Water was the focal point of a discussion that Jesus had with a woman at a well in John 4:1-30. John tells us that Jesus had left Judea and was returning to Galilee (v. 3). For devout Jews this trip would have involved avoiding the central section of Israel because that was the region known as Samaria. Jews and Samaritans had an antagonistic and adversarial history. In fact John points out that they generally had nothing to do with each other (v. 9). Jesus is not concerned with ethnic barriers. He travels directly through the “enemy territory” (vv. 4-5) making a point to stop at a revered watering spot, Jacob’s well, a detail we often gloss over (v. 6). The second action of note is that Jesus not only travels through Samaria, he engages in conversation with a Samaritan, and an unmarried woman at that (v. 17)! The “icing on the unusual cake” is that she also has a tainted reputation. Instead of avoiding her, Jesus places Himself in the middle of her day. She has come for water at a time when most people avoid the sun (v. 6). Jesus asks for a drink (v. 7) in order to introduce her to the Son of God. She is shocked by His request (v.9) as are the disciples when they return from searching for food and see Him engaged in conversation with her (v. 27). The ensuing conversation shows Jesus’ artistry in using everyday needs to get to the heart of spiritual needs. The woman takes His statement about water literally (v.11). Jesus makes it so much more (vv. 10, 13-15, 21-26).
Many times we approach these poetic words as something which is highly figurative. But Jesus was a much more practical teacher than that. In that day there was a basic distinction between “living water” and that which was not. Living water was running water. It was water that flowed, such as in a stream or brook in contrast to the stagnant water of a cistern or pool. The water of Jacob’s well percolated from the subsoil. It did not come from a spring. It may have appeared to be “living water” but Jesus pointed out that even so the water of the well could only quench one’s thirst momentarily (v. 13). Jesus had a better offer (v.14). I’m sure the woman was thinking, “Better than this? I’m not so sure about that!” It was more than likely that she wondered where Jesus had found flowing water. But she asks Jesus to tell her more. The dialogue quickly turns to her spiritual needs over and above the physical ones. In essence Jesus says to her, “You have tried to quench your thirst with tradition and men, but those things will never satisfy your soul and they won’t save you. Only I can offer you water that will do that.” In a few short sentences the woman not only recognizes the truth of what Jesus is saying, she is ready to go tell others about what she has discovered (vv. 28-30). The conversation may have begun around the simple need for a drink of water after a long journey, but it quickly dove into the need for a deeper more significant water to sustain life.
I may keep a jug or two of water on the shelf to help sustain life when the power goes out, but that water will never sustain my spiritual needs. The narrative then begs the question, am I seeking a source other than Jesus to satisfy that need like the Samaritan woman? Sadly I think I often do look to other things to quench my thirst. I get caught up in thinking that a particular person, or a particular past time will fill the need of what my soul longs for. And when I’m sapped and drained because those things failed, I meet Jesus at the well and He reminds me that I am in great need of His water, not the water of earthly things. It is fundamentally true that the human heart thirsts for something only Jesus can satisfy (Is. 42:1; Jn. 7:37-38) and God is the only One who truly provides “living water” (Ps. 36:7-9; Is. 12:2-3; 35:5-7; 44: 1-4; 55:1; Jer. 2:5, 13; 17:3; Rev. 7: 15-17; 21:6). So I must ask myself, why would I draw from anywhere else?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre