A New Identity
“… To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” —Revelation 21:6 (NIV)
Jesus and the Woman at the Well (John 4:4-42)
"Typical man!" she might have thought when Jesus asked her for some water. In the ancient world, fetching water was seen as women’s work—much as it is in many parts of the world today.
But something about Jesus’ request seemed odd to the woman at the well: He was Jewish, while she was Samaritan.
Everything about her would have sent most respectable Jewish rabbis running the other way. Her ethnicity. Her gender. Her reputation. Certainly, there was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews. Most Jews viewed their northern neighbors with contempt … and Samaritans returned the favor. Not 20 years before the woman’s path crossed Jesus’, some of her countrymen had desecrated the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
But it’s a good bet she had more immediate concerns weighing on her mind that day. Her string of five marriages suggests she wasn’t used to men treating her with respect. In all likelihood, she was marginalized by her peers because of her relationship track record.
None of this deterred Jesus. One minute He was asking for a drink; the next, He was offering to give her “living water.”
Imagine her shock. Since when do men offer to fetch water, living or otherwise?
In the exchange that followed, Jesus utterly transformed the woman’s identity. He treated her like an equal, engaging in a lengthy conversation—the longest recorded dialogue anyone has with Jesus in the Gospels. He restored the woman’s dignity, refusing to cast her aside when the unsavory bits of her past came to light.
From that day forward, she was no longer just a “woman at the well.” She became one of the very first evangelists—one of the first people in John’s gospel to tell others about Jesus. Many of her fellow Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of her influence (4:39).
The woman at the well received the living water Jesus came to offer. And she and her community were never the same.
No water leads to a lack of spirituality
The effects of dirty water are well known to the people of Haalumba in southern Zambia. Until a few years ago, they had no sustainable source of safe drinking water. Diarrhea and cholera were common. Children like Clara, now 12, had to walk long distances to fetch water that might kill them—that is, if the journey didn’t kill them first.
“It was very dangerous,” Clara says, recalling the place where she used to draw water. “It was very slippery. You could fall and drown.”
The time spent fetching dirty water, and the illnesses it can cause, mean fewer opportunities for education and income-generating activities. This is especially true for women and girls. In Haalumba, as in other parts of the world, collecting water is widely seen as women’s work. Women today face the same prejudice that the woman in John 4 faced two thousand years ago.
As a result, education was nothing but a distant dream for Clara. “I had to carry heavy buckets,” she says. “I would be too tired to go to school.”
Dirty water has another insidious effect on rural communities: it keeps people from experiencing the fullness of God’s love for them.
Isaac Samunete—a water coordinator for World Vision in the Hamaundu area, which includes the village of Haalumba—has seen firsthand how a lack of clean water stunts not only physical and mental development but spiritual growth.
“No water leads to a lack of spirituality,” he explains. “The family is never together. The mother is always drawing water.”
Families have little time for nurturing their children’s faith when they spend most of their time just surviving. And it’s difficult for a child to comprehend the “living water” of Jesus when they’re constantly sick from the contaminated water of the local pond.
That’s why providing access to safe drinking water is such a great opportunity to invite people to experience the living water of eternal life.
Everness, a 50-year-old woman from Haalumba, agrees. “We learned about sanitation and hygiene and Christian witness at the same time,” she says. “People need to understand the spiritual side of things.”
Everness can even relate to the Samaritan woman in John 4. Like her, Everness once lived on the margins of her community. When World Vision came with its unique blend of spiritual and physical development opportunities, Everness gained a new identity. “This changed my spiritual life,” she says.
Everness became a volunteer hygiene promoter. She visited one home after another, teaching good hygiene and helping families improve sanitation by using toilets and hand-washing stations. “I started loving people and talking to them,” Everness says as she reflects on the last four years. “People love me now. Before, not so much.”
Today, thanks to the partnership between World Vision and the people of Haalumba, the community has a 17-foot borehole where locals can fetch clean water. The well is surrounded by a protective cement wall in the shape of a cross.
The design is no accident. It’s a reminder that clean water from the earth opened people’s eyes to the living water from heaven.
Spend time by yourself or with your small group reflecting on this week’s content, using the following discussion questions:
- Think back on your own spiritual journey. In what ways has Jesus transformed your identity?
- What does “living water” signify to you?
- Imagine you had to spend an hour or more each day just collecting water for yourself and your family. What other activities would you have to sacrifice? How would those sacrifices impact your overall well-being?
- In the village of Haalumba, the lack of clean water negatively impacted people’s spiritual development. What are some other ways that poverty and deprivation—whether it’s hunger, a lack of economic opportunity, or injustice against women—make it harder for people to experience God’s love for them?
Take a few moments each day to meditate on the following Scripture passages:
Monday: Genesis 24:1-27
Read the story of another man’s encounter with a woman at a well—and the extraordinary kindness she demonstrated.
Tuesday: Exodus 15:22-26
In this story, God miraculously transformed bitter, undrinkable water into something fresh and life-giving for His people wandering in the wilderness.
Wednesday: Numbers 19:17-21
Notice how important fresh water—that is, “living water”—was in ancient Jewish cleansing rituals.
Thursday: Zechariah 14:1-9
Living water plays a key role in Zechariah’s vision of Jerusalem’s renewal.
Friday: Revelation: 7:13-17
In John’s vision of the end, God forever satisfies the thirst of those who endure tribulation for Him, safely guiding them to living water.
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