Satisfying A Thirst To Be Known

"Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them" (John 7:38 NIV).

I must remind myself to drink enough water throughout the day to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of dehydration. Waiting to feel thirsty doesn’t cut it; by then, it’s likely that I’m already dehydrated.

I once fainted while flying on a plane across the Atlantic, because I hadn't drunk enough water. Lesson learned.

Thirst means the body demands water. If the water volume of the body falls below a certain threshold, the brain signals thirst.

Sometimes we “thirst” for more than something to drink, as when our human spirit longs for acceptance, validation, and connection.

Who hasn’t been there? 

The Samaritan woman in John’s Gospel symbolizes both this human longing and its source of fulfillment (John 4: 1-42; See Scripture below).

Jesus was traveling from Judea to Galilee and stopped in Samaria by Jacob’s well. He was thirsty, so he asked a Samaritan woman for a drink of water.

Historically, Jews viewed Samaritans as ritually unclean because of their mixed lineage and opposing religious beliefs. Therefore, Jews shunned Samaritans as worse than Gentiles.  Moreover, it was inappropriate for men to speak to or look at women in public, because women were generally ranked lower in society and thus, required to do much of the manual labor like drawing water. Consequently, the solitary woman questioned Jesus’ blatant impropriety.

“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (v.9)

Nevertheless, Jesus persisted.

He accepted and validated the woman not only by talking to her despite traditional taboos, but also by asking her for a drink of water.

How often do we pity the poor, homeless, or struggling third world population rather than acknowledge, as Jesus, that they may have something valuable to contribute to us?

Jesus breaks through the superficial walls of our racism, bigotry, and sexism that keep us isolated and divided.

In fact, Jesus asserted that she’d be asking Him for "living water" if she only knew who He was. Then, she would no longer be thirsty or in need again.

In biblical times, people would dig for a well until they hit a spot where water pooled up. “Living water” was thus a term for spring water that was active and gushing, literally welling up. 

And so, Jesus declared to the woman:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.  Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (v. 13-14).
Wow! Can you imagine a spring of water welling up inside of you? What would you do with it?

Oh, wait! Isn’t that a kid’s song?                      

I've got a river of life flowing out of me!
Makes the lame to walk, and the blind to see.
Opens prison doors, sets the captives free!
I've got a river of life flowing out of me!

Spring up, O well, within my soul!
Spring up, O well, and make me whole!
Spring up, O well, and give to me
That life abundantly.

Hmm? Really? Healing the sick? Opening prison doors? Setting captives free? Becoming whole? Is that what we do with water welling up inside?

Or do we hoard it for ourselves and for those who look and think like us?

The Samaritan women didn’t hesitate to ask for that water, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water” (v. 15).

But Jesus wasn’t just talking about physical thirst; he understood her deeper need for belonging and connection, so he asked her to go and bring her husband.

Was Jesus baiting her to expose her sin? NO. That’s our old patriarchal sexist interpretation. Who even mentioned sin? Jesus didn’t, so just forget all that!

Jesus was tapping into her real thirst for the deepest longings of her heart.

Yes, the Samaritan women had five prior husbands, yet it was not uncommon for women in antiquity to be married several times beginning at the age of fourteen. Their husbands were generally twice their age, so she could have been widowed more than once. Maybe, she was barren or unable to produce sons, which would have given her husbands traditional grounds for divorcing her. In such a society, it’s unlikely that a lowly woman drawing water in the middle of the day had much choice in the matters of divorce.

Historically, women needed to have a man in order to access legal, economic, and social connections, so this woman was living with a sixth man who was not her husband. Perhaps, legal restrictions around her social status or his inheritance prevented her from remarrying and thus, she could have been living in an acceptable common law marriage. But even in that case, it wasn’t her ideal relationship.

Regardless of the circumstances, the text doesn't speak a single word about sin or repentance, so we shouldn’t be judging her simply because Jesus didn’t.

What’s significant, rather, is that this woman longed for more than her previous life or current relationship provided, and that Jesus spoke directly to that specific thirst in her. Jesus acknowledged that he knew and understood all about her past life. What's more, he revealed himself as the promised Messiah, come to redeem her past and fulfill God's future for her.

“I, the one speaking to you—I am he” (v.26).
In fact, this woman is the first person mentioned in the Gospels who hears Jesus identify himself as the Messiah. What a remarkable honor!

Jesus satisfied her thirst and longings. He brought her salvation by restoring her significance and demonstrating her worth as a beloved daughter of God.

Jesus still looks beyond race, gender, economics, social or marital status to confront and fulfill these longings of the human heart.

This story is not about sin and repentance. It’s about thirst and living waters; it’s about the grace of knowing Jesus and being known by him.

Jesus went out of His way into Samaria to reveal himself to a broken and thirsty woman, because that’s who Jesus is.
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor" (Luke 4:18-19 NIV).
Those are the same words of that children’s song we sing, but do we really have a river of life flowing out of us?
  • To heal the sick, or at least, to offer them healthcare?
  • To open prison doors by considering Jesus' perspective on our current prison system?
  • To set captives of immigrant detentions free?
  • To remove oppression from the alienated and outcasts of society?
  • To enable peoples to see themselves as beloved children of God?
  • To overflow with promises of abundant life and God’s favor?
Jesus promised a river of life for that Samaritan woman! Overflowing with living water, she went back to tell others. Since she was no longer thirsty, she left her water jar behind.

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Could this be the Messiah?” (v. 28-29)

The Samaritan woman was not only the first one to whom Jesus revealed his identity, but also became the first to evangelize the Good News / Gospel to others. They believed her not because she was a forgiven sinner, but because a spring of living water overflowed from within her very being that beckoned others to go and find it for themselves. 
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers (v. 29-31).
Where’s living water within the Church today, to quench the timeless longings of the human heart? Are others in your congregation excited by it and being drawn to meet and follow Jesus?

Or are we still hung-up about the sin-thing and the number of husbands, divorces, and sexual relations others may be having?

Do we shun those who don’t fit within our own  race, gender, class, nationality or religion?

Have we allowed dams of judgment, bigotry, politics, and division block living waters not only from overflowing into ourselves, but from overflowing us to others?

The woman at the well challenges us to realize that if God was working among even the heretical Samaritans, He’s also working today among Muslims, refugees, homosexuals, transgenders, and other marginalized groups.

Jesus blows right through our judgment, prejudice and bigotry. 

We might be uncomfortable with that just as his disciples were in this story (v. 27). Frankly, the Gospel has always been offensive to our fallen nature. And yet, God's grace abounds to make us more like Christ.

Jesus promised the Samaritan woman that a time will come when it won’t matter where, or how we worship. What will matter is that we worship the Father in Spirit and truth (v. 23-24). 

That time is now.

Forget the rituals, superficiality and debates about religion that serve as fig leaves to hide our shame and sin from God.

Anyone who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 14:9).

You can get real with this Father God revealed in Jesus. He already knows your past. He knows the longings of your heart.  What's more, He accepts and loves you just as you are.

Best of all, He sent Jesus to quench your thirst! 

Let him do that. And get ready for the joy when that river of life rises up within you -- and overflows to others who thirst, too!

John 4:1-42 (NIV) 

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.

10 Jesus answered 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.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”


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