In the old testament reading for today we hear of the task, given to his servant by Abraham, to find a wife for Isaac. Abraham was concerned that Isaac should have a wife from his own tribe, and not from among the locals of the land in which he was now living. As with many important meetings in the bible the story centres on a well. The servant, after prayer, had looked for a woman who would offer a drink, and then go the extra mile and water the camels as well. Rebekah obliged and after customary negotiation with her family, including her brother Laban, was duly taken home to meet Isaac, and the rest as they say is history. We meet Rebekah's brother later when her son Jacob returns the favour and waters the flock of his daughter Rachel. A well is also the meeting place for Moses and Zipporah. A place of refreshment, at a break in a long journey or a rest with reviving waters for the parched flocks of that arid, hot country.
In each of these cases a relationship formed and blossomed after an act of kindness when someone in need of refreshment was helped. The well provided the means of refreshment, but it took interaction between people to make proper use of it. It became a focal point for mutual support, for Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel and Moses and Zipporah, the basis of a marriage relationship.
The relationship between God and the Church has been presented as a marriage. Jesus told a parable of the wise and foolish virgins waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom, and another, perhaps more frightening, about a wedding banquet. (Matt. 22.2-14). Isaiah talks of the relationship between God and his people: 'as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.' (62.5b), and this symbolism is carried on in the book of Revelation where the church becomes the bride of the lamb, dressed in white robes representing the 'righteous acts of the saints'. The psalm appointed for today, a wedding song for King David, is referred to in the letter to the Hebrews (1.8-9) as a poem about God's marriage to humanity.
Another meeting at a well is told about in John's Gospel. At a place called 'Jacob's Well’ Jesus has an encounter with a Samaritan woman. He asks her for a drink. 'You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' she replied. (John 4.9) Jesus goes on to talk about the water of life. 'Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' Strangely in this meeting at a well, the idea of marriage is not far away. The Samaritan woman had had no less than five husbands and was in a relationship with another man. As a result of this meeting it is reported that many Samaritans came to recognise Jesus as the Saviour of the world.
We are now approaching the end of what was called the Decade of Evangelism. In this decade it was hoped that many people would be drawn into that 'marriage' relationship with God through the outreach of the church. In many places there is a reported revival, with churches being 'planted' in areas where previously they had not been. In the case of Isaac and Rebekah, Abraham had sent his servants to find a bride for his son. In our decade of Evangelism and indeed all the time, we are called by God to bring more people into a relationship with his Son. It is not an easy task. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus despairs of the generation. 'They are like children sitting in the market places and calling out to others: "We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn."' He was talking about the strict and sober message taught by John, which, although many responded to it, the Pharisees had rejected and also his own message, which the Pharisees had also rejected on the grounds that Jesus mixed with tax collectors and "sinners". They rejected the Dance of Jesus and the Dirge of John. It seemed there was no pleasing them, they refused to listen.
In the same reading we hear one of the most famous promises of the Gospel. 'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.' Jesus offers refreshment and rest from the daily battle against sin, guilt and evil. In Paul's letter to the Romans he talks about how hard it is to do always what you believe to be right, how even with the best of intentions there will always be times when we do things we know to be wrong, and fail to do what we know to be right. We find that as time goes by our conscience becomes uneasy and guilt builds up creating a burden that can be very hard to carry. We then either become disillusioned and feel bad, or push our failings out of sight into our unconscious mind, which can have equally devastating effects.
Paul's conclusion is to thank God for Jesus, because in accepting Christ we can lay our burdens on him, knowing that we can be refreshed and able to start again. Accepting God's forgiveness, through Christ, is our refreshment. Our relationship with Jesus gives us access to His living water, and we are called to invite others to explore this relationship. We should not be discouraged if our message falls on deaf ears, it was ever so, but we must follow our calling, through acts of kindness like those shown at the well by Rebekah to Abraham's servant, by Moses to the daughters of Jethro, by Jacob to Rachel and her flocks. Through these acts of kindness, a listening ear, a helping hand, an encouraging presence, we can build relationships that will encourage people to find for themselves the refreshment of spirit that comes with a strengthened faith in God, and the power of his forgiveness.
A meeting at the well came before Isaacs’s marriage to Rebekah, and the birth of Jacob and Esau. A meeting at the well led eventually to the marriage of Jacob and Rachel, and the birth of the twelve tribes of Israel. A meeting at the well led to the conversion of many Samaritans and their recognition of the Son of God. When we meet at church we meet to draw from the well of Christ's water of life. By meeting together at the well, by developing our relationship with God as his Church, his bride, we learn to share the water with all those we come into contact with and draw more into a relationship which will bring closer the reality of His Kingdom on earth.