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Living Water and the Woman at the Well

by Brant Pitre January 16, 2019 0 Comments



So what is the wedding gift that Jesus wants to give this woman? It’s not a ring, not a bracelet; what does he say he wants to give her? The living water. Now, turn the page and we’ll look at that final aspect. What is this living water? If you go back to John, chapter 4, verse 3 through 16, you can see some clues in Jesus’ answer to the woman. When he says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that was saying to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  And then he goes on to say, “Everyone who drinks of this water (being the water from the well), will thirst again. But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give will never thirst.” Now pause there for a second. Have you ever been really, really, really thirsty? It’s torture, isn’t it? I mean, it’ll drive you crazy, right? Listen to what Jesus’ saying, “The water I’m going to give will be such that you will never, ever thirst again.” That’s the water I’m going to give. In fact, he goes on: “The water I shall give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up to eternal life.” And of course, the woman says to him, “Sir, give me some of this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” So Jesus said to her, “Here, I have some bottles. They’re $5 dollars a piece” (no, I’m just kidding), and he says “Go call your husband.” 

Alright. So a couple of questions here. First, what is this living water, what does Jesus mean? Well I think you’ve probably figured out by now whenever Jesus says something strange or mysterious, in the New Testament, where can you usually find the answer for what he means? The Old Testament. I tell this to my students all the time. The incense, the candles, the priesthood, all this stuff; all the stuff that often looks strange, statues? Gold statues? Angels? it’s all in the Old Testament. So when he says “The Living Water”, you’ve got to go back to the Old Testament because living water in the Old Testament in ancient Jewish tradition actually could have three different meanings, multiple meanings. First, the most basic meaning of living water was, what we would call, running water. So, water that would be found in, like, a spring. or a stream. We would call that living water. Why? Well, it kind of looks like it’s alive. It’s moving; it’s bubbling, right? So it’s living. That’s the first one.

The second thing that would be called living water was the water in the temple. Interesting. In the temple, whenever you would go to temple (as a Jew), before you could enter into worship, you would actually have to go into a ritual bath, called a Mikveh. It was kind of like a baptistery, or a small pool, and you would descend into this Mikveh, and you would be cleansed with water before you could go in to offer sacrifice. And the Rabbis and the Bible had a rule that whatever water was going to be used for the temple couldn’t be from a stagnant body of water. It had to be living water. You had to use living water for it. Now I know that’s kind of hard to imagine, right? Having to use water before you go into a holy place, and, you know, offer sacrifice. And we don’t have anything like that in the Catholic Church, right? Any water fonts that you would maybe - oh wait, that’s right! We got that from Judaism, okay? Why, because when you come into Mass, you’re coming into the temple. You’re coming into the presence of the Lord, and you’re coming to offer sacrifice. The sacrifice of your life, in union with Christ and the Eucharist. You see? It all makes sense. But that’s what they meant. So living water was in streams, living water in the temple. And, then third (last, but not least), the living water of a bridal bath. So the Jews had a custom that before a woman would be married, she would undergo one of these ritual baths. She’d be washed with water; she’d be anointed with oil for her wedding night. And guess what kind of water you had to use for the wedding bath? Living water as well, that’s right. You would cleanse the bride before the wedding. 

So, when Jesus says to the woman, “I’m going to give you living water”, what is he really talking about? Well, obviously he’s not just talking about H2O, right? He’s not going to give her more water to drink from the bucket. What is he talking about? He’s talking about the waters of baptism through which we receive the living water of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit. Listen, he tells you what he means. The gospel of John says this: “Jesus stood up and proclaimed,” (this is from John, chapter 7), “if anyone thirst, let him come to me. Let him who believes in me come drink. …[A]s the scripture says, ‘Out of his heart shall flow…” what? “…[R]ivers of living water.” And then John goes on to say, “He said this of the spirit which had not yet been given.” 

Now, as soon as you say that, though, you might think, “Well, wait, when does he give that living water? When do rivers of living water flow from his heart?” Well, fast forward to the crucifixion. Because, as you well know from the story after Jesus gives up his last breath and says “it is finished” in the gospel of John, the soldiers come by and they want to make sure that he’s dead. The Romans knew how to kill people, right? They saw the other two guys were alive so they crushed their legs with mallets so that they’d asphyxiate and die more quickly. But Jesus who had been so brutally beaten and so brutally scourged died much more quickly than they did. And, so when they found out that he was already dead, just to make sure, they pierced his side with a spear. And what does John say: “At once there came out blood and water.” In fact he interrupts the gospel and he says, “He who saw it bears witness, his testimony is true, and he tells you the truth so that you may believe.” In other words, John says, “I was there. I saw the water flow from the side of Jesus and I’m telling you about it so that you might believe.”

Why? Why does this matter so much? What’s the meaning of the water flowing from the side of Christ? Well if you go back to the Old Testament, to the very beginning, to the book of Genesis, how was the first bride created from the first bridegroom? Where did Eve come from? The flesh of the side of Adam. That was the first wedding day. When God took the flesh of Adam’s side and made it into a woman, and brought his bride to him. And so now Jesus the bridegroom dies on the cross and they pierce his side and what flows out of his side? The water that will wash his bride and cleanse her from her sin and the blood that he will give to her in the Eucharist. See, the cross is Jesus’ wedding day. And the gift of his blood and his water is the wedding gift that he wants to give us. The gift of eternal life. The gift of the Holy Spirit. The living water that cleanses us from any sin, no matter what that sin is. And, the gift of the Eucharist that gives us life, and unites us in the new and everlasting marriage covenant between God and his people.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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