
“I, the one speaking to you,” tell you to look no further, to look at that which you can see, that which you can touch, that which you can believe. “I am he” – the one who was and is and is to come, who out of sheer, gracious, utterly self-giving love gave up all that was of God in order to become human for your sake. What Jesus says to the woman at the well, to the woman who he as a faithful Jew has no reason to speak to, to the woman who is shunned by the faithful and living in diaspora – what Jesus says to this one woman, to this particular woman, Jesus says to you, here and now. This woman, whom every citizen of Rome and Judaea would pass by, to this woman who we can only assume was presumed to be far off from God – to this woman Jesus Christ speaks those words: “I, the one speaking to you, am he, the one of whom you speak – the Messiah.”
Christ speaks to the one cut off from him. Christ speaks to the one cut off from others. Christ speaks to this woman, and in her speaks to all who are oppressed, all who are harmed, all who are subject to violence, all whose voices have been robbed by those who presume to speak on their behalf, all whose lives have become statistics and whose hearts have been stopped by the violence of others. To them, a great “yes” issues forth from his mouth, addressed to them all in the Samaritan woman, a great “yes” that contradicts and defeats the “no” dictated to them by the world.
Christ, the impoverished, human God; Christ, a poor man whom John calls “God,” speaks to this woman, this impoverished, abandoned, marginalised woman. And in his speaking to the cast off, in the voice of the poor, we hear his voice addressing also those who stand in power, those who stand in privilege, those who stand in might and in strength, those who hold the levers of power and wealth, those who oppress and harm, those who choose violence and coercion. We – and I count myself among those – hear his voice too, calling out to us to shed our ways and follow him. We hear his voice, calling out to us, “I am he – the one who is your redeemer, who calls you out of The Valley of death now.” We hear him say, “drink not from the wells of this world, but from me. Drink not from the well of power that will only pull you down into death.” In offering himself as Living Water on our behalf, Christ speaks to us who would look away, to us who would crucify him yet again. And he says to us, “I am he – look upon me; worship God in spirit and in truth.”
Indeed, Christ calls to us – to all of us – to turn towards the cross and to see the water of the Living God flow from the pierced side of His crucified Son. This Living Water, Jesus’ very self, gushes from inside him with his blood, entangled to show us that the life he offers us so freely costs his own so dearly. His life, the life of the Living God, that eternal wellspring of grace that sustains us and carries us in every moment, is the life given to us and for us on the cross. As Jesus sits, weary from his travels, he tells this woman that even in his death, life will flow from him; indeed, that by his death we are given life. Therefore, John the Evangelist implores us, we cannot look elsewhere but to his body, weary and tired at the well, broken and crucified on the cross. The table set before us now, this table of the Lord’s Supper, tells us that we cannot look elsewhere but to Jesus Christ and him crucified to see, to taste, to feel our sustenance and our nourishment, our true life and our true satisfaction.
“Behold!” Jesus says to her and to us – behold the lamb of God! The Son of the Father, the Word made flesh, the Son of God and Son of Man, the one who was in the beginning and who in the end will deliver to the Father everything under his reign. Behold – the one who makes the Father known, the one who reveals the character of God, the one who for our sake dies on the cross – not for any arbitrary purpose, but such that the love of God would be revealed for what it is. Behold, the one who takes away the sins of the world in his very body. Behold, he who dies our death so that we might be free to live in his life.
In our ears, here and now and at this table to which we will now come, Jesus still whispers: “I am he.”
I offer to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
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