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Jesus' Living Water Does No Good if We Won't Drink It

We’ve all heard the warning against going to the same well once too often, but this week’s traditional readings remind us of what we miss if we refuse even to consider a well that is just waiting to be tapped.

In Exodus, the Hebrews were just short of open revolt against Moses and the Lord, complaining about their thirst, until Moses struck the rock at Horeb to produce the flowing water they needed but had not trusted Moses actually to provide. In the Gospel, Jesus eschewed the Hebrews’ strong anti-Samaritan tradition (and their customs in Jesus’ time against men conversing with unaccompanied women in public) in order to draw from Jacob’s well.

Such acts of faith are all too rare. All too often we see (figuratively speaking) the Lord waiting patiently to provide but never being asked to do so, never being turned to with full faith, but instead ignored or deliberately excluded as a potential source of aid.

So many people, being uncomprehending of the sometimes subtle nature of God’s relief, believe either that no relief is possible or that relief will come only accompanied by harsh judgment. Desiring none of the latter (and not understanding that even in God’s judgment comes God’s mercy), the sufferer turns away entirely and thus remains in distress, his thirst or other need unrequited, the available solace unredeemed.

Often this happens despite the powerful witness of tens, hundreds, thousands, even millions of the faithful, all carrying the message of how faith can relieve suffering and quench a thirst.

One example of such witness comes from conservative journalist Fred Barnes. Dozens and dozens of times I have described Barnes to other people as “the nicest man in political Washington.” But by Barnes’ own telling, until he was 37 he was “very mean” and had “a pessimistic view of the world and…of other people.” See discussion starting at the 4:40 mark here:

Barnes has told this story many times in many settings – the story about being a hard-bitten, somewhat hard-drinking journalist until he and his wife were moved to fall on their knees in the late autumn of 1980 and suddenly let God into their lives.

He said he always had seen the example of God in other lives, including those of his family, but had somehow refused to drink from that well – until that day in 1980. And he has been a different man ever since. It’s not just that he is famously kind and thoughtful, but also hopeful, always seeing possibilities where others see pitfalls – or, put another way, seeing the chance of pure, fresh water where others see only hard, barren rock. One cannot be around Fred Barnes without feeling more hope about… well, about the world in general.