Many social scientists will tell you that much of our behavior is based upon our culture. If you were familiar with cultural systems around the world, you could easily tell from where a person came.
In the gospel for the third Sunday in Lent (John 4:5-42) we note a cultural breach— at a well in Shechem Jesus speaks publicly to a Samaritan woman, of dubious reputation, and asks her for water.
First of all, Jews and Samaritans did not get along, mostly for cultural and religious reasons. Secondly, the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman had a special theological focus.
And what was that theological theme? “Living water.” In the first part of the dialogue, Jesus asks the woman for water. This is the cultural no-no. The woman is puzzled because she is very aware of the presumed cultural norms.
Jesus’ response is to speak of his own importance, and if she knew of that importance, she would be asking him for living water. Water is considered to be “living” when it is in motion, such as in a moving stream. This in opposition to still water which one finds in a well.
What did Jesus mean by living water? Most likely it referred to Jesus’ revelation of his behavior and teaching to be passed on, such as justice, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding. The words of Isaiah put it bluntly, “…Every one who thirsts, come to the water…” (Isaiah 55:1) The thirst can come from any type of malfeasance.
Consequently, it is by doing that one can become thirsty, and then drink the living water. The above listed virtues are not merely emotions to be felt, but are supposed to be realities expressed to/with others in order to become living water.
For us, Baptism becomes the image of living water, thus binding us to continue the revelation of Jesus, namely by his example of living and teaching how to deal with others, such as by promoting justice, expressing compassion, granting forgiveness.
The living water of our Baptism may tend to be forgotten from time to time, and there is the likelihood that we may thirst because of sinfulness. What might be useful are some of the words of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Water water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.” I wonder why.