John 4:1-26

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Charlie, Would Be Saint

Charlie and Lois came to our mission congregation early on from a small Episcopal church. He was a cradle Catholic and she a cradle Baptist, so they had settled into an Episcopal church early in marriage. They were very involved in Cursillo, the original version of what Lutherans call Via de Cristo. Susie, our organist, had been a lifelong Episcopalian but ended up playing for the Lutherans. Charlie and Lois eventually came to visit at Susie’s invitation, and they decided to stay and become Lutherans, too.

You would never meet a sweeter couple. They usually had a smile on their faces. They were gentle and kind people. When a council member was complaining loudly about a child that always cried during worship, Lois said quietly, “It’s been my experience that they grow out of that.” Everyone else on council, including the pastor, nodded. That was all that needed to be said.

Charlie and Lois were in worship and Sunday School fifty Sundays out of the year. In a small congregation, everyone knows who is missing, and a flurry of phone calls usually follows, “Are you sick? Are you OK?” When Charlie and Lois came back to worship, they were greeted enthusiastically. Charlie seemed a little off, and Lois appeared to be very sad. One cycle of that, and I sensed something was amiss. But I said nothing.

One night, Lois called very late. She said, “I’m worried sick about Charlie. I haven’t heard from him in a couple of days. That’s not like him. I guess you’ve figured out that he has a problem.” I asked, “What kind of problem?” She said, “Charlie is the best husband a woman could want fifty weeks out of the year. But every year, he goes on a drinking binge for two weeks. He always checks in with me, and then it’s over. He is mortified and apologetic that he has put me through this misery, and then he doesn’t touch a drop for fifty weeks. But I’m terrified because Charlie hasn’t checked in with me in two days. That’s not like him. There’s something awfully wrong.”

We talked and prayed a while, then we said goodbye. Not many hours later, Lois called to say: “The police found Charlie dead in his car. He had been parked behind a liquor store down in the industrial district. It was hot, so they say he doesn’t look good. My worst fears have come true.”

That’s how I learned that binge drinkers usually die before upstanding drunks, falling down drunks, and weekend drunks. Despite more than a little familiarity with alcoholism, I had to admit that Charlie was the first binge drinker I had known well. He wanted to be a saint so badly, but his demons always got the worst of him once a year. They never had any children, Being Charlie and Lois’ pastor that terrible day was among my harder days in pastoral ministry. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Thank you, Father, for Charlie and all those would be saints who inexplicably seem to have to die to get better. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put eleven pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box today to help to buy farm animals to help the global poor to make a sustainable living.

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS

St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church

Wilmington, North Carolina

The Daily Readings are from English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers