There is a story — almost certainly apocryphal — about the famously tortured painter Vincent Van Gogh. It is said that he wanted to eat his yellow paint because he thought it was a happy color, and if he ate it, the happiness would then be inside him and lift his spirits. Ridiculous, of course, to think that eating a particular color of paint could change your mood, but especially so when you consider that paint in those days was extremely toxic and would have killed him.
It’s easy for us to judge others from a distance; other people’s struggles with sin always seem worse than ours. Reading the Bible, I could never understand why the Israelites didn’t just get it together and obey God once and for all! A golden calf? Yellow paint? Come on, you know those things don’t work!
But if I’m being honest, I am every hard-headed Bible character making bad choices over and over and over again, continually turning to other things to make me happy, things that don’t satisfy and won’t work, rather than turning to God, the only one who satisfies. If you’re being honest, maybe you are too.
If we’re being honest, we are the woman at the well. She was lugging a bucket full of water under the heat of midday in order to avoid all the people. She was hiding. We have been hiding ever since the garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve realized they had sinned and hid from God. We try to hide our sins from others, and we try to hide from the consequences of our sin, and we try to hide our sin from God. It doesn’t work. John 3:19-20 says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” But we already know the end of the story. John told us in chapter 1: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus is already beginning his work of remaking everything. Jesus knows our sin and loves us anyway. Jesus is after our hearts.
He starts with the woman at the well. She is the very first person to whom he reveals himself as the Messiah. This broken, lonely woman. She then goes on to become the very first evangelist in the gospel of John. You can practically hear the spiritual fireworks going off in heaven. Jesus is not interested in convention or social norms, because he knows that none of that matters, neither the religious and social barriers separating them nor the pressing theological issue she raises. Not the spiritually significant Jacob’s well. Not the water she draws. Nothing matters but Jesus. “I who speak to you am he.”
John is juxtaposing Jesus’ conversations with Nicodemus in chapter 3 and the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, showing that the religious elite and the outcast alike are all thirsty for Jesus, though they don’t know or understand what it is that they are seeking. But you can also see echoes of the prodigal son from Luke 15, only here we have a prodigal daughter. She’s been looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places; she’s been eating that yellow paint, and it’s killing her. Jesus doesn’t just free her from what’s killing her, but he goes one step further: he brings life, and life everlasting. “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Augustine said, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you because you have made us for yourself and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” If we’re being honest, many of us are choosing restlessness. Let’s bring it to Jesus and find our rest at last.
Written By: Jess Upshaw Glass