Drinking at the Fountain

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 4:13-14

Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14 rsv

I’d like to think with you today about lasting satisfaction, about a fulfillment that never fades away, a contentment that abides. What a blessing that must be! And Jesus Christ offers it to people as a sheer gift.

One day the Lord was sitting by a well on the outskirts of a Samaritan village when a woman came there to draw water. She was shocked when He asked her for a drink. In those days, men didn’t usually speak to women in public. That was only part of the surprise. The strained relationship between Jews and Samaritans made this encounter even more awkward. Bitter animosity had rankled between the two groups. They weren’t on speaking terms. And further, no conscientious Jew would have considered drinking from a vessel provided by a Samaritan. It simply wasn’t done. But here was Jesus asking the woman, “Give me a drink.”

The woman responded with some suspicion. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” She seems to say, we both know how it is between Jews and Samaritans. Why then should You ask a favor of me? And why should I do anything for You?


Jesus doesn’t answer her question. He turns His attention to the woman herself, her longings, her needs. “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.” If she had realized, that is, who He was and what He came to give, she would have broken the social code herself. She would have asked Him for something.

She disagrees. She doubts that He has anything to give. With more than a little scorn, she answers, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well?” It was a way of asking, “Who do You think You are?” But Jesus is not put off by that. He goes on speaking about her and about what she wants most. She’s here at the well for water, but Jesus says, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Who could resist an offer like that? We all seek satisfaction and fulfillment. The human spirit knows a craving of which the body’s thirst is a kind of sign. But the satisfaction we inwardly long for always seems to elude us. We grasp for it. Sometimes we think we almost have it and then it slips away again. The old thirsts come back stronger than ever. Who wouldn’t want a satisfaction that stays with us, a fountain of refreshment that keeps springing up?

Isn’t that what people are after today in their sometimes frantic search for thrills? Doesn’t that kind of need set many of us on the merry-go-round of pleasure seeking? We want to try one more drink, another drug, one delight after another in the hope that somewhere, somehow, we’ll be truly satisfied. In the case of some, like this Samaritan woman, it was one partner after another, one home after another, always hoping, always searching for a happiness that lasts, but never quite finding it.

Does that speak to your life today, to some restlessness deep within you? Have you known something of this thirst of the heart that nothing seems to quiet? Has it led you perhaps into paths that have turned out to be dead ends? Maybe into ways of living that make you uncomfortable when you remember them? It’s my observation, from my own life and those of others I know, that many of the follies and evils into which we fall come from yearnings we try desperately and sometimes wrongly to satisfy.

But imagine this, here is someone promising living water, a refreshment that never runs dry! At that, even this cautious woman, so often burned before by false promises, shows some interest. For the first time, she’s ready to ask for something, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” By all means, she seems to say, if you can really provide what you’re talking about, please let me have it. Heaven knows how long I’ve been searching!


Now the conversation took a turn. Jesus said, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” We can almost sense the pained silence that must have followed. Jesus had touched a sensitive spot. “I have no husband,” she answered. “You’re right in saying `I have no husband,'” said Jesus, “for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.” What a moment that was! Jesus affirmed her answer, then went on to show that He knew about her domestic problems. That must have been threatening to her. Here was a man of another country, whom she had never seen before, who could yet recount in detail the record of her past. With quick nervousness, she changed the subject. Since He was a prophet with such powers, let Him give her the answer to this controversial question: which is the proper place to worship, Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem? That was something she felt much more comfortable discussing. One could debate that for hours without becoming personally involved. Anything to get off the subject of her marital history.

Yet this insight of Jesus into her past had made a profound impression on the woman. She later spoke of it as the most remarkable thing about her encounter with Him. It wasn’t simply that He knew about her. All of that was probably common talk in the village where she lived. It wasn’t merely the unusual twist that a stranger should know all this. It was the rest of the conversation that made this one feature of it so impressive to her. Here was someone who didn’t condemn or ridicule her because of what He knew. His comment on her past came out gently, in connection with an offer of living water, lasting satisfaction. In other words, He was providing something else that she really wanted: simple acceptance.

How much we all want that! Give us someone who knows us through and through and yet accepts us just as we are. We’re all familiar, as this woman must have been, with what only seems to be acceptance. People welcome us perhaps for what we can do for them. They shower us with gifts and attention so as the better to gain something from us. And we know about conditional acceptance, too. Some are friendly until they get to know about us, until they discover that we’ve made some mistakes. Then they grow suddenly cool. Others promise to befriend us if we’ll change and become like them or like they want us to be. They seem to say, “When you get over all your bad habits, then we’ll want you around.” We don’t feel affirmed by that kind of attitude, do we? But when people know us, “warts and all,” and still take us to their hearts, that’s acceptance. That’s a fireside where we can warm our hands and our hearts.

That was what this woman apparently felt in Jesus’ presence. Here was a man who had asked her a favor. He wanted to be served. He had put up with her crossness, her sharp tongue, her mockery and had offered her a happiness she scarcely dared to hope for. And all the while, He had known just what kind of woman she was. She found that strange and deeply moving. People always do, especially if they have felt the lash of scorn or known the loneliness that contempt and ostracism can bring. Everyone longs for acceptance, but none feel the need of it quite as keenly as the despised ones, the talked- about, the looked-down-on. The woman who is twice divorced, the teenager with a police record, the alcoholic, the mentally ill, the businessman who’s gone through bankruptcy: they know how important (and how rare) it is to be accepted.

This woman of Samaria had known more than her share of rejection. She probably came to the well at an odd time of day as she did to avoid the smirks and taunts of other women in her community. In this conversation with Jesus, she had encountered a new kind of love, the tough acceptance that confronts us with what we’ve done, but then welcomes us to a better future.


Now back to the conversation at the well. The woman’s question about the proper place of worship may have been a dodge but Jesus took it seriously. He let her know that how people worship is more significant than where. God seeks a worship from transformed hearts, based on the truth He reveals. A new day for the worship of God’s people was now dawning before this woman’s eyes. God was present not in a temple or on a mountain but in the person of Jesus.

Still she fails to understand. Her ideas of worship are confused. Her questions about the meaning of religion still wait for an answer. Wistfully she looks ahead. “I know that Messiah is coming,” she says, “when he comes, he will show us all things.” There’s another longing many people share. Oh, to find certainty in my controversial questions about religion! Where is someone who can clear up these things once and for all? If only the Messiah, the promised one, would come! Jesus’ answer must have startled her, “I who speak to you am he.”

End of conversation. All the woman’s questions are not answered, but what she has learned is tremendously significant. In C. S. Lewis’s book Until We Have Faces, Queen Orual complains bitterly against the gods until she meets the one true Lord. Then her attitude changes. “I ended my book with the words, `no answer,'” she says. “I know now, Lord, why You utter no answer. You are Yourself the answer. Before Your face, questions die away. What other answer would suffice?” The queen found herself satisfied and so did this woman of Samaria. She forgot all about what she came for, dropped her water pot by the well and ran back to the village to spread the news.

Maybe you can feel some kinship with this obscure woman of the past. These words Jesus spoke may have a ring of truth for you. Let’s say you’re not particularly religious. You’re ready to admit that some things in your life have not been what they should be. You’ve known what it is to be criticized, to feel rejected, to be down on yourself. You’re looking for happiness in life, for some genuine accepting love, for an answer to your deepest questions. You’re thirsty for something – you hardly know what.

What I want to assure you about today is that Jesus Christ is alive. He’s the risen Lord. He’s interested in you and has something to give you.

What if He could meet you too, as He met this Samaritan woman, amid the common circumstances of your life? What if He told you that living water is yours for the asking? And what if you listened, what if you were open, what if you took Him seriously? In my own experience and from that of many others, I can tell you what will happen. As you take Him seriously, as you get to know Jesus Christ, you’ll discover that all you’ve been most deeply wanting is there, in Him. He, in person, dying for you and rising again for you is God’s wonderful acceptance, God’s welcome. The new life He gives can slake every thirst and the truth you find in Him is the deep answer you’ve been seeking. Friends, it’s true. Jesus is both the Savior we need and the satisfaction we want. Believing in Him is like quenching our thirst at some fountain of life.

Why can I say that so confidently? Well, because it’s Jesus’ own promise, the word of a gentleman of the strictest honor. And I don’t know of any who have ever trusted in Jesus, ever committed themselves to Him, and been disappointed. Try Him. Take Him at His word. What have you to lose? What but all your uncertainties and your emptiness? You won’t go wrong with Him.

Arnold Toynbee, perhaps the greatest historian of our time, has put it well when he said, “As we in this our time of troubles await on the banks of time’s river, in anguished longing for a deliverer, a single figure rises from the flood and straightway fills the whole horizon. There is the Savior. And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see the travail of his soul and be satisfied.” Yes, friends, and so will we be satisfied if we stretch out toward Him the empty cup of faith and take the living water.

Prayer: Lord, let everyone sharing this program do that. Let each one taste and see that You are good and find that deep and lasting satisfaction that You give. In the name of Christ. Amen.