Take a stroll in downtown Rotorua, in the vacant lot between the Central Business District and the lakefront, and you will find a wasteland. Here nothing grows apart from rough patches of browned off tussock grass and a few scrubby manuka bushes. Follow your nose and you might find a clue to the barren nature of the landscape: misty plumes of steam rising into the air show where the water holes are, but the water in them is muddy brown and stagnant, and the air all round is heavy with an odour like rotting eggs, better known to scientists as hydrogen sulphide. The sulphur is in the water, rather than the air, and it is this sulphur that inhibits all forms of life. Nobody would want to drink the water: indeed nobody would be able to drink it, for it is water that ultimately brings death.
Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you … you would ask me, and I would give you living water … “Anyone who drinks this water [from this well] will soon become thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life”
— John 4:10
But wait. Who would have any idea that less than 5km from the city centre there is a completely different world? Follow the road north out of town and there you will find yourself in a veritable Garden of Eden, dubbed the “Rainbow Springs”, which bubble up with a totally different kind of water. Here trout play in clean, crystal clear pools and the landscape around is carpeted with soft green ferns and lush native bush. The air rings with the sound of tui and bellbirds, and wildlife of many other species make their home there.
What a vivid illustration of the “living water” that Jesus talked about in John 4 — water that is like a “fresh, bubbling spring, giving eternal life”. The woman he was speaking to was a foreigner living a dry, dissatisfied life that starkly matched the dry, barren country where she lived. Day after day she came wearily back to the same well for water, but her life never got any better. As Jesus said, if she had only known what she was missing out on, all she would have had to do was to ask, and he would have given her a life that was so much more satisfying and refreshing. Happily, she got the message and went running off to share the good news with her family and friends, and that was the beginning of a new life for her.
Yet sadly, unlike the Samaritan woman, so many people today simply don’t get the message: they just go on living in the wasteland, with no idea that close at hand is a much more satisfying way of life. As Jesus still says, “If they only knew …”; if they would only ask, he would give them this fresh start to life.
So, as we start on another new year, let us think about this “spring of new life” that Jesus offers and how we can share it with others.