First Mennonite Church
May 28, 2023
Drinking from the Life-giving Living Water
Text: John 4:1-26
In the Gospel of John, we find several titles given to Jesus. He is the Word, the only begotten of God, Lamb of God, King of Israel, the Prophet, Son of God, Son of Man, the Bridegroom, the Lord, and Messiah or Christ. These titles not only identify the person of Jesus but also declare his mission. The coming of the Messiah was the ultimate hope the Jewish people yearned for. The coming of the Messiah would be the eschatological (culmination of time) fulfillment of the Scriptures. Therefore, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan Woman, illustrates God’s redeeming grace, mercy, and healing power even to those who might be considered outsiders, outcasts, and untouchables.
The other person in this story has no title and not even her name is given to us. We only know her as a “Samaritan woman” (v. 8). Yet from this, we can know something about her.
So, who are the Samaritans, of whom this woman is? The Samaritan people were the result of the Assyrian attack upon the ten tribes of Israel in 724-22 B.C. Under Sargon III’s merciless conquest, the wealthy and skilled Jews were taken into exile, leaving behind only the poor and unskilled. This Assyrian king then brought in other peoples to intermarry with this Jewish remnant in order to dilute the Jewish identity and minimize any revolt against the Assyrian dominance. Over time, these mixed Jews developed some of their own theological perspectives that became counterpoints against their Jewish neighbors of the two remaining tribes. The woman in our text is identified as a mixed Jew, thus an outcast not only because of her race but also due to her social situation.
Jesus’ reason for going from Judea to Galilee was prompted by a misinterpretation of the increase of his followers. So, he leaves the southern region of Judea and heads up north to Galilee. Samaria is a territory between Judea and Galilee; however, passing through Samaria is not an itinerary necessity. The alternative route is by going up north all along the Jordan River Valley, east of Samaria. But John tells us “It was necessary” for Jesus to pass through Samaria. In this gospel, the necessary deeds of Christ are carefully reserved for the cross and his mission of bringing the other sheep (Gentiles, even Samaritans) to the fold. It is because of this divine engagement with a Samaritan sheep that Jesus has to pass through Samaria, not because it is the only way. There is someone He must see. He has a divine appointment to fulfill.
As he enters the city of Sychar, he goes to the well. There, most women only go to fetch water at the cool hours of the morning and early evening. It is often speculated that the reason the woman in our story goes until midday is to avoid the judging eyes and tongues due to her social condition.
Ironically, wanting only to be left alone, she meets Jesus, the one who knows all things about her and who will proclaim all things to her. At first, she recognizes him only as a languishing Jew, begging for a drink. But Jesus will prove to her that he is far more than just a sojourning Jew.
Jesus takes the initiative. He asks for a drink, but his simple request turns into a deep theological dialogue. If we were to look closely at how the conversation develops, we will see the gradual process by which the woman goes about figuring out who was talking with her.
However, Jesus’ request is only met with mockery. The woman does not hesitate to express her dismay that a Jew is interacting with her and much more that he is asking her for a favor. Yet, an undeterred and patient Jesus, offers, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” At this, she realizes that her conversation partner surpasses the stature of Jacob from whom her people inherited the well. “Living water” refers to “moving flowing water” like that of a fountain or flowing river. And the woman wonders how Jesus would access such water if he did not even have a bucket to draw from the deep well. Jesus clarifies that in contrast to the well water which those who drink from it will have to keep coming, those who drink from the living water he offers will have no need of drinking again. The idea of not having to come to the well time and again, prompts the woman to plead with Jesus, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
The woman could only grasp Jesus’ words from an earthly perspective. She still could not see that the one speaking with her could quench the thirst of her soul. She still could not perceive that the one asking for a drink could fill her heart with the unknown, yet deep longing desire of joy and wholeness.
At this, Jesus asks her to go call her husband and that is a bit puzzling. Why Jesus would ask her to go bring her husband when he knows she does not have one? Was it only to rub on her face her painful past? Could Jesus be any more insensitive to this poor woman who has had such tragic marital misfortunes?
This woman must likely have entered into those relationships with the hope of sharing her joy, of being loved, and honored at least five times. And she has been gutted four times, where her dreams of love and joy had turned into pain, shame, abandonment, and guilt. All of which had been weaponized by her community and for reason, it may have been necessary to go to the well at that hour of the day.
But here it is. I do not believe Jesus was that insensitive to her pain and shame. She has asked her for the “living water.” And here it is also. God’s living water is not consumed from a cup or glass. God’s living water is taken in by faith and repentance. And if repentance is needed, one must come out clean before God. One must be willing to open the heart, even if we might need to deal with the wounds of the past. If we want Jesus’ living water which quenches the thirst of the soul, we must open ourselves to the truth. And that is precisely what the woman did. Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”
This sudden revelation prompts the woman to suspect Jesus is a prophet and she switches the conversation regarding the proper place of worship. When Jesus declared that God is actively seeking for worshipers to worship in spirit and in truth, the woman confesses her knowledge about the coming Messiah. She says, “When the Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us.” The Samaritan woman’s confession reflected the Jewish belief about the nature of the promised Messiah. He would be the embodiment of God himself. The Messiah would be the one who would speak the word of God and reveal God to his people. He would bring God’s deliverance to his people and the world, not only because he is a special envoy, but because he shares the nature of God. It was at this point that Jesus makes the claim he is the “I AM.” Jesus replies, “I AM, the one who is speaking to you.”
My dear friends, Jesus is the “I AM” who humbly wants to meet you as he did the Samaritan woman. Because Jesus is God in the flesh, he can relate to our human frailty, pain, guilt, and longing for wholeness. He wants to give us his healing, joy, and inner peace. Just as he never condemned the Samaritan woman for who she was, but opened her eyes to truly see who he was, he will never condemn us. He will open our eyes to know him personally. But for him to give us the living water, we must open our hearts to him. We must speak to him with the truth about ourselves.
Let us do that in prayer.