Perhaps it is difficult for us Willamette Valley dwellers, who have abundant running water in our faucets, to appreciate the impact of what Jesus tells the woman at the well of Samaria about living water, recorded in John 4:1-26. Living water came from a flowing stream or a spring-fed well, rather than from a stagnant pond or cistern. Jesus, of course, was speaking, not about literal water, but about the life that comes as one trusts in him. Water, refreshing, running water, was used many times in the Old Testament to describe fellowship with God and the salvation he describes (see Isaiah 12 and Ezekiel 47). A century and half ago the French commentator, Godet, wrote: “Living water is. . . eternal life, salvation, the full satisfaction of all the wants of the heart and the possession of all the holy energies of which the soul is susceptible. This state of soundness of the soul can only be the result of the dwelling of Jesus Himself in the heart, by means of His word made inwardly living by the Holy Spirit.” To drink of the living water means to come to, to trust in, Jesus.
In a politically incorrect way Jesus breaks a number of barriers as he holds a conversation with this woman. First, he “had to” go through Samaria as he traveled. 2 Kings 17 describes the way in which the Assyrians, after carrying the people of the northern kingdom of Israel into exile, resettled the area with various pagan people. The worship of the Lord in Samaria was compromised and mixed with idolatry. Jews despised Samaritans. It “was necessary” for him to take that route, not because of time or distance, but because here he would continue to reveal himself as the Savior of the world.
You appreciate the true humanity of Jesus as John pictures the God-man tired, resting at the well of Sychar, while Jesus disciples go to buy food. Again Jesus breaks a barrier (or two) as he, a Jewish man, asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. Unusually, she comes to the well alone and in the middle of the day. When she expresses surprise at his question he responds with a curiosity arousing mention of living water. Just as Nicodemus had misunderstood the comment of Jesus about the need to be born again, so the woman takes the mention of water as literal.
Jesus piques her interest as he assures her that whoever drinks the water he offers her will never thirst. Naturally, she requests, “Give me that water.” It becomes clear that Jesus knows the sad history of this woman. He knows that she has a thirst she has been trying to quench in all the wrong ways. Yet, without fearing what others might think, Jesus continues the conversation. His instruction for her to go and call her husband makes clear that his interest in her is for her salvation. Although others might despise her and call her names behind her back, he is willing to speak with her. In a gentle but firm way he lets her know that her lifestyle is wrong.
Although she parries with a question about worship, which Jesus takes time to answer, he draws her to recognize that he is indeed the Messiah. Significantly, this is the only place in this Gospel before his trial, in which Jesus uses the term “Messiah” in reference to himself.
This encounter with the Samaritan woman is another of the studies in faith, introduced back in John 2:23-25. Jesus is showing the breadth of the world which he came to redeem. Even this Samaritan woman with a very speckled past is offered the living water.
You cannot drink of the living water Jesus offers without being changed. Living water springs up within you, v. 14, bringing not only eternal life, but a different perspective on all of life today. As the woman comes to faith she runs back to the town and brings the people out to Jesus. Jesus summons his disciples (then and now) to pray for harvesters and to engage in that work themselves.
If you have drunk of the living water Jesus offers, how is your life being changed? In what ways does it need to continue to be changed? Where do you need to stretch? Are there barriers that you need to cross with the good news of the abundant life that Jesus offers?
[In preparation for a message on John 4:1-26, March 11, 2012]