“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?”
John 4:4-26 depicts a rather interesting episode that happened during the ministry of Jesus; in a time when, choosing to be alone, he not only spoke to a Samaritan prostitute, but also asked her for water. This ultimately became known as the tale of the living water, where Jesus not only asked her for water, but also offered her himself as a source of living water. The Samaritan woman’s reaction was a typical, skeptical one, not unlike many of us today – Jesus had no bucket. How could he get any living water to give to her? In today’s study, we will examine what is this living water, and the source of the skepticism that existed within the woman.
Analysis: Water versus Living Water
Jesus did not have water. There was a well, but Jesus did not have a bucket to draw the water with. The Samaritan woman had a bucket. In other words, Jesus did not have water, but the Samaritan woman did. However, this water is a water that, whoever drinks from it will be thirsty again.
The Samaritan woman did not have living water. She was told by Jesus to ask him for it. In other words, the Samaritan woman did not have living water, but Jesus did, and could give it to her. Jesus not only had living water, he was also the source of it. Furthermore, the living water is a water that, whoever drinks will never thirst, and leads to eternal life.
Defining Living Water
In Jewish culture it was common to use the term ‘living water’ to refer to spring water, water that is running, flowing – in stark contrast to water that is stale, stagnant, and thus ‘dead’. Jesus, however, was using the term as a metaphor for his grace and gospel (some have argued that it was a metaphor for the Holy Spirit), but the Samaritan woman seemed to have missed this metaphor and have taken the term ‘living water’ literally, as she asks, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
This confusion is not unique to the Samaritan woman alone. Jesus used a lot of parables and analogies to explain the gospel – in some cases, those who listened understood it better; but in most cases, those who heard merely got confused. Often, we abandon the living water that we cannot see, and cling on desperately to the water that we can see. Not literally, of course – we need to drink water, but metaphorically – we are often blinded by the things that we can see. My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water [Jer 2:13].
In John 4:10, Jesus declared, 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. The idea of Christ being the source of living water is not unique to the gospel of John, and the key of John 4:10 is really the word ‘gift‘. This living water is a gift. We don’t earn it. We simply need to ask. This grace and salvation comes at no cost on our end. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life [Rev 21:6].
Are we, then supposed to ask God for living water? Living water is but just a metaphor. As Jesus further explains in the gospel of John, Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him [John 7:38].
There are a lot more in this story that reveals more about the nature of the gospel that Jesus stands for. For example, the way Jesus crossed all cultural and traditional boundaries between Jews and Samaritans to ‘pursue’ the Samaritan woman. The way that Jesus still sought to give her the gift of living water, or a gift of new birth – of salvation and of grace, even after the she had doubted him and asked, where is your bucket? How are you going to draw this water? Ultimately, the Samaritan woman asked for the living water – not because she understood what Christ meant, but because her bucket is heavy. She doesn’t want to have to take the trouble to go to the well everyday, and thus, she asked Jesus for the living water.
The entire discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman after this [John 4:16-26] takes a drastic shift. Jesus opened her eyes to see the spiritual connotation of living water, and she admits that he is the Messiah. Later on, through her, many people came to Christ as well – Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony [John 4:39]. Isn’t it amazing how God used her? A Samaritan, an adulteress, and someone who asked, where is your bucket?
Let our eyes be opened to the grace of Christ. Instead of asking where is his bucket, instead of fumbling around with stale water, let us have faith in him and let the streams of living water flow in us.