John chapter 4 tells the story of a divine appointment a Samaritan woman had one day when she went to draw water from a well. She met Jesus and through a conversation He clearly pinpointed her needs and set about the task of saving her. It is a remarkable story.
It seems that Jesus went out of His way to be in the way when this woman showed up. His intent was to win her over. This woman had deep needs in her life which she was not addressing and we find that throughout their conversation Jesus broke through a number of barriers in order to get to the real heart of her problem.
As they speak, this woman tries to erect a number of barriers in order to prevent Jesus addressing the real issues in her life. First of all there is a religious barrier, then a racial barrier; there is a cultural barrier, a social barrier, and a personal barrier. She attempts five times to divert attention away from the real issue rather than face up to her deep needs. This is what people tend to do time and again. They are busy pursuing happiness and satisfaction in all the wrong places and are hiding behind barriers to avoid facing up to the truth about themselves.
This lady is playing hide and seek with Jesus, but her approach is obvious throughout the whole story. First of all she hides behind the fact that she’s a woman and Jesus is a man. Then she hides behind the fact that she is a Samaritan and He is a Jew. As Jesus wants to probe deeper, she wants to create distance. She has so many protective measures in her self-defence. She even hides behind her religion and the different beliefs she has about worship.
Jesus only asked the woman for a drink, but His real intention was to show her that He alone could give her the living water she needed. He saw through her religious cover up; He saw through her defence mechanisms and He discerned what were her true needs and desires beyond her emotional response. Jesus had asked her for water, but she was the one who was truly thirsty. She was looking for true satisfaction and fulfilment in life but nothing she did provided it, least of all her religion. Jesus describes herself as someone who is worshipping “what you do not know”, and yet He, the true Messiah, the answer to her needs, is standing right in front of her. Jesus cuts through all her pretence and exposes the true need of her heart. He does this by using a word of knowledge: “Go, bring your husband,” He says. The woman responds, “I haven’t got a husband.”
“You’re right,” Jesus says. “You’ve had five and the man you’re with now is not your husband.”
She was astounded, not just because He knew these facts supernaturally, but because He was beginning to expose the true needs of her heart. Her whole life was summed up in those six relationships that Jesus pinpointed. We aren’t told specifically why she had had a string of relationships, but the inference is quite clear: she had sought satisfaction in her life by pursuing one relationship after another, but had never found it. We can only guess that, tragically, each one of those relationships ended in disaster.
No wonder she had so many barriers. Can you imagine the hurt and dissatisfaction she had experienced? And the man she was currently with wasn’t her husband. What does that tell us? Perhaps that though she had begun to understand that marriage wasn’t going to solve her problems, she still believed that somehow a relationship with a man would. She was still motivated to go in the direction in which she believed her needs would be met.
Despite all her attempts to cover up, Jesus saw in her heart the real need that she was trying to fulfil. He could see that she was thirsty, not for a drink of water, but for something much, much deeper, and Jesus could offer it to her: a lasting relationship with someone she could truly trust and, ultimately, eternal life. She was looking for love and fulfilment, but had never found it in any of her relationships. She was the one who was really thirsty. No wonder Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is just said to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
The “gift of God” to us today is the cool, fresh, satisfying water of life in the midst of a world that is predominantly a desert. Trying to find satisfaction away from God is like a man dying of thirst trying to drink the dry, dusty sands of the desert. Instead, Jesus offers us satisfying, living water. This woman, like so many of us, was bound by the natural world. She could only think in terms of the physical world and of seeking emotional satisfaction through physical means, but Jesus helped her to focus on the real answer.