The conversation between the woman and Jesus revolves around a fundamental misunderstanding. Jesus offers the woman “living water” (4:10). This phrase could also be translated “running water” (see Gen 26:19). The woman, therefore, thinks that Jesus is offering her physical water: "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water?" (4:11).
Jesus responds by explaining the type of water he is offering: “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (4:13-14).
The woman responds, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw" (4:15).
Again, she has misunderstood. She thinks Jesus is offering her physical water for her physical thirst. Note that Jesus does not respond by correcting this misunderstanding. Instead, he places his finger on the real thirst in her life.
Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." 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 he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly." (4:16-18)The woman thinks that her problem is that she has to keep coming back to the well, day after day, to satisfy her physical thirst. Jesus, however, shows her a deeper problem. She has to keep coming back to a new man, time after time, to satisfy her need for love. This is the true thirst in her life. This is why she needs the “living water” Jesus offers.
By adding the detail that the woman left her waterpot, I believe John is giving the reader a subtle signal that the woman finally got it. She finally understood. It wasn’t about physical water, but about a spiritual renewal which would bring her into relationship with God.
[I am currently teaching an adult Sunday School class at the Offerings campus of the First UMC church in Lexington. We meet at 11:20 in the building adjacent to the church. If you are in the area, we would love to have you join us! This post is part of a series of notes I am writing as I teach the class. Click here to read them all.]