Time to gather water again, she sighed to herself. She thought the years would have toughened her, strengthened her. But water gathering days made her soul feel weary.
She was tired of putting defenses up, day after day. Defenses against being a Samaritan, who the Jews despised. Defenses against being barren, which stripped her self-worth. Defenses against being unmarried yet living with her lover. She was an outcast, even among her own people. And she felt weary from the constant fight to prove her value.
She had learned to wait until the middle of the day, when the men were working and the women were busy preparing meals, to gather water at Jacob’s well. When she first came to Sychar, she tried going to the well in the morning with the other women. They walked ahead of her, whispering and snickering and glancing at her with disdain. Though she was lonely for friendship, she couldn’t stand their blatant rejection. So, she went to the well in the midday heat, when gathering water from the deep well was most difficult.
On her walk to the well, she pondered what her aunt had recently pointed out. She liked her feisty old aunt, perhaps the only friend she had. But her aunt’s remark had been unusually blunt. When she was lamenting her problems with her lover yet again, her aunt looked her square in the eye and said, “Maybe the problem is you.”
She had left in a huff, but the remark pestered her like a thorn. The truth was, she had a string of failed relationships because she kept choosing men who were bad for her. She was initially drawn to their strength and charisma, but inevitably she felt used for her body. She would pick fights, and their problems would escalate, and the men would leave. She thought her current lover was probably on his way out the door. Maybe even right now, while she gathered water.
As she walked the path, growing more fatigued in the noonday sun, she tried to dig to the roots of her thoughts. Why did she fall into these bad relationships over and over? Why didn’t she make better choices? Why couldn’t she find happiness? She couldn’t find an answer. All she knew is that she always felt thirsty, deep down inside, in a dry and desolate place.
Her frustration came out in hot tears. She wiped them away angrily as she set her water jug down by the well. She began drawing up the water, still stewing over her problems, when she was shocked by a man’s voice: “Give me a drink.”
She hadn’t even noticed he was there. It was obvious by his dialect and dress that he was a Jewish rabbi, and his presence couldn’t have shocked her more. Jews didn’t visit Samaria. Rabbis didn’t talk to women. Jewish men didn’t have anything to do with Samaritan women, especially women like her. She was nothing to them.
Yet this man was asking for a drink. Her defenses came up immediately.
“Why is a Jew like you asking a Samaritan woman like me for a drink?” she asked.
His gaze was unusually peaceful, and she felt puzzled. She was not used to meeting a man who didn’t want to solicit her. This man was different.
“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.”
Who is this man? she thought to herself. He talks like a prophet, but he looks so ordinary. He doesn’t even have anything to draw water. Why is he here?
“Where do you get living water?” she asked him. “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well?” Her frustration rose up again. She prepared herself for a blistering attack on her Samaritan heritage.
But his answer surprised her. He said nothing about heritage. He spoke about the water.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water I give him will never be thirsty again.”
She studied him as he spoke. His gentle presence calmed her frustration. She handed him a drink as he continued.
“The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
To never be thirsty again in that dry, desolate inner place seemed impossible. But he was offering a different kind of water, water like she had never tasted before. Water that gave life, even eternal life. This was the answer she had been seeking. Her defenses were washing away, and she opened a door in her heart.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” She desperately wanted never to be thirsty again. She desperately wanted a new life, free from defenses against all her hurts.
His eyes locked on hers. “Go, call your husband and come here.”
She couldn’t lie in the presence of this holy man. “I have no husband,” she quietly answered.
He replied, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband;’ for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Normally her defenses would have prodded her to pick a fight at this moment. But he was a complete stranger and somehow knew her life’s history. Even more amazing, she didn’t feel condemned by him. She saw compassion and deep, abiding love in his gaze. Love she’d never seen in the eyes of all those men.
They talked a bit more, and his words drew her in like a magnet. He knew more than any other teacher she’d met. His teaching was peaceful, and peace filled her while they spoke.
She said, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Perhaps this teacher could tell her more about the coming Savior. Hope bubbled up inside her.
He leaned close, looked into her eyes, and smiled. “I who speak to you am he,” he declared.
She caught her breath. She was in the presence of the Christ! No wonder he was so different. No wonder he was so perceptive and so peaceful. She was overjoyed!
Right then his disciples returned and they halted when they saw her talking with him. But her defenses didn’t rise up this time. Christ was still smiling at her. She simply couldn’t contain this good news anymore!
She left her defenses at the well and went door to door, telling all the people she’d avoided before, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” She saw the shock on their faces, then the curiosity, and they came out to see him too.
Many hours passed before she realized her water jar was still at the well. It was the first time she had forgotten her thirst.
Are you thirsty in your soul, like this woman in John 4?
I have been through thirsty seasons. Seasons of loneliness and depression. Seasons of seeking love, fulfillment, and happiness. Yet my thirst was never truly quenched until I found the living water that only Jesus offers.
Jesus loved this woman, this outsider, so much that he revealed his identity as the Messiah to her first. Not to his inner circle. Not even to his own people. He offers his living water freely and widely. This woman was the first recipient. What a blessing he gave her!
What a blessing that he gives us the living water of his Word, the friendship of his presence, and the fellowship of his church. His living water offers hope, healing, and newness of life.
Have you tried this living water? Has it changed your life, as it did for this Samaritan woman? How can you praise God today for his gift of living water?
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