Sometimes, just occasionally in life, a very routine event takes an unexpected turn leading to unimagined opportunity. Here’s a true account of one such episode.
It was midday, when the sun is at its hottest. A man sat alone beside the Well of Jacob in Samaria. As the woman approached with her water jar, she wasn’t intending to speak to him. He was a Jew – she’d be lucky if he didn’t spit on her, to show how much he despised her race.
As she leant over the well, she heard the voice. “Give me a drink”. Straightening up, she looked across at the man. “Why are you asking me? You’re a Jew; I’m a woman, and I’m from Samaria!” His reply puzzled her even more. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”.
The man looked weary and travel-stained. Was this his idea of a joke? “Sir, you have nothing to get the water with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?” She thought it was time to tell this Jew that his race wasn’t so special after all. “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?” The man said, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.
This was an amazing offer! “Sir, give me this water, so I don’t get thirsty and have to keep coming back here for more.” “Go and fetch your husband and come back”, he said. She looked at him, wondering. “I have no husband”. “You’re right, you’ve had five husbands, but the one you live with now isn’t your husband”.
How did he know that she was an outcast even in Samaritan society? “You’re a prophet!” she gasped, and tried to turn the subject of conversation away from her private life. “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain; and you Jews say that we have to worship in Jerusalem.” The man told her that the time was coming when it wouldn’t matter where she worshipped, but the important thing was that she worshipped “in spirit and in truth”.
The woman had heard about the “anointed one” who would come and teach people about things like that. “I am he”, said Jesus.
While they talked, a group of Jesus’ friends had been walking towards them from the village where they had been buying food. They watched in amazement as the woman ran off, leaving her water jar by the well. She couldn’t wait to tell her neighbours all about it, and soon they would all be coming back to the well together to find out more.
The first 7 chapters of the gospel of John all mention water in some way. The events at the well in Samaria are mentioned in chapter 4.
Water is no less important in today’s world. We could manage without food for a while, but without water we would not last very long.
In December 2003, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the years 2005 to 2015 as the International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Life’.
Their launch letter begins: “Water is essential for life. Yet many millions of people around the world face water shortages. Many millions of children die every year from water-borne diseases. And drought regularly afflicts some of the world’s poorest countries. The world needs to respond much better”.
What did Jesus mean when he told the woman about “living water”? Back in the Old Testament, God said: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water”. (Jeremiah 2 v 13).
We suffer from the same evils today. If God is the fountain of living waters, how many people are queueing up to drink? There are many ideas about the way we should lead our lives, but in the Bible we can find a consistent message that leads not only to peace of mind now, but also to eternal life in the future. It’s impossible to summarise the whole Bible in this short article, and the best way to find out is to read it f or yourself.
From the outside, the Bible can appear rather daunting, but if you were thirsty and desperate for a drink of water, would you hesitate to put in some effort to get one?