“If only you’d known God’s gift,” replied Jesus, “and who it is that’s saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you’d have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
“But sir,” replied the woman, “you haven’t got a bucket! And the well’s deep! So how were you thinking of getting living water?” (4:10-11)
Jesus meets a Samaritan woman of questionable character in this chapter and by the end of the chapter he has moved her from the surface of life to a place of much deeper understanding. She is only thinking of literal water. Not to fault her. I would imagine we would have been thinking that too. But Jesus seizing the opportunity to show her that her greatest need was for something much more fulfilling than the water of this well. Or the love of a man. She needs an eternal source of life and enduring love. What she needs Jesus has.
I am seeing that this is a common technique for John’s Jesus. He did the same with Nicodemus in chapter 3. They start talking about birth and all Nicodemus can think of is physical birth. So when Jesus talks about being “born again” or “born anew” this sounds ridiculous to the Pharisee. How is that even possible? But Jesus moves Nicodemus deeper into spiritual truth: babies are born but then they live and die; people who are reborn spiritually will never die.
Jesus will do the same with the crowd in chapter 6. Early in that chapter Jesus feeds the enormous crowd with only a few fish and a handful of rolls. Of course this crowd begins to follow Jesus closely. There is free food wherever Jesus is. Who wouldn’t follow? Knowing that the crowd is using him for the food, Jesus pushes them deeper into spiritual truth. It is not literal bread they need; they need to feast on the “bread” of his own life. They need to “feast” on him. They don’t just need that which sustains physical life; they need that which keeps the spirit alive.
John’s Jesus is intensely interested in taking us out into deeper waters. There is that thing we think we need from Jesus, that thing we think we can give Jesus, that thing we think we understand already. Jesus is interested in taking us further.