Thirst is a natural condition for people. If we don’t keep drinking water we get thirsty. Sometimes we are thirsty just because we think we ought to be. When I was in college, a group of us would regularly go to the local Sambos Restaurant (they don’t exist anymore) and work on homework. We went there because they had coffee for ten cents, with unlimited free refills. Once a week somebody would buy a full meal, just so they wouldn’t kick us out. We drank a lot of coffee because it was available. Most of the time, we drank it because we convinced ourselves that we were thirsty. After I joined the Navy a couple of years later I ended up having only thirteen cups of coffee in a 22 year career. I haven’t had a cup of coffee since 1984. I drink a lot of tea instead. Sometimes I do so because I am thirsty, and sometimes because I think I ought to be. The problem is, coffee and tea end up dehydrating you, so you have to drink plain water to make up for it. Caffeinated drinks actually make you thirsty.
In John 4, Jesus had a conversation with a woman who was thirsty. She didn’t know it but she was thirsty in more ways than one.
Jesus was sitting by a well when a woman came at about noon to draw water. In most places at that time there was no running water in houses. People went to the well to get water and store it in large jugs in their houses. This woman came about noon, probably because she did not expect anyone to be at the well. She was somewhat of an outcast in the town of Sychar.
Jesus was thirsty. He asked her for some water. After some discussion, he said that he could give her living water.
To a Jew, or even a Samaritan, living water would be important. Living water is flowing water. For this woman, a stream of living water would be valuable. She wouldn’t have to suffer going to the well in the midday heat, or suffer the looks of her neighbors if she went in the cooler times. Living water would be the equivalent of our water on tap. This woman knew the value of that. She even said, “Give me this water, so I don’t get thirsty.” (Jn 4:15)
What she did not realize was that Jesus was speaking metaphorically. The living water he promised would be “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” It was a wellspring of salvation. People thirst for God. Jesus had told the people, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.” (Matt 5:6) Most people are thirsty and don’t even know it. As it turns out, this woman learned that she was more thirsty for God than she was for water.
Later, Jesus used this same idea. During the seven days of Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, the priests would draw water from the pool of Siloam amid great pomp, and pour it on the altar along with wine. During the last day of one such feast, Jesus preached about living water.
In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive.) (Jn 7:37-39)
Jesus made the libation ceremony personal. If you are thirsty, go to him to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Not water carried in a golden pitcher to be poured on an altar once a year. Spiritual water flowing daily in your life. Water of salvation. Water that keeps you on the path of righteousness.
He told the people at the feast to come to him for that spiritual water. He told the woman at the well that he could give her that living water. We have become used to having water on demand in our houses. Whether thirsty or not, we can get water. That is not true in much of the world. Many people still have to go to the well for their drinking water. We can give them living water. We can give them God’s word. But that also means that we should not take living water for granted. We should appreciate the word of God in our hearts.