When we feel thirsty, for those of us who live in the towns or cities of the developed world, a refreshing drink of clean water is never far away. Walking to a well to fetch water is not a feature of our lives. It is piped directly to the rooms where we need it, and readily available in plastic bottles.
Jesus lived in a society for whom the daily trek to the well and back was an essential part of life. Whether it was for food, for washing or for watering crops, everyone knew the sheer hard work of hauling water out of the ground and then carrying back to the place where it was needed. Everyone know what it felt like to be thirsty and there not be a drink within easy reach.
This was the backdrop to Jesus’ statement, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who trusts me drink.” He wasn’t - of course - handing out bottles of spring water at the Feast of Tabernacles. He was referring to the availability of God.
The Temple in Jerusalem marketed itself as the only reliable source of pure spiritual water in the world. Jewish people were obliged to travel great distances at considerable expense to get the required spiritual refreshment offered by the Temple priests. Jesus consciously undermined that priestly monopoly. His message was that if people would only trust him, they would find the love of God piped directly to their own homes and immediately available.
In our day and age, there is no single outlet monopolising spiritual refreshment. There is an increasingly crowded marketplace of teachings, beliefs, spiritualities and practices - all offering us spiritual refreshment (often at a price).
While some of us cling onto the familiar practices of our earlier years, and others shop around in search of a fresh buzz, Jesus’ offer still stands. Jesus offers us a direct experience of God - no mumbo-jumbo, no complex or costly rituals, no rules and regulations, and no expense - just God’s love, ready and waiting for us wherever and whenever we need it.
Jesus invites us to his well, to drink, and to be refreshed. But the process doesn’t and mustn’t end there. Once we have refreshed ourselves there is one more essential task - we must fill up our containers and carry some refreshing water back to our homes and communities so others can also be refreshed.