In his Pensées Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher wrote, ‘Everyone seeks happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. They will never take the least step but to this object…’
John the Gospel writer tells us of a woman at a well in Samaria two thousand years ago who would have agreed.
Like us, she longed for happiness, but it had eluded her. Five failed marriages testified to that. Thinking that love and sex and marriage would give her life meaning and happiness, she thought that each new man would be the answer. But each time she made the same mistake. Her life was a mess. She felt insecure, lonely, and dissatisfied.
An unexpected conversation. But there came a day when her life was transformed through an unexpected conversation with a Jewish man.
Ignoring social, cultural and political taboos, Jesus initiated a conversation with her through a simple request for water from the well. He didn’t talk about her life or matters of faith – at least to begin with. Rather he spoke then, as he speaks to us today, with concern and respect, meeting us where we are.
However, it wasn’t long before he took the conversation to another level by speaking to her about living water. This provided a natural opportunity for her to open up about her hopes.
It happened this way. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:12-15).
Jesus offered her water that would satisfy her deep inner spiritual thirst. He was saying that he is the answer to the emptiness and the longing for happiness that gnaw at our souls.
Most of us aren’t willing to acknowledge this and the woman that day was no exception. We pretend we’re doing well but the reality is that we often live closer to despairthan we admit. So, we endeavor to offset our sense of emptiness by filling our social calendar, making money, being a success, even pursuing sexual adventure. But it never works.
No matter how successful we are, no matter how intense the emotional relationships we might experience, nothing can be a substitute for the relationship with God for which we are made. But if we’re going to find Jesus’ answer to our longing for happiness, first we have to admit our need.
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet…”(John 4:16-19)
Suddenly she realized that Jesus, whom she had taken for a progressive Jewish man, was nothing less than a prophet with supernatural knowledge of her life. She knew enough about religion to realize that she was being challenged to sort out her relationship with God.
The big question was where to do this – the temple in Jerusalem, or a house of worship in Samaria? Jesus’s response is, in today’s world, politically incorrect: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:22-24).
Jesus isn’t saying that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere. Spirit and truth are not just synonyms for sincerity. When Jesus speaks of truth, he is talking about the inner reality of God’s being which becomes visible to us through him.
True worshippers must worship the Father in spirit and truth. This can only relate to who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Later Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The woman responded, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us”.Jesus’s response is breath-taking, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you” – literally, ‘I who am speaking to you, I am’ (John 4:26).
Twelve hundred years before, God had revealed his name to Moses: “I am that I am that is my name”. Jesus was not just claiming to be the Messiah but to be one with God.
The water that Jesus promised the woman that day would not just quench her thirst for real life but would bring her into a deep, satisfying and eternal friendship with the one true creator-redeemer God.
Four centuries later, Augustine, the Bishop of North Africa wrote, ‘Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee (God)’.
The eternal life that Jesus talks about, the water that will truly satisfy us, isn’t found in the acquisition of the latest phone or some new sexual experience. Indeed, the answer to our cry for happiness isn’t in a new religious experience. It involves a personal, mutually committed relationship with Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. He gives us life by giving us himself.
Consider what the woman did. Leaving her water jar… John records (4:28). The symbol of her emptiness now lies abandoned at Jesus’ feet. She had found the living water for she had found Him. Things would never be the same again.
There are tens of thousands of people like that woman, with empty lives. We don’t have to wait for anything special to happen to start a conversation with them. Rather, we need to be praying that God will open our eyes to opportunities to stimulate curiosity, awaken an awareness of need. It could even start with a question, ‘Have you ever read the real story about Jesus?’ followed by an invitation to look into the first eighteen sentences of that story over coffee (using TheWord121 – a very accessible annotated version of John’s Gospel).
A prayer. Almighty God, we confess that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, so that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.