John 4:11-15 (NIV): “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 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.”
Like Nicodemus before her (cf. John 3:1-21), this woman’s worldview had her mired in the material realm, struggling to see the spiritual nature of the things Jesus was talking about. Nicodemus could only initially understand the new birth as a physical rebirth, which he found inconceivable. The Samaritan woman could only initially understand the living water that Jesus promised as physical water. “Living water” was a Hebrew/Aramaic phrase that simply meant water that flowed and was thus continually refreshed, like water flowing in a river or a spring. It had no distinctly spiritual connotations until Jesus used the term in that way. To the people of Jesus’ day, the opposite of “living water” was simply stagnant water in a pool or cistern.
The woman wondered where Jesus had found another water source in the area that the people, even father Abraham had missed. But Jesus wasn’t talking about physical water. Physical water is good, and is essential for physical life. But to sustain spiritual life, spiritual water is needed. Jesus used the image of water to speak about the Holy Spirit on more than one occasion. (See, for example, John 7:37-38, where He uses very similar imagery to that which He was using with the Samaritan woman, and verse 39, where John explains that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit.) Those who came to Jesus would receive “living water,” the Holy Spirit, who would then flow through their lives as it did through His, bringing eternal life into their hearts, and changing the world around them through them.
This was exciting stuff. But, the woman, like Nicodemus before her, was still blinded by the limitations of her own needs and her own worldview. She heard what Jesus was saying, but she still had no idea what He meant. But Jesus wasn’t done yet with this woman. He knew the potential that existed in her, and He wasn’t going to give up until the breakthrough came.
Father, how slow we can all be to see all that is contained in Your words and in Your promises. And how patient and persevering You are, not giving up on us, no matter how obtuse we seem to be. Help us, Lord, now that we do see, to have that same patient perseverance with those around us who need Your new birth and Your living water, but who just don’t get it. Help us to keep pressing, lovingly but persistently, until their eyes are finally opened and they truly see. Amen.