John 4: 1-42 – Living Water


The “living water” as an expression can mean, “flowing water” to distinguish from stagnant water in a cistern or well. As the revelation progresses, Jesus is identified as the fountain of life. At the background a number of Old Testament texts are important. Old Testament speaks of God as the source of life-giving water. The messianic era has been symbolically presented as water (Zech 14: 8; Joel 3: 18; Amos 8: 11-12). God is the living water, which Israel rejected for the sake of bottomless wells (Jer 2: 13). Wisdom is compared to water and fountain (Prov 13: 14; 16: 22; 18: 4; Sir 26: 30). The Living water stands for the salvific and life-giving message of Jesus which is actually his own person and life. The Holy Spirit is another form of the same. Hence the identification of water and Holy Spirit is taken up in John 7: 37-39; 19: 34.

The woman understands taking water in the natural sense. The clarification is: the living water, which Jesus gives, quenches the thirst permanently. Thereby, Jesus is referring to the existential thirst of a human person. The complete fulfilment of existence is possible only when one opens oneself to God and his action. No worldly things or realities can satisfy us completely. It is the interior fulfilment on the level of the Spirit, transcending the levels of senses and reason that can quench our “thirst”.

Going a step forward she asks for this water. When a person has the desire, and expresses it, then God finds a possibility to act. Creating the desire is the first step in evangelization, missionary activities, response to the call, and experience if conversion. On this foundation God can build. Jesus does so by leading the woman further.

The next step is difficult but inevitable. Jesus asks the woman, “Go, call your husband” (Jn 4: 16). The demand of Jesus is the self-knowledge, acceptance of one’s real self, and the readiness to confront oneself. Jesus does not want to dig up the past of the woman and pronounce judgment over the same as it is clear from the general behaviour and attitude of Jesus (Jn 7: 53 – 8: 11). But she must be helped to break the masks, and make-up to remain as transparent as possible before God, and others. It is a challenge to authenticity and sincerity. She tries to hide her actual situation and becomes defensive in the beginning but finally gives up, admitting that she cannot escape into the darkness but must allow the light to enter. She recognizes Jesus as a prophet because he knew exactly the situation of her interiority. When she lied to him saying, “I have no husband”, Jesus exposed her insincerity immediately. Jews were allowed to marry thrice. Applying the same principle, the life of the woman is really immoral, because she has had five husbands (Jn 4: 18).

Now, a metaphorical or symbolic meaning for “husband” is possible; in terms of polytheism or idol worship. The Hebrew word for ‘husband’ (Baal) was used as a name of pagan god too. So it can mean, worship of five “Baals” or gods. From the following teachings it is clear that Jesus wants the woman to come to the authentic worship of Yahweh.

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