Imagine you’ve been walking in a hot dry, desert; the sun blazes down, you’re dying of thirst, and you have no water. You walk and walk, growing hotter and thirstier, until finally you come to a vending machine filled with cold bottles of water—only you don’t have any money. You have no way of getting what you need. But then, someone comes along, and you can see the wad of ones in their hand, and you ask, “Could you get me a bottle of water?” And they do! They buy it, hand it to you, you grab it, twist off the cap and drink, swallowing gulp after gulp until you stop to breath, and finally you say, “Aaaaaahhhhh!”
The Coca-Cola Company came up with an advertising campaign a few years ago designed to offer brand recognition via just this sound.
It’s description is, “Coca-Cola has launched an innovative long-term effort intended to capture the attention of teen audiences and boost engagement via not just one website, but 61 of them. The Ahh Effect campaign focuses on Coke and the response drinkers should have when taking a sip: an audible ‘ahh.’ In fact, that ‘ahh’ is employed as a sound effect on the sites used for this campaign, which feature videos, games and creative images. For example, visitors to one of the sites can use their cursors to move Coke bubbles around and hear the ‘ahhh’ sound.”
Jesus had been walking in a hot, dry, desert climate, where the sun blazed down. He had no water. Eventually he arrives at—not a vending machine—but a well, a deep well full of cold water. But he has no bucket. Finally someone comes along with a bucket and the chance to have his own “Ahh effect” is at hand. But instead of taking his “Ahh” moment, Jesus creates the chance for an unsuspecting and unlikely person to have her own “Ahh” moment. Not just with a drink of water. But, of course, with living water.
Jesus knew all about water. Growing up in the rocky, dry land of Israel, he knew first hand water was a precious resource that didn’t come easily. He must have grown up seeing his mother and countless other women spend hours of their days hauling water for cooking, cleaning and drinking. So when Jesus encounters the lone Samaritan woman at the well in the hot, noonday sun, he could appreciate the hard work required to draw enough water from the deep well in order to meet the needs of her family.
Water is notoriously heavy—1 pint of water weighs 1 pound, so a 5-gallon bucket equals a staggering 40 pounds. A person would have to haul this much water several times every day to meet the demands of a large family and busy household.
When Jesus, our very human Savior, encounters the woman at the well, he’s hot and tired from his journey, but again, he’s not packing a bottle of Evian, so he’s parched. But he knows exactly what he needs to ease his thirst; “Give me a drink,” he says to the Samaritan woman. It’s a touching, vulnerable moment, one of the very few times we hear Jesus make a request of another person. Jesus needs something she can provide.
In this moment it doesn’t matter that he’s the Son of God, the Savior of the world, a man in a male-dominated society, or a Jew encountering someone from the ethnically disparaged Samaritans. All the barriers and differences— like gender and nationality— that might divide them, fall away. Jesus is simply a person with a basic human need, and this woman has the ability to help him. She can give him water. So Jesus’“Ahh” moment is at hand. The woman’s “Ahh” moment is coming.
To back up: The story never actually tells us if Jesus gets that cup of water. It is likely John doesn’t tell us if Jesus gets the water because Jesus, of course, is never simply a “taker”—he hasn’t come into her life to get something he needs. We don’t know because there’s something much more important going on.
We do know, however, that the woman stops what she’s doing because she’s amazed Jesus is speaking to her at all. Just by noticing her, Jesus has opened up a world of brand new possibilities to this woman weighed down by guilt and shame.
Jesus is experiencing the discomfort of thirst, but he knows the woman at the well is carrying a far heavier burden. He’s prepared to give her much more than a simple cup of water. He’s going to offer her something that Coke, Pepsi, and Evian cannot offer: water that will remove her thirst forever.
Jesus knows exactly who this woman is and can see the painful secrets of her heart. Jesus recognizes her thirst for forgiveness and acceptance. And because he does, Jesus offers what she needs even before she knows enough to ask. Unlike Jesus, she doesn’t even have to voice her request— “I can give you living water,” he says, water that can heal your spirit and ease the pain in your heart. This water is more than just refreshing—it’s renewing…of life.
What we need to see in this story is that the woman at the well is us. The woman is so consumed with the day-in, day-out burden of hauling endless buckets of water that she can’t grasp the magnitude of what Jesus is offering. She’s simply eager to find a way to avoid this back-breaking drudgery that defines her life.
That’s us, right? The only difference is that our hauling of endless buckets of water takes on the form of: work we don’t want to be at, financial challenges we don’t know how to manage, health issues, will our kids grow up to be good human beings, struggles with loneliness and isolation, even the struggle of the divisive times we find ourselves in today.
When Jesus tells the woman at the well he has water that will forever cure her thirst, she eagerly replies, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus is offering to open up all of eternity to her, but she’s focused on making fewer trips to the village well! But that’s our prayer, isn’t it? “Lord, just make this endless difficult time stop!”
How often are we ready to settle for less than what God wants to offer to us? How often do we hesitate to ask for anything from our generous God who’s prepared to let love and blessing and forgiveness flow over us like an ever-flowing stream? There’s no way the woman at the well could visualize how refreshing this water is. Jesus isn’t suggesting a better way to do her chores. He’s not proposing to create a better work environment for her. He’s offering to ease the burden of her troubled soul and release her from pain of guilt.
This woman is living with a past that makes her an outcast in her own village. She carries with her the pain of guilt, shame and rejection— which is a far heavier burden than the water she hauls every day—and that is what he wants to help ease—the burden of her heart. He wants to remove the pain of isolation, disgrace, and sin. He wants to give her mercy, grace, and forgiveness—and that is exactly what Jesus longs to give us.
Water for us humans is necessary for survival. What we don’t often consider is how necessary for our spiritual survival is the living water Jesus offers through the Holy Spirit. There by the well Jesus shows this woman why he has come— he wants to offer the gift of God’s life-giving Spirit, water that wells “up to eternal life” to God’s people. Just as the Samaritan woman has exactly what Jesus needs in that moment— water—he has precisely what she needs as well: grace and forgiveness and the promise of new life. It’s not just refreshing—it is life renewing! And what Jesus aims to give her, he aims to give us.
In reading this story, you get the sense that this woman is street smart. She’s talking to a stranger—a strange man no less. She’s a bit sassy. She’s a person of dubious reputation. She’s probably had to scratch and claw to get what she’s got. So when she finally understands what’s being offered, she grabs it and rejoices. But this woman is also generous— she wants to share this gift of new life and hope with everyone she knows—even those who have turned their backs on her.
This woman had been an outcast in her village because of her misdeeds, but all of that is behind her because of the living water of Jesus. And she takes this “living water” and she runs back to her village to tell others the good news, eagerly approaching everyone she sees, saying with wonder, “‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’”
A sip of this water has transformed her life. She’s so excited, she wants to share the good news with everyone!
For what do we thirst? Could it be…
Someone who knows us as completely as Jesus and yet loves us anyway? Forgiveness and new life that God alone can offer? A fresh start? Understanding? Peace? Healing? Wholeness? To acknowledge the mistakes we have made, and know there is still hope for us? To cast away the burden of guilt and the weight of regret?
All of that and more is offered to us in the “living water” Jesus offers us.
“Living Water.” Sort of sounds like a corporate tag line Coca-Cola might use, right? But the “Living Water” of Jesus quenches a far deeper need than everyday thirst.
The “Living Water” of Jesus quenches the part of us that wakes up in the night worried or lonely or consumed with remorse.
“Living Water” of Jesus washes away the parts of us that feel unclean and threaten to keep us isolated forever.
“Living Water” of Jesus motivates us to run to our neighbors and tell them the Good News, and change lives.
So may we, take a long, long drink of this “Living Water”, and when we stop to breath, we too will say, “Ahh!” Amen.