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At Jacob's Well

by the Rev. Kenneth Turley
minister of the Swedenborgian Church in Fryeburg, ME
In the November 1996 Issue of Our Daily Bread

As we read through the Bible, it is amazing how many different ways the message of God is portrayed. Even in the teachings of Jesus you find Him saying such seemingly contradictory things as "turn the other cheek" and "I come not to being peace but a sword," and then "love your enemy" and "I come to set brother against brother and son against father." He says in one situation, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," implying that we should use money in the expected way and then in another He tells a successful young man, if you would be happy, "give all that you have to the poor and follow me." His teaching, depending on where you read, can fill a person with trust for an all-forgiving father or with fear of the impending judgment, but He spends most of His time preaching forgiveness to the worst of sinners. At times He carefully follows the law and at other times He flagrantly disregards it. He seems to have only love and mercy for the individual and nothing but scathing criticism for the masses. In one place He presents faith as the key to heavenly life, and in another love, and in another the life of charity. What are we to believe? What are we to listen to? What teaching are we to follow?

To make sense of this dilemma, I think we must begin by asking ourselves some questions. Ask yourself: "What do I need to hear?" "What kind of person am I, and what do I need to do to grow closer to God?" Ask yourself in the privacy of your own mind and in the open courtroom before God: "What am I guilty of?" "What are my strengths, and where am I weak?" When you have asked yourself these questions, and then given yourself some honest answers, then and only then are you in a position to find personal relevancy in the teachings of Christ.

It is not surprising, really, that the teachings of Jesus are what they are. In fact, it is quite appropriate that they are so varied and even contradictory. They are meant for all people, for all time. And it is an inescapable fact that people are not all the same. We have different strengths and weaknesses, and so we have different needs. Coming from different places as we do, we are called to move in different directions in relation to one another to get closer to the spiritual center which is God. If a person in Lovell and a person in Sebago are both trying to get to Fryeburg, you cannot give them the same directions; you tell one to go south and the other to go north. If you just read the directions, they sound entirely contradictory. Only when you consider where each is coming form and what they need to do to get where they are going, can you begin to make sense out of them. And so it is with the directions for spiritual growth we find in the Bible and specifically the teachings of Jesus.

In our Scriptures lesson for today we have the woman coming to the well of Jacob with her pitcher to get water while the disciples have gone to town to get food. Two different kinds of people trying to fulfill different needs. And Jesus has a response for each of them.

When reading the Bible and using Swedenborg's system of correspondences to apply it to our personal lives, we find that single women most often represent emotional aspects of the human being, the heart, if you will. And single men most often represent intellectual aspects, the things of the mind. And, as we heard in our reading earlier, water represents truth or understanding and food represents love or goodness. In this case, the woman was coming to Jacob's well for water and this can be seen as the willing heart coming to the Lord's Word (the Bible) for truth, while the disciples, on the other hand, were going to the town to buy food, which can be seen as the informed mind going to things of the natural world to find love. Both of these were trying to fulfill their need through their own efforts, the woman using her own jar and getting only a little bit at a time, and the disciples, with the limited amount of their own money, attempting to buy what they needed.

Now there is truth and good present in the natural things of this world. They are here offered by the hand of God and we are welcome to them. But it is hoped that we will look past these things that are so readily accessible, to the things of the spirit that, while being a little more elusive, offer such far superior rewards. If we settle for the little bit of water that we dip out of the well with our jar or the inferior food that can be purchased with the money we gain through our own efforts, well, then, we are basically "normal." But we are called to, and freely offered, something far better than what is normal. Today's passage tells us that if we seek to ease our thirst in the spring of living water that is the Lord's Living Word, and seek to satisfy our hunger, not in the usual ways of the world, but by doing the will of God, then we experience, and ultimately become, something very special: We are offered the everlasting joy of heaven, and in accepting that joy and taking it within us and letting it fill us up, then we become a joy to God's heart.

The woman, using only her limited devices, and after having placed her faith in many without finding fulfillment, came to the well with a heart willing to believe, and she was offered living water. And the disciples, knowing the truth of Jesus and yet still trying to buy love form the world with what was their own, were offered the goodness of God within the very act of living itself. One is told to go south; the others are told to go north. Both are told to turn their attentions to God and accept what is offered.

What is it that you are in need of? For what do you thirst? What is the nature of your hunger? and where are you coming from? If you know these questions and if you are willing to look beyond the answers found in your own mind, no matter how smart you are, and the answers found in the material things of the world, no matter how good they may appear, then the spiritual fulfillment of heaven is yours for the having. For the living water that will quench that inner longing is the spirit of God welling up within. And the spiritual food that fills the need for true and deep love is not found in the appearances of happiness offered by the world, nor is it found in just knowing what is right and good. It is found in living, deep within our spirit day in and day out, the will and the way of God.

Hear the words of Jesus: "The hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipers will worship God in spirit and in truth...God is spirit and those who worship God must worship in spirit and in truth." May it be so now and forever. Amen.


A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to Him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do  not share things in common 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 no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?"

...Just then His disciples came. They were astonished that He was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to Him.

Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Him, "Rabbi, eat something." But He said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought Him something to eat?"" Jesus said to them, "My good is to do the will of Him who sent me and to complete His work."

John 4:7-12, 27-34

Reading from Swedenborg:

The merely natural person...thinks, "What is it to me whether truths are delightful or not? If they are undelightful let them be rejected." But the spiritual person has very different sentiments. It is the delight of the spiritual person's life to be instructed in truths, and to be enlightened in such things as belong to the soul, thus to one's spiritual side; and therefore, when these fail, one's spiritual life labors and suffers, and grief and anxiety ensue. The reason is that the affection of good is continually flowing in through the internal person from the Lord, and calling forth the accordant things in the affection of truth; and when these things are assaulted by the evils of the love of self and of the world, which the person had also previously perceived as delightful, there arises a conflict of delights or of affections, from which springs anxiety, and from this grief and complaint... The nourishment of the spiritual life is good and truth, as the nourishment of the natural life is food and drink. If good fails, it is as if food fails; and if truth fails, it is as if drink fails. The consequent grief is like the grief from hunger and thirst. This comparison is from correspondence, for food corresponds to good, and drink to truth...

Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets)  #8352


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Music: Forever and a Day
1999 Bruce DeBoer


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