7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:7-13
There is so much about this story that is unusual. First, that the woman is coming at noon to get water, since people typically came for water early in the morning or early evening. Second, that Jesus travels through Samaria, since Jews considered Samaritan land disgraceful to walk on. And third, that Jesus is talking to a woman since addressing a women publicly was culturally unacceptable but that Jesus went one step further and requested something of this woman since Jews had not spoken with Samaritans for about 800 years (2 Kings 17).
These details provide a fresh look at this one encounter. But there is one more detail that has great significance; it is the moment Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God… [I] would have given you living water.”
Water as a natural resource was found in two forms in Jesus’ day. Well water that was mined from underground water tables (like Jacob’s Well in this story) and living water that was pulled from fresh streams flowing from mountain regions. These two forms of water had very different qualities. The first was stagnate and warm and the second moving and cool. And in this moment Jesus is using these two different forms as a metaphor to describe the difference between a spiritual life that is stagnate from one that is living and alive.
Living water was a clear reference to eternal life and Jesus suggests that he is ready to give this gift if only she would ask. At first the woman did not fully understand the meaning since she was so focused on the actual water or drinking water. But it would become clear that Jesus was offering her an amazing gift. A gift that takes priority over cultural rules, religious practices, and physical substances that would only be given in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It was this gift of living water or eternal life that Jesus was talking about that would “become in [us] a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14) A gift that only Jesus could give.