Read John 4:1-12
As Christians, some of us are concerned that we are meant to be talking to other people about Jesus and we worry that we will have failed if we don’t somehow get Jesus into the conversation. And so we look for opportunities. How do you turn a conversation towards spiritual things?
On the other hand, some of us never even consider talking about Jesus. Maybe Jesus has something to teach both groups.
Those of us who worry about how to get Jesus into ever conversation – or even the occasional conversation – can sometimes try a little too hard. For example…
Someone says, “We could do with some rain, couldn’t we?” and the Christian thinks, “Here’s my opportunity. Rain. Now what does the Bible say about rain? I know.” “Isn’t God good? He sends the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and send rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Yes, sir! Praise God!”
Where is the conversation going to go after that? Nowhere. The other person is thinking, “Where did that come from. I don’t even know what it means. The rain isn’t falling on me at the moment so I guess I am neither righteous nor unrighteous – whatever those words mean.” So what is his response?
“Uh, yeah. Good talking to you. I’ll see you again some time.” Secretly he is thinking, “It wasn’t good talking to you because you weirded me out and I hope I never do see you again.”
Let’s try that again. “We could do with some rain, couldn’t we?” and Creepy Christian replies, “Isn’t God’s grace amazing. He has promised never again to flood the earth.” His poor confused companion thinks, “Actually, I wasn’t concerned about a flood. I was concerned about a drought” and he leaves reminding himself to avoid Creepy Christian from now on.
Awkward transitions leave both parties feel awkward. They actually do more harm than good.
Last week we started looking at the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman. He crossed a lot of cultural and social lines, ignoring potential damage to His own reputation, to speak to a woman who needed the gospel. We saw Jesus’ focus on meeting people. In this instance He began the conversation by asking for a drink of water. Today, let’s see what happened to the conversation after that because Jesus also wanted to do more than just engage in polite small talk.
Jesus asked for a drink of water. The woman asked how he could ask her for a drink. He was a Jew and she a Samaritan. She might have been a bit aggressive. Remember this is a hurt woman. She has been hurt in love. We find out later that she has had five husbands. Now she is with a man who is not her husband. Most likely she has searched for love with one man, been rejected, searched elsewhere, going from man to man. Looking for love but she has been deeply hurt – by men – and here’s another man – and, anyway, what does He want waiting for her like this and talking to her when custom said He ought not. He was being a bit forward, wasn’t he? No doubt He was like every other man she had known.
Not only that, she was also hurt by the rejection she experienced in her town. Other women looked on her with disdain. She would rather walk to the well in the heat of the day than feel the heat of the other women’s scorn. It would be very understandable if she had been a bit aggressive, or had had a bit of an attitude, when she responded to Jesus.
But Jesus didn’t condemn her. He discerned the need of her soul. She was hurt and needy. He had compassion on her. He wanted to give her a gift. But how could he talk to her about that gift? How could He talk to her about what was really going on inside her – what was happening in her heart – especially if she starts from a position of being hurt, and suspicious of men?
How does Jesus make the transition from a request for water to her need for salvation? Let’s follow the conversation.
He asked for water. She questioned how he, a Jew, could ask her a Samaritan. Jesus said, “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.”
That might sound like one of those awkward transitions. It is a bit obscure. What is the gift of God? Who is He claiming to be? Because Jesus has referred to himself; “If you knew who it is that asks you…” What is living water? In other words, what on earth is He talking about?
On the other hand, consider this. It is relevant, intriguing, sincere and kind.
It is relevant. On one level it was relevant because they have been talking about water. Jesus had expressed His need for water and He turned it around to hint at her need for water. Jesus has discerned the need of her soul. That made it relevant. She was thirsty. She was thirsty for love, and for significance. She was thirsty for acceptance. To be relevant we have to know the person’s need. That might mean listening before we speak. It might mean listening to the Holy Spirit – to what God reveals about this person.
It was intriguing. Living water. What is that? Maybe Jesus put that out there as a bit of a teaser? He would introduce a spiritual concept to see how she would respond. She might have completely ignored it. It might have gone over her head. She might have been sceptical. She might have told Him what He could do with His living water. Or, she might show interest. It might just catch her attention. It might appeal a hunger deep inside. Would she take the bait?
When Jesus sent the disciples out around the villages to preach and heal and raise the dead, one of the things He taught them was to look for the person of peace. The person of peace is the person who shows an interest, who is open, who wants to carry on the conversation. Maybe Jesus was just testing to see if this woman was a woman of peace. Raise a spiritual issue and see what reaction there is.
Jesus’ comment was sincere. He loved this woman. Not in the way that other men had supposedly loved her then abandoned her. Not in any sort of romantic or erotic way. He cared about her. He cared about her broken and scarred heart. He saw her sadness.
He wasn’t trying to trick her into anything. It might have sounded a little obscure but it wasn’t a trick. And Jesus wasn’t doing it so that He could get another notch on His belt. He was doing it for her. He genuinely wanted her to have a better life. He wanted her to enjoy this living water. He wanted her to find healing and a new fulfilment instead of her thirst.
It was kind. He wanted to give her a gift which He described as “living water”. In different situations Jesus would use different images. To Nicodemus He talked about being born again. To others He talked about being the bread of life or the good shepherd. But the right image for this woman was living water. That image was pregnant with possibilities. Just as He would be revived by her drink, she could be revived by what He could give. Living water speaks of satisfaction, of the joy that comes when a deep thirst with all its yearning and longing is quenched and the longing is gone. Life seems good.
Water does that but this is living water. That suggests water even greater than ordinary water. This is water with some extra quality to it. It maybe suggests water that has a life of its own and perhaps keeps regenerating and never runs out. Or life-giving water; water that not only satisfies but energises.
None of that is spelt out but that is why it is relevant and intriguing and sincere and kind. It exactly fits her situation; it is amazing sounding and Jesus wants to give it to her.
She might have rejected it but Jesus took the risk of introducing into the conversation a transition to spiritual things because she needed it and He wanted her to have it.
Actually, what was Jesus talking about with the phrase “living water”. We have the advantage of hindsight and all of the other information we have in the Bible.
Some people will say that water is a biblical image for the Holy Spirit. That is true but is that what Jesus was referring to here? I don’t really think so, although it is related. What did this woman need?
She needed salvation didn’t she? She needed to know that someone loved her –that God loved her. She needed to know that God wasn’t going to hold her past against her. Despite everything, she could be forgiven. She needed to know that she didn’t need to search in all the wrong places looking for love. She was drinking from wells that were not satisfying. She was drinking from wells that only intensified her hurt and loneliness and lack of self-worth. It was as if the wells she was drinking from – relationships, sex – were filled with salt water that only made her more thirsty. She needed to know about the one source of water that would truly satisfy – that would leave her feeling at peace, satisfied. She needed to know that she was God’s forgiven and loved daughter, no longer an outcast.
When she yielded her life to God, she would receive the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a big part of the living water that Jesus was offering but I think it was bigger. Jesus offered salvation.
Did she take the bait? Did she respond to this generous offer of salvation? “Sir, 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 this well and drank from it himself, as did all his sons and his flocks and herds?”
The only water she knew was the water that comes from wells and this man didn’t even have a bucket. She might have been still quite cynical. No doubt men had promised her many things before – and not delivered. She might have questioned why a man who had to ask her for water could, nevertheless, offer living water. Why didn’t He give Himself this living water if it was so great and if He was so great?
And yet, she is interested. Where can you get this living water? She doesn’t understand but she is intrigued and wants to carry on the conversation. And she has picked up on the fact that Jesus was referring to Himself as the giver of this new type of water. Are you greater than our father Jacob? That is an interesting question. Is this unknown man in front of her, greater than the great patriarch? I am sure she asked it with some sarcasm, expecting the answer to be “no”. She referred to Jacob because Jacob had actually dug this well and drunk from it, 2000 years earlier. Who could be greater than the father of the twelve tribes of Israel? She might have been having a little mocking laugh at Jesus’ expense but what was she going to find out? Was He greater than Jacob?
Jesus had to win her over and He hasn’t done it quite yet. But do you see the progress He is making? Initially, they didn’t even know each other. Jesus started a conversation which might have remained just small talk – just a request for a drink and a ‘thank you’. (Actually, we don’t even know if Jesus ever got the drink He needed.) But Jesus took it deeper with a comment that was relevant, intriguing, sincere and kind. There was no trickery. He offered her a gift and He invited her to take it.
She did not yet understand but they are having a conversation about spiritual things and, despite the fact that she probably started sceptical and aggressive, she was showing herself to be a person of peace. She was asking questions. She was probably still sceptical but she was opening up; she was being drawn into this conversation. She was a desperately thirsty woman. Jesus knew that.
There are, no doubt, people in your circle of influence who outwardly are tough but inwardly are desperately thirsty and who would be open to a conversation about spiritual things. How can we initiate those conversations? To be relevant we need to discern their need. To be intriguing we need to put out some bait. To be sincere it needs to be clear that we are not trying to trick this person or trap him/her and we are not doing it for our benefit but for his/hers. Kindness means we offer a gift – the gift – salvation – a relationship with Jesus Himself.