Living Water

Living Water

Pastor Katie Ding

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. John 4:1-30

The incredible image of living water that Jesus provides to the Samaritan woman is easy for us to miss in the world of clean running water that comes directly to our homes. But at the time, knowing where to find the cleanest, purest water for drinking, personal hygiene, and cooking was essential. We can’t live without water. John’s first readers would have immediately recognized the concept of living water as water that is moving, fresh, clean, and pure. Typically, this was water that was in streams, springs, or rivers, not the water the woman was coming to draw from the well, which is why she was so interested in talking with Jesus about the source of this water. 

At the top of this post, you can see two images.

The first, on the left,  is a photo of a river in Iceland. Iceland has the cleanest, purest water in the world. This particular river originates from a glacier and is bottled and shipped around the world. You may have seen Icelandic water in the grocery store. 

The second, on the right, is a photo taken of a well being drilled in a dry and dusty village in Zambia. This is a sight I imagine that not many of us have seen, but when the water is released from the earth, it literally shoots into the air, bringing the possibility of health and flourishing life. An eye-witness described the scene this way: “The earth shook. Rocks split…Out of the earth, dust became rock, rock became mud, minutes became hours, and then. And then there was water. Clean, pure, healthy, beautiful, clear, delicious water spraying up from the ground, showering the villagers with a gift of life, a wellspring of health and nourishment.” This is how Jesus describes the nourishing living water he offers to the Samaritan woman: “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And this is what happened to the Samaritan woman when she received the living water Jesus offered; her life became a spring of water gushing out of her to bring hope and life and nourishment to her entire community. 

What is the living water that Jesus is offering? The image of living water is used throughout Scripture to refer to wisdom, forgiveness, God’s presence, the Holy Spirit, renewal—basically a life that is nourished by God. When we have this living water from Jesus, we have the very presence and power of God living within us, enabling and empowering us to live a “fresh life” that produces the kind of fruit that produces the kind of fruit that we see in Galatians chapter 5. A life full of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—not a life free from pain or suffering, but a life full of joy and peace in the midst of pain and suffering. A life where we have the very presence of Jesus with us all the time. Without this water of life flowing through us—the wisdom of God, the forgiveness of God, God’s very life and Spirit–our lives are so much less than we were created for. We are left unsatisfied, always chasing after happiness, belonging, acceptance from things that can never satisfy. The only thing that will ever completely quench our thirst is the love, grace, and acceptance of our Creator, who created us to be in eternal relationship with himself. 

We need to ask, just like the Samaritan woman, “Where can you get this living water?” How do we find this kind of life that satisfies and nourishes our souls so completely? This passage offers three important clues:

Jesus initiates. 

John tells us that Jesus “had” to go through Samaria as he is on his way from Judea to Galilee, which is an interesting word choice. Because there were other routes that were more frequently used to get from Judea to Galilee. While the path through Samaria was probably the fastest, most direct route, Jewish travelers rarely went that way unless they were in a hurry, in order to avoid passing through Samaria. To say that the Jewish people and the Samaritans didn’t like each other would be a gross understatement. There was incredible ethnic, religious, social, and political hostility between the two groups that went back generations. Religiously upright Jewish people strictly avoided even potential contact with Samaritans because they believed they would be tainted and made “unclean” by the very presence of someone from Samaria. 

Jesus doesn’t seem to have this same fear. He also doesn’t seem to be in any particular hurry, since later in the chapter he agrees to remain in Samaria for an additional two days. But he chooses to go through Samaria for another reason—Jesus is on a mission to find people to worship God in Spirit and in truth, and he comes to Samaria to find this particular woman who he recognized as a potential worshiper. 

Jesus took the initiative in finding the Samaritan woman in order to offer her the gift of Living Water, just as he took the initiative in offering this gift of life to all people when God became human, living among us. Jesus came looking for each of us at great personal cost. Jesus is looking for you and me, because he knows we were created to worship him and only he can satisfy our deepest longings.

We can’t earn it—it is a gift from God. 

The second important lesson we learn from this passage about how to get this living water is that it is a pure gift. The Samaritan woman had done nothing to deserve this gift that Jesus was offering her. In fact, she was the last person a respectable Jewish Rabbi would be expected to interact with. First of all, she is a Samaritan. We’ve already talked about why this was a problem. Second, she is a woman. Cultural and societal rules were clear that men must avoid all unnecessary conversations with women. In fact, if a woman spoke with a man other than her own husband in public, she could be legally divorced by her husband. It was simply not socially acceptable for Jesus to be having this conversation alone with this woman. Third, she is also a social outcast in her own community. Women were responsible for bringing water from a well or local springs back to their homes to be used for washing, drinking, and cooking each day. This became a time for women to build relationships, to socialize, and to form important bonds. Typically, women went together to gather water early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid the heat of midday. 

However, this woman comes by herself at noon. It’s not hard to imagine what would drive her to this solitary endeavor at a most inconvenient time. Have any of you experienced bullying, criticism, judgment, condemnation from your neighbors or co-workers day after day? Have you felt the pain of rejection? The sting of words aimed to cause harm? This woman has been targeted by the other women in town, to the point that it is less painful to go by herself in the heat to the well to fetch water than to endure the criticism and rejection of the other women. Part of this undoubtedly has to do with the fact that she has had five husbands and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. Even though we don’t know why she had five husbands, her neighbors would have assumed that there was something wrong with her, and she would have been ostracized. But Jesus doesn’t see her as an untouchable, unacceptable, broken woman! Jesus sees her as a potential worshiper, the person he has been looking for! All she has to do is to receive the free gift that Jesus offers her. She doesn’t earn or deserve it, just as there is nothing that you or I can ever do to deserve the free gift of God’s love and grace. It is a pure gift for us, which Jesus came into our messy broken world to give. No matter what is going on in your life right now, Jesus sees your potential to be a God worshiper and longs to give you the gift of his wisdom, forgiveness, and Spirit. 

Recognize your thirst and ask for a drink. 

Which brings us to the third point—she recognized her thirst and asked for a drink. This woman knew that she needed what Jesus was offering. She felt her own thirst—her longing to be loved and accepted, the pain of being judged, condemned, and isolated. She recognized the cure for her thirst when she saw it. Notice that she didn’t have all the answers. She was still confused and fumbled with the truth. She didn’t quite get it all, but she was still willing to ask Jesus for this water, quite emphatically given her response in the original language, and Jesus was happy to fill her with deep springs of living water that began to well up almost immediately as she runs to tell everyone about what Jesus has done for her. 

That’s what it is like with God’s Spirit and life when we receive it—we can’t keep it down. It overflows into every area of our lives and others begin to notice that we are flourishing, often even in the midst of our struggles and pain. The abundant life of Christ begins to draw others to Jesus just as the Samaritan woman did. All we need to do to receive this living water of abundant life is to recognize our need—recognize our broken relationships with God, others, ourselves and even creation. And recognize that nothing we do can ever make it right. Then simply ask for the gift of living water. Jesus is waiting. 

If you find yourself feeling unsatisfied—maybe you identify with the experience of the Samaritan woman in some way. You know the pain of rejection or the experience of looking for love and acceptance and purpose, but finding only judgment and criticism. Maybe all the places you’ve looked and the things you’ve tried leave you feeling thirsty again. I encourage you to consider the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus and how Jesus is waiting to have an encounter with each of us. Jesus went to great lengths to find True worshipers, crossing all kinds of boundaries and barriers to get to us. Jesus has what we need—he is offering the love, acceptance, purpose, and meaning we are longing for, and he wants to give it to us. All we have to do is recognize our need and ask and he will give us what we need to live a life full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, right in the middle of this broken world.

I want to leave you with a blessing: “May God’s presence go before you and behind you and all around you. May you experience the well spring of living water within you. Go in peace.”