The Samaritan woman at the well: the fountain of living water.
The fourth chapter of John has a lot of good material, but I want to focus my remarks on the events surrounding the Samaritan woman at the well. My first thought was to skip this chapter because there was nothing there about the effects of Passover, as I have been discussing it in the preceding sections of this study. However, on second consideration, I see now that there are some pivotal points in this passage: what does life do to the recipient? Let’s follow the narrative.
The chapter opens with a journey that caused Jesus and his disciples to pass through Samaria. Now, on the whole, the Jews despised the Samaritans. They were racially and religiously impure. Their sacred writings consisted of only the five books of Moses. Jesus, weary from the journey, stopped to rest at Jacob’s well near Sychar, a city in Samaria, while the disciples went to purchase food. While they were gone a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus asked her for a drink.
Thus began a conversation ranging from (a) the merits of the water in Jacob’s well to (b) the greater benefits of the living water Jesus is willing to give, to (c) what constitutes true worship.
The unifying thread that holds this conversation together is Jesus’ focus on life. “Whoever drinks of the water from Jacob’s well shall thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” (My paraphrase of John 4:13-14)
Here is our theme of life being the agent that causes death to pass over. Whoever drinks the water of this world remains unsatisfied. Yes for a time you are not thirsty but the water does not endure, the processes of biology drain this water and the life it provides out of your body. You thirst again.
Not so with the fountain of living water. Look again at Jesus’ words, “But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
This woman, being somewhat practical, asked Jesus for this water. Who wouldn’t? Well, not everyone is willing to endure the effects of a well of living water springing up within them. You can’t hold onto death and the power of manipulation derived from death at the same time you embrace the living water. You must choose one or the other. God stated through Jeremiah: “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11-13)
All the religious systems devised by mankind are nothing more than broken cisterns; they can’t hold the water of life.
Doesn’t it count for something that we have made an effort to please God?
Hewing cisterns out of rock requires a prodigious amount of effort, but the effort does not make us living beings. It is living beings that please God. We are made living beings by yielding to the reproofs and guidance of the light that comes from the life that is in the Word. This cannot be stored up against a season of drought. We must walk in it continually. We must know the living water to spring up within us. There is no valve to regulate the flow. The life is abundant, dependable, and constant. It is a more fundamental constant than Planck’s.
Go call your husband
This racially and religiously impure, this scripturally impoverished Samaritan woman did something the “enlightened” Jew would not. She asked for and received living water. She embraced the work of that water within her. To the enlightened Jew, Jesus would say in chapter five, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have life. They testify of me. And you will not come to me that you might have life.”
“Go call your husband,” said Jesus to the Samaritan woman. This is the first consequence of her asking for and receiving life. Jesus began to expose the covering of darkness and death of her former manner of living. Her lifestyle must now change to be aligned with the life and purpose of God.
In this portion of the conversation, Jesus explains to the woman that she has had five husbands and the man she now has is not her husband. The woman asks if Jesus is a prophet and launches into one of the major controversies between Jew and Samaritan: Is God to be worshiped in Jerusalem or in the mountain in Samaria? Jesus answered neither in Jerusalem nor in the mountain will you worship the Father. For those who worship him must be alive and worship in that life.
Here we come to the second consequence of the woman asking for and receiving life: the life within us recognizes its source. This woman is given to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, the one who “will tell us all things.” (See Deut. 18:15-19) Jesus confirmed the revelation, and the woman departed and brought back many of the people of Sychar. These people were made curious enough by the woman’s report that they came to see for themselves. Could this be the Messiah as she testified? They, in turn, came to believe, not only because of the testimony of the woman, but because they had heard for themselves. They drank of the living water.
The writer of the book of John began with the announcement that the companions of death are deflected, caused to pass over, by clinging to the light that brings us into the life that is in the Word. Misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and wickedness can neither comprehend nor overcome the life that is the light of mankind. The proof of these claims, as illustrated by this narrative, is to drink of the living water and experience first hand the effects of the life of God within.