Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water?…
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:10-11,13-14).
To our modern ears, Jesus takes this conversation to a spiritual level right away, and we chuckle a bit because the Samaritan woman doesn’t get that Jesus isn’t talking about physical water anymore.
But we’re the ones who don’t get it.
Living water was a category of water.
Still water referred to open pools fed by seasonal rains, or by springs. Those fed by seasonal rains would eventually dry up.
Cistern water came from seasonal rains directed into chambers dug out of the rock and sealed with plaster. As people used it and the water level went down, the remaining water often became stagnant and bitter.
Well water was groundwater accessed by a tunnel and brought up with a rope and jar. Wells could go dry during a drought.
Streams (aka nahals and wadis) were natural water courses fed by seasonal rains, so they varied, depending on the season, from rampaging to trickling to dry.
Rivers flowed constantly but had seasonal changes as run off from winter rains made its way down the mountains. Depending on the size of the river, it might dry up during a drought.
But a spring was different. Its water was always running or bubbling or gushing at regular intervals. Always replenishing. Never getting stagnant. Providing fresh, living water.
In normal times, access to a spring meant the difference between subsisting and thriving; in times of drought, it was the difference between life and death.
All of these associations would have run through the Samaritan woman’s mind when Jesus took the conversation to a spiritual level — he is the source that never stops giving life.