When Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman, he famously reveals to her details of her life that no stranger could know, and he uses that as a springboard to develop a conversation with her. He seems to read her mind with each step, taking a little information that she gives him and using it to reveal to her a greater truth.
(E.g., When he asks after her husband, she responds that she has no husband, and Christ reveals the full extent of her situation. When she responds that he is a prophet and asks his opinion on where to worship, he reveals to her not just where to worship but how. When she responds that the “how” is to be revealed through a person, he reveals that he is that man.)
What I hadn’t noticed until recently is that his first interaction with the woman fits the same pattern. Jesus asks her for a drink, and after her puzzled response he tells her: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
It is true that Jesus tells her this to reveal himself in some way, to demonstrate to her that he is the source of divine life. Just like his prediction that she had five husbands and was living with another man revealed something about him (“sir, I can see that you are a prophet”).
But it’s easier to notice that the five-husband remark reveals something also about the Samaritan woman, since its content is so shocking. What’s more hidden is that Jesus’s remark about living water also tells us something very important about the Samaritan woman: “if you knew . . . you would have asked him and he would have given.” Jesus is revealing to the Samaritan woman something that was hidden inside her, something noble that was hidden along with her moral shame and luck-of-the-draw degraded place in life.
“You would have asked.” As if to say, you desire to ask; your inmost being longs for this; you know in your heart that you search for God. You want what will give you life in the fullest, and if only you knew its source you would not hesitate to seek it out.
And by naming this to her, Jesus not only makes her aware of this reality but brings it to fruition. It’s a picture of how God’s grace awakens our innate desire for him (even without our awareness) and brings it to completion as a work of charity, for our own good. He uses what he has placed there by design.