Sunday, March 15, 2020

Living Waters in the Midst of Quarantine and Isolation: Reflections on John 4 and COVID-19

I’ll never forget watching a family with a little girl pull up water from Jacob’s Well in Nablus, a small town in Samaria. The joy on their face was priceless as they wound up the bucket and dipped their hands into the ancient waters to take a drink. They were entering into the story together.  Our group of pilgrims did the same. Unlike other places where we sat quietly, sometimes alone to pray, here we entertained the playful spirit as we encouraged each other to draw from the same source of hydration for both Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4). I even filled up a water bottle, stuffed in my backpack, and brought home so my family could drink from Jacob’s Well just the same.  

There are so many layers to Jesus’ encounter with this woman in John 4. Each holds relevance for us still, especially in a time of COVID-19 (Coronavirus). We could talk about how Jesus calls out the division of Jews and Samaritans not sharing things in common (4:9) and our call to find common ground in our shared humanity in the midst of a pandemic. We could talk about the debate over right places of worship ripe between Samaritans and Jews. Yes, the Coronavirus is causing many to surrender false idols of place, reject cynicism, and embrace digital gathering spaces as a way to celebrate our common faith and hope in the midst of so much uncertainty.  We could even wonder if, given our use of these platforms, more people will lean into digital worship and faith formation opportunities who otherwise would never set foot in the sanctuary or walls of the church- are the “fields ripe for the harvest?” (4:35). This may be a redemptive moment in the midst of the chaotic and tragic global virus.

But I wonder if a stronger word from John 4 today is found in the community longed for by both the woman and the Messiah, who is “tired out by his journey [and] sitting by the well” (4:6). Are they both longing for community and connection in the midst of so many reasons to be isolated? So they engage in an unconventional conversation in this unlikely place about living waters able to quench a thirst they both know all-too-much about. Here they find uncommon community in one another. 

For those of us in the United States, we are just at the beginning (a little behind even) of this COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our daily lives. There are so many ways we may be called to embody the gospel, to include practicing social distancing as we care for our neighbors as ourselves. And faithful people are rising up with creativity and generosity amidst the challenges, for sure. In the midst of it all, we are being dared to ask the question, what do offerings of living water look like in the midst of isolation, quarantines, and calls to keep a three to six foot distance from others?  How might our collective and virtual extensions of love, community, and concern for the most vulnerable among us be exercised as wellsprings of life in this fragile season of temporal fracturing of human connection in the flesh? These, and many others, are questions being raised and I am so deeply encouraged by how the human family is rising up in such a time as this with playful extensions of what it means to be connectional. They are carrying the story of John 4 forward, a story that begins with a woman coming to the well isolated and alone only to descend as an agent of good news, whose testimony formed a new kind of faith community she just maybe craved for so long. 

May it be so for us just the same. 

And for you who feel deeply isolated in these times, may you find solidarity- even community- in Jesus who knew what it was like to be tired from on journeys that can feel so very alone. Even more, may you find the living waters you are looking for able to sustain you for the dry days ahead.