Jesus: The Living Water (4:1-41)

Bible Passage: John 4:1-41

In many ways this story is a contrast of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in John 3. Both stories tell of a conversation that Jesus has about spiritual truths with someone, but that is where the similarity ends. In one story Jesus is speaking to a high-status Jewish man, in the other he is speaking to a low-status Samaritan woman. One story happens at night, the other in the middle of the day. In one story Jesus is approached by a questioner, in the other Jesus is the one who starts the conversation. In one story, there is no indication the person responds to Jesus’ words but in the other she believes and tells everyone in her town.

Jesus and the Marginalised: One of the reason this chapter is a favourite of so many people is that it shows Jesus interacting in a dignifying and respectful manner with somebody who was on the wrong end of many of the power structures of her society. It was taboo in the culture for a man to speak to a woman he didn’t know in public, and for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan (see verse 9). This woman in particular was even more of a pariah because of her relationship history. She has been involved in five previous marriages and was no living with another man. She was shunned by the other women of her town, and this led to her going to collect her water in the heat of the midday sun on her own rather than in the early morning light with the others. Jesus cut through these barriers of sexism, racism and shame and talked with the woman in a way that showed her honour. This reveals the heart of Jesus for those on the margins and is something that followers of Jesus should seek to emulate.

Living Water: The conversations between Jesus and this woman was primarily about water. It started off on a purely material level with Jesus asking her for a drink, but quickly became more spiritual as Jesus explained that he could give living water. Jesus is much more than just a teacher. He himself can satisfy the deepest needs of our souls, and as we come to him in faith we are drinking the living water that wells up to eternal life. When the woman asked for this water, Jesus gently turned the subject to her husband. This was not a random diversion from the topic, but he was showing her that she was currently looking for meaning and satisfaction in her relationships and it wasn’t quenching her. It is as she recognised this and looked to the living water instead that she would be satisfied.

True Worship: As the conversation starts to hit a nerve, the woman does what many do and tries to steer to safe ground by asking an abstract theology question. She brings up a debate about where the right place to worship is, but Jesus explains that where is not the point. Real worship can happen anywhere and it is in spirit and truth (i.e. it is a something where the human spirit connects with the truth of God’s self-revelation). The woman was so affected by the conversation that she raced back to the town (leaving her water jar) and risked shame and humiliation to share with everyone about the man she had just met. As a result of her testimony many of the others in her town believed in Jesus for themselves.

Potential Applications:

  • There is an affirmation here that Jesus cares for the marginalised. Many in your congregation will identify with this woman and this a great opportunity to affirm Jesus’ love for them.
  • Issue the same invitation that Jesus gives to the woman – drink from the living water that he provides! Perhaps create some time in the service for people to linger in his presence in worship.
  • The woman shares about what has happened with everyone she can. Challenge people to keep sharing the good news of Jesus with those around them.