‘For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; “he will lead them to springs of living water.” “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’ Revelation 7:17
Read: John 4:1-42
They say that belonging is a human need, that every human being needs community, friendship and acceptance. Without it we emotionally shrivel, dehydrating in the heat of alienation and the empty whirl of our own thoughts. And in our loneliness we grieve inwardly but no tears come because we are empty of the thing we cannot live without.
It was not good for humankind to be alone (Genesis 2:18). It never has been. Never will be.
Sometimes the loneliness scrapes at your skin, the longing to belong, to be accepted. You watch the others laugh and smile and bask in the glow of community and you know, you are convinced, deep in the bruised, dark places of your heart that there must be something wrong with you. There is a reason for it. You made so many mistakes, listened to the voices in the night too many times, voices that promised love but delivered emptiness, voices that were done with you when the morning came.
And suddenly you find yourself on the outside looking in, on the outside of youthful friendships, on the outside of childhood, on the outside of your community, on the outside of everything. And on the inside, you long, yearn, grieve for that connection. And these feelings of rejection are too strong, too hard, they burn your heart and your throat is parched, thirsty, dehydrated by the absence of presence, the presence of your soul in another’s mind. So you pretend you don’t feel it, don’t care, don’t wish with every fibre of your being that you were connected somehow to someone who saw you, who cared. You push it all away, down, down into the depths and you numb your heart just to keep it beating. Avoid them: Strategy A.
Isn’t this where we find ourselves sometimes? Building walls to avoid the pain? Building barriers around our souls in retaliation for theirs that shut us out, shut us down, shut us deep within the cage of our emotions? In the end though the only thing we achieve is isolation.
That is what she was doing. This girl. That day. That day which would change every other day after that one for her, for her community. Isolated and recklessly alone, she was avoiding everyone else even if it meant being out on her own in the blazing Palestinian sun at midday; AD30.
Here, in this place she meets Jesus.
‘Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph.’ John 4:4-5
He had to go through Samaria it says. Had to, needed to. Thats the interesting thing though. Actually, he didn’t have to. It wasn’t His only option, it wasn’t even the normal route. There was another way, a safer way, the way that most Jews took. The way that bypassed Samaria. When Jesus ‘had’ to go through Samaria, he was taking the road less travelled (for Jews). Most Jews avoided Samaria like the plague, a plague shaped like prejudice with symptoms like hate. Samaria was full of Samaritans. Enough said.
But this journey Jesus is on. the one he’s been on since before time began, it has never been about avoiding the unlovely, the enemy, the lost, but finding them. Everyone of us.
He needed to go through Samaria. He had to go through Samaria, perhaps for no other reason than her, this girl avoiding everyone else. The text tells us nothing else of His business there, except He was tired.
‘Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.’ John 4:6
Thirst is the first sign that dehydration has begun, our body’s signal that we are lacking water, something we can’t live without. Hydration is a human need, every human being needs water; without it we become dehydrated in the heat and haze. It begins with thirst, then a dry throat, then it progresses to headaches, dizziness, confusion and lethargy and when we cry, no tears come because we are empty of the thing we can’t live without; water. It is not good for humankind to be without water. It never has been. Never will be.
Jesus, He was thirsty. He was tired.
This girl, she comes, this day in the heat of the sun, dressed in armour thick avoidance. Unflinching. Numb. She comes on her own, skilled at holding her own, being alone. Life had given her a script and she knew her lines by heart. She probably would have glanced at Him sideways cautiously but she would have assumed He would not speak to her. In AD30 Palestine men did not speak to women (not even their wives) in public and single men never spoke to women. Ever. Jesus was a Rabbi. These social rules would have been doubled for Him. Jewish Rabbis would never speak with women, keeping up appearances, keeping up barriers, walls of cultural and social propriety.
Her sideways glance is all she needs. He will not be a problem. She won’t exist to Him. He is obviously a Jew, a Jew out of place. She sees this, she knows this, she feels this, feels this the familiar sting. She and all Samaritans had felt the burn of Jewish disdain for centuries, the seething hate of tension unresolved. Samaritans reminded all Jews of their fallen glory, their broken inheritance, broken by their own unfaithfulness to God leading to their exile. In their forced absence imposters moved in, mingling with their ancestors left behind. Samaritans were a mixed-race remnant of them; “half breeds”, “Mongrels”, “Dogs”. She knows he will not talk with her. He will know his lines by heart, His family lines, the lines the Jews use to describe the people they hate. To describe her. He will ignore her. She doesn’t exist to Him beyond contempt.
Every now and then you find people, strange people who just don’t seem to get it. They just don’t know their lines, don’t stay in line, don’t hold the party lines. They do things in ways that are politically incorrect, way out of line, even offensive.
‘Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ John 4:7
Surely He is mocking her. Surely he didn’t mean to ask that. Fault lines in a social, cultural and emotional world begin to shift and tremor.This Jewish Rabbi, He needed something, water, and He had asked her for help, she who few spoke to unless to scorn. He asked for her help, asked her to meet his vulnerability with human care. He reached for her who no-one reached for unless to abuse. But surely He is mocking her.
She would have experienced it like a strange foreign song with a melody unknown and lyrics unfamiliar, a song in a strange language, a foreign tongue to her; the language of respect. He wasn’t mocking her, scorning her or using her, He was respecting her. He needed her help. He respected her strength, her capability, her human heart, the heart shoved down into the depths somewhere, the one she had numbed just to keep it beating.
This song though, it drew her, this man, He drew her. She felt something. Something. But this strange new feeling had to cross centuries of cultural prejudice, and a lifetime of social derision, she had no time, no tears for this. So she draws the battle line down. We are enemies, she reminds Him. You can’t, don’t, won’t respect me!
‘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.)’ John 4:9
How can you? How can you pretend that you see me as a human being? How can you pretend I have some value in your eyes? The fault line is already too wide between us, wider than you even know. How can you pretend that as a Jew you would not rather dehydrate and die than share a cup, any drinking vessel with a ‘Samaritan Dog!’
She knows that’s how He sees her, there is no other reality but these lines laid out, warring national lines, family lines, ancient lines, history set in stone. Or perhaps He is more dehydrated than He looks, disoriented, delirious.
But the absence of a sneer is disorientating and she finds herself drawn, welcomed, tumbling into a conversation with this strange stranger that she’d never have had with any other man, let alone a Jew.
‘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.’ John 4:10
Living water, it is the term used for water that is running, for a spring, a deep well sourced in a spring. It is also a term used for something else. Deeper.
She is puzzled.
‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? (John 4:11)
‘This well is deep’, the one to quench the thirst of cells, but not deep enough though to quench the thirst of a soul. Thirst has no boundaries, social or cultural. We all thirst. Our cells thirst for the water that floods them, restores them, renews their life. And our souls thirst too for a deeper water, hydration in a deeper place, from a deeper source, a spring deeper than deep space, vaster than a universe of light.
Who is this man? Who does He think He is?
‘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?’ John 4:12
We are children of an inheritance too, she insists. We have a history with lines laid out, just as you do. She must have sensed though, even as she spoke that this strange stranger is not following His lines, not the ones laid out by time trodden down, not the lines handed down by a history of hate.
It is not our history that makes us whole, it’s not our family lines that flood our cells with life and rehydrate our souls. It’s something else, deeper.
‘Jesus answered, ‘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.’ John 4:13-14
There is a deeper thirst, a human need deeper even than our yearning for connection, deeper than our minds can quite contain. We know it, we feel it, this thirst beneath all other thirsts. The thirst we try to quench with pseudo liquids, wells of our own making, cisterns that never satiate, never satisfy, never quench the never ending parched-ness of our souls.
She knew it, she felt it, she wanted it, yearned for it…
‘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.’ John 4:15
She had been coming to draw water in the heat of the day for days upon days upon days. She had been surviving by avoiding, by numbing, by hiding for years upon years upon years. Her cistern she had built, the one she used to avoid, to numb, to survive; It was broken, bent all out of shape. It could hold no water, no living water. She knew it. She felt it.
We know it too, this way of being, this way of pretending it’s all okay. We fill our empty wells with the dank mud of our avoidance and then we reach for the right things in a thousand wrong ways. We splash around in the shallows of who we have become, always knowing, always feeling the lack of depth we know we were born to live in. And then we numb our hearts just to keep them beating.
The ancient scriptures name this, like a pin on a map, like a scar on our hearts, like God whispering down through time, calling to His lost and lonely children,
‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’ Jeremiah 2:13
We attempt to quench our thirst with pseudo liquids drawn from wells of our own making, cisterns that never satiate, never satisfy, broken cisterns like avoidance, isolation and ambition, warped wells like empty religion and human tradition, empty vessels like the stuffing of ‘stuff’ into the void, our void, the deep space within originally designed to hold springs of living water.
She had done this, this girl. She had attempted to quench her own thirst, her longing to belong, longing for love, with the fickle love of faithless men. She had reached for the right things in a thousand wrong ways. Her cistern was broken, her well was empty, and she knew it.
He knew it.
‘He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ John 4:16
She might have winced just a little now, now when the truth was bound to come out. Up until now it had all been too good to be true, this strange stranger’s strange message, strange acceptance, strange care. It would all come crashing down now, the truth of who she was, the shame of who she’d become, it would repel Him a thousand miles from here back to the right side of town, the respectable side of the Jordan river. Away from this rif-raf, this fallen broken rif-raf that was her existence, her people, her lot. He would be repelled, just when she was beginning to hope, to feel the thirst she had pushed away, to feel… something.
‘I have no husband,’ she replied.’ John 4:17
Would she have held her breath just now, wishing she could have held her tongue? Wishing the partial truth she gave might have been enough? It was not.
How was she to know that she was standing before the person of Truth that day (John 14:6) ? The word of God made flesh (John 1:14)? The omniscient and all knowing God? And yet, though He is the word made flesh and truth in person, he is also grace (John 1:14).
He does not judge her, does not break her (Isaiah 42:3). Gently Jesus weaves grace and truth together around her and she (a bruised reed, thrown this way and that by every wind) she finds herself not condemned, but called by Him. Called into a world she never expected to find herself in, the world Eve lost in the garden long ago when she (like this woman) succumbed to half truths and deceit. This strange new world with this strange new kind of human being. This human being who somehow weaves both truth and love together bringing freedom, hope and healing.
Jesus draws her gently in the direction of truth, complete truth, the whole truth to make her whole, the full truth to set her free, the truth which draws her out of the cowering shadows into the light of day. Because healing can only come on the other side of truth. Wholeness can only come on the other side of the whole truth.
‘Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. 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.’’ John 4:17-18
Quiet true. It wasn’t wholly true, the information she had volunteered. She had tried to hide behind a partial truth, but she was seen. Just as she has always been seen by God. Jesus only ever deals in whole truths, complete truths. The kind that set captives free, captives like her. Captives like you and I.
Politeness never frees a soul from slavery, slavery to the lies we bind around our hearts. Lies we project to preserve ourselves against our deepest fears; fears of rejection, insignificance or humiliation, fears of weakness, fears we are not enough. Only truth can free a human soul ( John 8:32) . Whole truth. Complete truth.
But though grace is gentle and truth is freeing, freedom can feel uncomfortable to the newly released. The light of day glares bright upon eyes long dimmed by shadows. Unable to hide behind partial truths and lies, she finds cover in religion and politics, using potent historical religious difference as a vehicle for distraction, for distance.
‘‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’’ John 4:19-20
This mountain. This mountain she spoke of, the one in view of where they stood, it was Mt Gerazim, the centre of Samaritan worship the place where the Samaritan temple had stood (before the Jews had destroyed it (128 BC). There had been a tussle for centuries between Jews and Samaritans over where God’s temple should be.
Mountains are large. Tangible. Obvious. But the obvious is not always the truth and sometimes the thing before our nose is the very thing we miss.
She was asking which mountain was the correct mountain to worship God on, and she was asking it of God Himself. God, standing before her in leather sandals.
‘Woman,’ Jesus replied, ‘believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.’ John 4:21-22
Gently he weaves the truth into being, the truth of a history of a people of promise and the truth that a time of change has now come.
‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’ John 4:21-24
Ironically, in avoiding her personal painful truth she had stumbled into a larger truth. The truth that there is no longer any mountain, any temple that can contain the worship of God, there never was a temple that could contain the presence of God. The truth that the Living Water Jesus spoke of was the Life of God Himself, the Spirit of the living God (Jeremiah 2:13), (Jeremiah 17:13).
A realisation is beginning to dawn, a suspicion growing in her heart. Something.
The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ John 4:25
The Messiah will come, is coming, has come. He will explain everything. He will lead us to the truth. The truth of this Living Water, the truth of everything.
‘For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; “he will lead them to springs of living water.” “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’
And He, the lamb upon the throne, he has travelled millennia upon millennia, mile upon mile to lead her to this spring of living water. To lead us to this spring of Living water. ‘I AM’. Yahweh. God in leather sandals.
Then Jesus declared, ‘I, the one speaking to you – I am he.’ John 4:26
Those words, just the nine of them, they explode like a galaxy or whirling stars, shining light on every other word spoken up until then. They are more than words, they are revelation. They are a dawn after dark, a breath gasped in wonder.
Because all along it has been more than words. This moment, this conversation, this meeting, all along the words have communicated more than words can say, and now they communicate more than words can contain, more than galaxies can hold.
She had never been seen like this before; deeply, generously, spiritually, truthfully.
She had been hiding from human connection, fearing the ‘truth’ of others words, others looks. But now, here, this day, this time, she is standing fully in the light of day, the heat of the midday sun and this man, this Rabbi is seeing all of who she is, and loving her anyway. And he is offering her something.
It wasn’t a theological idea or religious debate that reached her. It wasn’t even that she’d met omniscience that astonished her. It was that she’d met omniscience wrapped in love, truth wrapped in grace. This being seen with grace and freeing truth, beyond her numbed heart, her gender, her body, her lonely mistakes, her sin, this is what she had thirsted for all the long days and nights of her existence.
It all makes sense in a mysterious way and her trickle-thin faith swells and swirls until it becomes a bubbling brook. The hole in her numb heart, the void in her broken well, it could only ever find filling and fulfilment in Him; the Living Water of Life. She believes. Her once tearless eyes and once numbed heart begin to prick and beat with feeling.
She runs. Not away, But towards… truth, love, courage, humility and all the people that have rejected her before.
‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’John 7:38
She returns to the town from which she is an outcast, to the people she has spent her life avoiding, with living water bubbling, brimming, waterfall raging from within her. She draws them, pulls them, drags them like a current to Jesus feet.
Her life is changed, her story has changed, from that moment, that day, that break in Jesus journey that had been planned from before all time began. No longer was she an outcast, a play thing of men, the scorn of women and the contempt of Jewish pride. She was now the one through whom her whole village would be saved, an emissary for a King, a missionary to her own people.
‘Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I’ve ever done.’ 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. 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 Saviour of the world.’ John 4:39-42
Her life, a life once bruised and battered by life, her story, once an empty tale of scars and tears is now a part of God’s big story, written down in time, for all time, a signpost in the whirling emptiness of human life pointing to the spring of Living Water. The Living water we all yearn for.
But here’s the rub; Had she not been an outcast, made a thousand mistakes, welted with two thousand bruises on her soul living in shame and armour thick avoidance, would she have ever been there by the well at midday at all?
How was it, that the pain and shame of it all could be part of God’s redemptive plan, the catalyst that would lead her to His presence?
She needed to know her well was dry, she needed to know her cistern was broken to be in the desert of her own isolation before she recognised her thirst, her need for Living Water. And there, in that place, Jesus met her, and led her through grace and truth to Living Water. To Himself.
‘For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; “he will lead them to springs of living water.” “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’
Jesus had a thousand reasons to ignore her that day. She’d done all the wrong things in the wrong parts of town. But Jesus ignores all social divides, cultural moors, religious traditions, national prejudice, gender roles and reaches beyond them to her dry, dehydrated heart, with truth and grace.
It is not a theological idea or a religious principal that will nail Him by choice to a cross soon after. But a reckless, reaching love. Love reaching beyond every emotional barrier, every cultural divide, every social custom we throw at Him, to us in our dehydrated humanity. We, the thirsty ones, thirsty for Him, yearning for the living water only He can give.
‘Come, see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done’ she had said that day. And it echoes down through time, echoing another voice, a voice calling us all from then to now, Come!
‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.’ Revelation 22:17
Come. The free gift of Living Water is waiting for you in His presence.