John 4 – The Thing For Which Water Is a Metaphor

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Today’s PassageJohn 4

I like water. You know what, I’m going to lead with that: I like water. Those who don’t like water typically complain that it has no taste, and they’re right. Drinking water for the taste is like playing Tetris for the storyline. But I’m a runner, and after an hour-long run in the summer heat, there are few things I want more than a cold glass of water. Maybe a million dollars. I would probably forego the glass of water for a million dollars. But there are few things apart from that, because when I get back from a run, I am thirsty, and as great as a million dollars are, you can’t drink a million dollars. You can drink water. And today’s chapter of John is about the thing for which water is a metaphor.

As he’s headed back north to Galilee, Jesus’ travels take him through Samaria. The ancestors of the Samaritans were Jews who intermarried with foreigners and adopted some of their idolatrous religious practices. Ancient Judaism was both an ethnicity and a religion, with no real divide between the two, and the Jews of Jesus’ day generally looked down on Samaritans as “half-breeds” at best in both body and spirit. (You can read more about the Jews’ and Samaritans’ history with each other in 2 Kings 17:24-28, Ezra 4:2–11; thanks,!) In light of all those centuries of bad blood, when Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at the well in the city of Sychar, it’s remarkable that he even gives her the time of day, much less has a genuine conversation with her.

The conversation naturally turns to water, as both Jesus and the woman are at the well for exactly that same thing. Now, Jesus knows she’s not in a great place with God. She’s a serial divorcer who’s involved with a man she’s not married to, and God only knows what sort of syncretic Samaritan pseudo-religion she practices. You might think Jesus would overtly present her with the gospel, call her to repent of her sin, offer her forgiveness through himself. But he doesn’t.

Instead, he goes for the water metaphor. He tells her that even though he’s at the well for water, he has a living water of his own, which is hers for the asking. Her curiosity piqued, she inquires about living water. And Jesus responds: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (13-14). You go for a run, you’re going to need regular water again. You’ll be drinking regular water ‘til the day you die. But Jesus’ water won’t run out. He’s offering a water that won’t leave you hanging.

And what does the woman say? “Sir, give me this water” (15). She wants it. She knows she’s thirsty for it. And even when Jesus brings up her history of husbands, he doesn’t accuse her or judge her. He even affirms that neither the Jewish temple nor the Samaritans’ place is what matters in worship; Samaritans and Jews alike can please God with their worship when they worship in spirit and truth.

And ultimately, when he points the woman to living water, he doesn’t point her to her sin, or even to leaving her sin, or to a particular gospel presentation. He points her to himself, the Messiah: “I who speak to you am He” (26). He’s the living water, the well that never runs dry. He’s the real deal.

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