Summary: Jesus brings a new age in the way people relate to God: he gives us living water and spiritual renewal that transcends place and race so that all the true worshippers may worship in spirit and in truth.
Main point: Jesus brings a new age in the way people relate to God: he gives us living water and spiritual renewal that transcends place and race so that all the true worshippers may worship in spirit and in truth.
When I inherited my classroom at school, there was a movie poster on one of the walls for some Disney movie with Denzel Washington called “Remember the Titans”. I thought, well maybe I should watch it to see what it’s all about if my predecessor thought it deserved a place on the wall. I thought it would just be another of those corny American football movies where some pack of incompetent idiots who can hardly walk let alone play sport are miraculously turned into world beaters because their coach gives a nice pep-talk or two – but it actually had a bit more depth to it than that. It’s a film that’s mainly about race and prejudice and the bridging of those divides. The premise is that the high school football teams in this particular American town in the sixties have always been divided on racial lines. There’s no racial mixing. So when it’s decided that they should be joined together, many people have a problem with that. But one scene I especially remember is when this great big fat guy with blonde hair (no, it wasn’t me) walks into this training session. The blacks are standing their talking to the coach and the white players have so far refused to turn up. In he strolls (lumbers would probably be a better word) and with this pretty goofy grin on his face, he walks over to the group of black players and casually announces, “I want to play football.” All the black players are stunned. The white guys then just walk in and are just as stunned to see one of their own in with the black kids. That’s just not the way these thing work, it goes against common sense and ingrained social expectations.
Well, that’s what Jesus does here. He’s walking through Samaria – an usual thing for Jews in itself – and he comes to a town called Sychar and rests in the middle of the day at Jacob’s well. As you’d expected, he’s tired and thirsty from his long journey. But the thing he does next is like the fat white bloke slumming it with the black footy players – worse actually. He strikes up a conversation with a lone Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink. The well is deep, and he doesn’t have anything to draw water out with, so on the surface it seems a fairly normal thing to do. But, as vs. 9 tells us, Jews do not associate with Samaritans. Moreover, Jewish men do not strike up conversations with lone women, either. Look at vs. 27 – Jesus disciples come along and are surprised not by the fact that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan, but that he’s talking with a woman. In this conversation, Jesus is already down on two counts, and the Samaritan woman knows it, that’s why she says “how can you ask me for a drink?”
The answer Jesus gives doesn’t seem to be to the questions she’s put to him. It’s like his conversation with Nicodemus from last week, and there’s a lot of comparisons that we can make with that. Both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman come in with a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings of who Jesus really is. And, as we’ll see, the ways in which Jesus answers them have a lot in common as well.
But the woman asks in vs. 9, “how can you ask me for a drink” and Jesus answers her, “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.”
Clearly, the woman at this stage has no idea who it is she is talking to, for she replies by asking how he could possibly get any water because he hasn’t even got a bucket to get it out with. Where is this strange Jewish man going to get this living water from? Is he even greater than the patriarch Jacob who built the well?
Well, Jesus responds by saying that, yes, I am greater than Jacob. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again”, he says. “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” Jesus gives water that will last forever. It will well up inside of us to eternal life. What is this water, though?
We could spend ages thinking through exactly what in the realm of Christian theology this living water could represent, but it’s far simpler just to skip a few pages ahead and look to John 7:37-39: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” The living water is the Holy Spirit whom God pours on those who believe. If we have this living water we will no longer thirst for relationship with God because God will be indwelling us, he will be inside us, our bodies will be his temple. And think also of Ephesians 1:14-15. This points out that the Spirit is the seal guaranteeing us our place in heaven, guaranteeing our inheritance. So when the Spirit of God is there inside of us changing us and remaking us and writing the law of God on our hearts, it’s also there guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven, it’s there welling up to eternal life.