Text: John 4:5-15
We have plenty of water. It falls out of our sky, it runs along our rivers, it flows out of our taps. We take it for granted.
Things are different where Jesus came from. For much of the year, the sun blazes out of a cloudless sky, the river-beds are dry, and all the water you need for drinking, washing, cooking and cleaning has to be fetched up from the bottom of a well.
Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well. The site is well known today. It’s midday, and he is hot, tired, and thirsty. Someone else is there – a woman, a Samaritan, a lady with a dubious past. She has come to the well alone, suggesting that she is something of an outcast.
Jesus speaks to her: “Please can I have a drink of water?” Now the woman is surprised. The Jews tended to think of the Samaritans, and the utensils they used, as unclean. A Jewish man asking a Samaritan woman for a drink of water was not the done thing. It was like a Protestant family in Northern Ireland offering a Catholic family a lift to school.
But Jesus refuses to get drawn into that discussion, and he is not going to be put off: “If you realised what God could do for you, and who I am, you would be asking me for living water.”
She laughs, and says, “And where are you going to get that from? The well is deep, and you have no bucket. There is no better well than this one.”
Jesus says, “I’m not talking about water from a well. I’m offering you the water of life.” Jesus here refers here to himself, his teaching, his grace, his spirit, and to all the benefits which come into the soul that embraces his gospel. It is a striking image, and especially in Eastern countries, where there are vast deserts, and frequent droughts. The soul by nature is like such a desert, or like a traveller wandering through such a desert. It is thirsting for happiness, and seeking it everywhere, and finds it not. It looks in all directions and tries all objects, but in vain. Nothing meets its desires. Though a sinner seeks for joy in wealth and pleasures, yet he is not satisfied. He still thirsts for more, and seeks still for happiness in some new enjoyment. To such a weary and unsatisfied sinner the grace of Christ is as cold waters to a thirsty soul.
And he tells the woman four things about this water of life:-
It is free. “The water I give.” You don’t have to work for it; you can’t buy it; it’s a gift from Jesus.
It is satisfying. “No one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again.” There are so many things that promise much, but which can never really satisfy, but this can. Jesus contrasts temporary with eternal satisfaction, teaching us that all earthly pleasures, even if legitimate, are fading.
It is plentiful. “The water I give is like a flowing fountain.” – not just a trickle, but a spring of water welling up. Not a stagnant pond but a flowing stream. The deepest well, the widest river, the highest flood, may dry up, but the water that Jesus gives will never fail.
It lasts for ever. “The water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life.”
The Jews ‘often spoke of the thirst of the soul for God; and they often spoke of quenching that thirst with living water. Jesus was not using terms that were bound to be misunderstood; he was using terms that anyone with spiritual insight should have understood. In the Revelation that promise is: “To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life” (Rev 21:6). The Lamb is to lead them to springs of living waters (Rev 7:17). The promise was that the chosen people would draw water with joy from the wells of salvation (Isa 12:3). The Psalmist spoke of his soul being thirsty for the living God (Ps 42:1). God’s promise was: “I will pour water on the thirsty land” (Isa 44:3). The summons was that every one who was thirsty should come to the waters and freely drink (Isa 55:1). Jeremiah’s complaint was that the people had forsaken God who was the fountain of living waters and had hewed themselves out broken cisterns which could hold no water (Jer 2:13). Ezekiel had had his vision of the river of life (Eze 47:1-12). In the new world there would be a cleansing fountain opened (Zech 13:1). The waters would go forth from Jerusalem (Zech 14:8).’ (Daily Study Bible)
This water of life is a living relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
But there is a problem.
Perhaps the woman simply doesn’t understand. She’s still thinking about water that you drink from a cup or wash your hands with. “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming back to this well to draw water.” Like Nicodemas and other characters in this Gospel, the woman takes literally what is intended as figurative. This shows how apt we all are to misunderstand Jesus’ words and thus to distort his teaching. Do you feel like that? We hear the words of Jesus, offering us eternal life. And we respond by thinking, “I don’t really know what he’s talking about.” Ask, ‘Lord, give me understanding.’
Perhaps she doesn’t quite see the need. She’s probably still thinking, “I’ve got all the water I need here at this well. I don’t feel thirsty for anything more.” Do you feel like that? Ask, ‘Lord, show me my need.’
Perhaps she is a bit scared. She didn’t mind having a discussion about religion. But she wasn’t so happy about letting Jesus close to her personal thoughts and her very real needs. Do you feel like that? But he already knows all about her. He knows the best about us, and the worst, and still offers the gift of the water of life to all who will receive it. Ask, ‘Lord, help me to realise that you want to help me, not hurt me.’
Perhaps she just doesn’t believe that Jesus can do it. Not a big surprise, since she’s only just met him. “Are you greater than our father Jacob?” Do you feel like that? But Jesus can do all that he says he will do; he keeps all of his promises. And his promise to you is the same as he promised to her: “No one who drinks the water I give will ever be thirsty again. The water I give is like a flowing fountain that gives eternal life.”
I wonder if Jesus ever got his drink.
I wonder if she ever got hers.
I wonder if you have got yours.