"For when you drink the water I give you it becomes a gushing fountain of the Holy Spirit, springing up and flooding you with endless life!"
I hope I’ve set the scene enough to convey that when Jesus and the Samaritan woman encountered each other at Jacob's well, something ancient, miraculous, healing, and redemptive was going on. It wasn’t just a moment when God told a heathen, sinful woman how to worship. Now. It was a moment when divinity, history, pain, joy, and healing all met at the same time.
Now. Let’s talk about the words.
Jesus asked her if she would give him a drink. That question sparked a conversation that is central to the Christian story.
The Middle East is not the most water-rich place on earth. For most of the year, it barely rains. The ground is dry and arid, dusty and loose. For thousands of years, they have relied on wells and cisterns and pots – anything they could use – to collect water in the rainy season that would sustain them during the dry seasons. For almost eight months of the year, it does not rain. By the end of the dry season, the water in the wells and cisterns would become old and stagnant – anything but fresh. So by the time the rains came, it was a welcome relief and prompted much worship and celebration to God (or the Gods, depending on which tribe and what time you’re talking about) for sending the rain.
Lois Tverberg said, “The difference with or without rain in Israel is amazing – the hills can be barren and brown much of the year, but after a season of rain, covered in green meadows and flowers. Where there are rivers, lush vegetation surrounds them, while only yards away, all is barren.”
They would call fresh water, in the form of rain or natural spring, “Mayim Chaim (MY-eem KHY-eem)” meaning, “living water.” And this is what they called the rain when it came in season. It was this water that brought life to their bodies, their crops, the countryside, and more. All throughout the Old Testament, God was likened to this “Living Water,” his presence welling up and overflowing, bringing life to harsh, dry hearts and lands.
You can read about it in Genesis, Psalms, Ezekiel, and more.
The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well is an incredible and loaded picture of grace, inclusion, and a new way forward.
Jacob’s well represents all that could befall humanity. This container of life that watered bodies for centuries, filling them with the life they needed to get through the days, weeks and years, was where Jesus said that the presence of God, his living water that quenches the spirit, was his to give.
Not only that, but it wasn’t seasonal. It wasn’t like the water collected in a well or the rain that only fell a few months of the year and then dried up, sending the land barren. This water was perpetual, constant, always giving life, always available. Not only to the pure and acceptable, but this water defied social boundaries, cultural constructs, moral demands, and was available for anyone who would drink.
He said, “If you drink from Jacob’s well you’ll be thirsty again and again, but if anyone drinks the living water I give them, they will never thirst again and will be forever satisfied! For when you drink the water I give you it becomes a gushing fountain of the Holy Spirit, springing up and flooding you with endless life!”
It was like Jesus was covering the stories around this well with his own. Not canceling them out, mind you – he didn’t say that if you drank his water, you would never go through hardship or pain. That stuff remains. But when you drink “Living water,” it sustains you through the dry seasons of life.
How do you drink this water? How do you quench a parched soul? Is there a glass you can grab and drain? How does it work?
Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “From here on, worshipping the Father will not be a matter of the right place but with the right heart. For God is a Spirit, and he longs to have sincere worshippers who worship and adore him in the realm of the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24).
Spirit, worship and truth – that’s where’ll you find this Living Water.
But it’s not what you think.