The gospels of this year’s Lent tell of crucial encounters that people have with Jesus. Each of the gospels provides an answer to the question of how people can come to believe in Jesus. In the last week, the disciples had climbed the mountain of transfiguration with him and had been able to look deep into the mystery of Jesus‘ life in the transformation of Jesus. In an act of observation or contemplation, the essence of Christ was revealed to them.
Today the gospel tells of a situation that is probably much more familiar and accessible to us. It tells of a conversation at the end of which the Samaritan woman and many other people from her village came to believe in Jesus. A conversation that has such tremendous impact is worth investigating. So let me try to present the specificity and essence of this conversation.
Talking to others is part of everyday life. It is a basic need to communicate with others. If you don’t have anyone to talk to, you’re lonely. Perhaps it is more tragic when you have nothing more to say to each other. We are making a very precise distinction here: there is actually always something to talk about, whether this still tells me something, whether the speech contains something that interests, enriches, stimulates and occupies me is another question. We make a very precise distinction between a conversation, or small talk, and a conversation. A conversation is about things that concern me, that concern me, where I would like to hear the other person’s opinion and open myself to the other person’s speech, try to understand him and learn from his arguments and experiences.
Conversation is a place of finding the truth. Some philosophers like Jürgen Habermas or Otto Apel even go so far as to say that when the truth is at stake, for example in questions of ethics, I can find the truth in no other way than in a conversation with all those affected by this question. They call this the “ideal discourse”. The truth, according to her conviction, is not subjective, i.e. it can only be found in my conscience, but always only communicatively. There is something compelling about such an approach, despite all possible objections, for it correctly recognizes man, from observation, as a being with limited knowledge, horizon and experience. It is therefore a concern of these philosophers to bring together the limited horizons and to unite them into an overall view.
For us Christians, however, it is characteristic that we believe that there is someone in God who is not limited in his view, in his knowledge and his experience, but is already all-encompassing. That is why God is the truth itself and that is why Jesus can say exactly that about himself, because he is God as he encounters us in human form.
So what happens in the Gospel at Jacob’s well comes close to an „ideal discourse“, because in Jesus a human being with his limitations encounters the unlimited, the truth itself is important by the word „truth“, the encounter at Jakobsbrunnen is easy to understand. “Give me a drink”, Jesus begins the conversation with this sentence. „Share me with you, give me the truth of your life“. The woman reacts dismissively “How can you ask me for water when I am a Samaritan? How can you be interested in me when our ethnic groups are enemies with each other?“
Jesus replied, “If you knew who was asking you for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” “If you knew who I am, you would have asked him to get you out of the fullness of life and out of the fullness of truth“. „Where from…“, the woman asks, „…where does this truth come from that you want to give me? Is she above the authority of our father Jacob?” So far I have drawn from his well what seemed necessary to me to live. Jesus said, „Whoever drinks of it will be thirsty again, but whoever accepts water from me, for him this water will become a spring welling up within, bringing forth ever new riches and new strength. He is no longer dependent on any other well because he already carries the well within himself“. The woman understands: „Lord, give me some of this water, let me partake of the truth of God, so that I won’t be thirsty anymore.“
At this moment the moment of the “ideal discourse” has been reached. The woman at Jacob’s well is ready to open herself to Jesus, to accept him as the truth of her life. And Jesus, in turn, accepts the truth of this life. The woman gives him a drink, letting him see the fate of her life. It is by no means a comfortable truth. But it can be accepted and transformed right now. The fountain of living water begins to flow within her and she experiences the truth of God in her life and comes to faith. She is among those who will henceforth pray to God in spirit and truth. In the spirit that draws them into its presence and in the truth that sets them free.
Jesus‘ conversation with the woman created space for the spirit and allowed God’s presence to take effect. Finally, I would like to connect this conversation with our church life, because I think it has a permanent place there. I imagine the confession as such a conversation at Jakobsbrunnen. I myself get in touch with Jesus. „Give me a drink,“ he says. „Open up to me. tell me the truth of your life Let’s not make small talk together about trivial things, but tell me what moves and occupies you deep down. Because where your truth comes out, I will share God’s truth with you. You have the opportunity to experience them. And God’s truth means: acceptance, forgiveness and love.”
Confession means more than listing sins, it is an encounter in truthfulness, sincerity, it is a space of truth, the truth of my life and the truth of God that I encounter there. Let’s stick to Jesus‘ promise: „Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. Rather, the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain bubbling up, the waters of which give eternal life”. Anyone who experiences Jesus as an accepting and forgiving counterpart will return to him again and again. The faith that is at stake here arises from personal experience, from personal conversation, whether in confession, in contemplation, in prayer, in encounters with one’s neighbor. Faith means: encountering the truth, emerging from this encounter strengthened, uplifted and reconciled.