I have a love affair with sugar. Not just desserts, although chocolate chip cookies and brownies are at the top of my favorite foods list, but with drinks too – namely, Coke and Starbucks iced chai. Sometimes, just to make myself feel guilty so I won’t pay $4 for Starbucks, I’ll look up how much sugar is in a chai and shudder. Some days it works; other days I say with baby Simba, “I laugh in the face of danger! Hahaha!” And I go buy one anyway.
It tastes so good in the moment. And then a few hours later, I experience the inevitable sugar crash. As we all know, this is how sugar addiction (or any addiction, for that matter) works.
The other day, I had a healthier craving – a craving to read the story of the Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus. I was feeling a little blah, just sort of drab and grey-blue. This story is one of my favorites, so instead of going to eat a brownie (there always seems to be a plate of them in the kitchen at work!), I looked this story up and read thirstily. (If you’re not familiar with it, follow the link to go read it before you keep reading this post. The post won’t make much sense without some familiarity with the story.)
This time, these words from Jesus hit me afresh: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that’s saying to you ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him [for a drink], and he would have given you living water.” [emphasis mine]
There’s no sugar crash after drinking water – we all know it’s the most vital thing we can drink – but living water? Like, water that’s alive? Water that brings life? What does that even mean?
The woman is a leeettle skeptical…
“Sir, you don’t have anything to actually get the water out of this well with, and it’s a deep one. Just where exactly are you gonna get this ‘living water’? Are you greater than the founder of our entire race, the one who dug this well?” [That’s the Becca Modern Version.]
This is early in the Jesus story. How’s he going to respond to this?
“Everyone who drinks water from this well will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I give will never be thirsty again. The water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Whoa. Kinda weird, and also intriguing. What does it mean??
Jesus talks about this living water again a few (months? years?) later, at a festival in Jerusalem. He’d given this woman a personal private preview of the idea, an intimate conversation that goes on to discuss the most shameful and painful parts of her own story – without condemnation from the only one who has the authority to condemn her.
But his later communication about this living water is an announcement, a come-one-come-all invitation shouted over the din of a celebrating crowd.
“IF ANYONE THIRSTS, LET HIM COME TO ME AND DRINK. WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME, AS THE SCRIPTURE HAS SAID, ‘OUT OF HIS HEART WILL FLOW RIVERS OF LIVING WATER!’”
Well, the Apostle John goes on to tell us exactly what he’s talking about.
“Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Aha. We’re not talking about drinks at all actually, either at the well with the woman or in the crowd at the festival.
That Jesus. He’s a master of metaphor.
Actually, Jesus is also just really familiar with his own Scriptures, the Old Testament. In Jeremiah, God says, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
What Jesus is talking about with the woman at the well and with the festival crowds is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of the Living God. The Spirit who gives life, because just like we have to drink water to live, we also have to have the Spirit of God to be spiritually alive.
This invitation to become spiritually alive is open to all – the woman who’s had five husbands and is now shacking up with some other guy, the religious Jews who want to kill Jesus because he doesn’t play by the rules – everyone. All our cisterns are broken. We need a spring of living water.
To go back to my sugar addiction… how often we look to drinks besides water to satisfy our thirst! And how often we look to something else besides Jesus to make us feel alive! Some people look for life from an assortment of sexual partners, like our friend at the well in Samaria. Some people look for life from their own accomplishments, like the religious leaders in Jerusalem. You can probably fill in the blanks for your own sourcing attempts.
When I stop to think about it, how I long for living water! For the pure, clear, cool refreshment of a cascade of water, the kind of spring that makes everything around it green with palpable life. The Holy Spirit of the Living God will always tell us that no matter where we’ve been scrounging for thirst-quencher, God alone will give us life. And he invites us, arms open wide, to come.