God’s cleansing water saves those who believe in Spirit and truth

Father John A. Kiley

One of the most authentic shrines in the Holy Land is the Samaritan well near Sechem where Jesus encountered the many-times-wedded woman who had come to draw water.

The well dates back to the time of Jacob. It was intended to be enshrined in the early 20th century by a splendid Russian Orthodox Church which, like the imperial family, was abruptly cut short by the 1917 revolution. Certainly, pilgrims who visit this site, and perhaps even Jesus himself as he sat there in the Palestinian sun, have had their thoughts turn to the important place water has occupied in the whole of Scripture. New parents who are presenting their infants for baptism in the present-day church are treated to a summary list of the many water incidents that occur throughout the Scriptures. They are indeed numerous.

Water was present, of course, at the moment of creation. The Spirit, the believer is told in Genesis, “hovered over the waters.” Out of these primeval waters issued the whole of creation. Water was abundantly available in the Garden of Eden. The reader is told that there were four rivers in Paradise – a stunning oasis by any estimation. When God repented of mankind, who had quickly fallen into sin, and determined to make a second attempt at creation, it was through a flood of water that He wiped out the erring generation and through Noah commenced a renewed universe.

Recall also that Moses was drawn out of the waters of the Nile to become the paramount prophet of the Old Testament, and that it was through the waters of the Red Sea that God led his people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Crossing the Jordan under the guidance of Joshua after being fed in the wilderness with the water from the rock, the Jews re-settled their ancestral homeland first awarded to Abraham.

After each of these water events, God brought into being a new community of his fashioning. Out of the waters of creation God drew the first family of man, the ill-fated Adam and Eve, who had to abandon the rivers of Paradise to repent of their sins.

Out of the flooding waters that destroyed a sinful mankind in pre-history days, Noah’s family, including his wife and sons and their wives, were rescued and commissioned to renew the face of the earth. From the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan, God’s new people, the Jewish nation, were molded into a community of worship and service.

And now it was Jesus’ turn to form a new people, the community of Christian believers, who would renew the face of the earth through the power to be unleashed through his death and resurrection. Through the sacrament of baptism that Jesus would institute, following the lead of the Scripture sagas already recounted and adapting the popular use of cleansing waters in the Judaism of his day, the Master would begin that race of “true worshipers” who “will worship the Father in Spirit and truth.”

Jesus knows that a renewed people is indeed the Father’s plan: “the Father seeks such people to worship him.” This new community would not be modeled after the natural families of Adam or Noah. Nor would this new family consist only of a chosen race. No, this new family of Christ would have a spiritual basis — a bond not based on family or nationality but based on the presence of the Holy Sprit in their heart.

“God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.”