10“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you: Give Me a drink! you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”
“I would be happier to reverse the order and give you a drink. In fact, this is the reason for My presence here. I am asking for a drink to quench My physical thirst that I might have occasion to give you a drink. If you only realized what a gift is now to be found on earth, you would ask Me for it, and I would give you a drink that would taste better than this water. It is of the utmost importance to recognize this gift and to know Him who gives it. But neither the gift nor the Giver is known.” This is also our lament—and it will eternally remain so—that the schismatic spirits do not recognize the gift even when exhorted to do so; and the great multitude also despises this ineffably precious treasure and fails to recognize the Giver of this gift. In fact, we too, who claim to be saints, pay it no heed and do not fully appreciate the value of this treasure offered to us through the Gospel. My dear friend, how few there are among us who esteem this as a genuine treasure, as an eternal gem, as everlasting life! There must be some, however, who will hazard life and limb for it. In Matt. 13 we read of a man who found a pearl in a field. He sold all his possessions in order to buy pearl and field (Matt. 13:45–46). Thus we find many who are willing to endure tortures because of it; they, too, will receive the drink. But the other crowd says flippantly: “What do I care about it?” You will find a hundred thousand people who regard silver mined from the earth as a real treasure. They will not shrink from laboring night and day to acquire such a perishable treasure.
Would to God that we could gradually train our hearts to believe that the preacher’s words are God’s Word and that the man addressing us is a scholar and a king. As a matter of fact, it is not an angel or a hundred thousand angels but the Divine Majesty Himself that is preaching there. To be sure, I do not hear this with my ears or see it with my eyes; all I hear is the voice of the preacher, or of my brother or father, and I behold only a man before me. But I view the picture correctly if I add that the voice and words of father or pastor are not his own words and doctrine but those of our Lord and God. It is not a prince, a king, or an archangel whom I hear; it is He who declares that He is able to dispense the water of eternal life. If we could believe this, we would be content indeed. However, a fault which is manifest throughout the world and also in us is that we fail to recognize the gift and its Giver. I, too, am not at all perfect in this respect; my faith is not as profound and strong as I should like to have it. Flesh and blood are an impediment. They merely behold the person of the pastor and brother and hear only the voice of the father. They cannot be induced to say: “When I hear the Word, I hear a peal of thunder, and I see the whole world filled with lightning.” No, we cannot be brought to do that, and this is most deplorable. Flesh and blood are at fault. They refuse to regard the oral Word and the ministry as a treasure costlier and better than heaven and earth. People generally think: “If I had an opportunity to hear God speak in person, I would run my feet bloody.” This is why people in times past flocked to the Oak, to Aachen, and to the Grym Valley. Because the people believed that Mary would help them in these places, they all hurried there. If someone at that time had announced: “I know of a place in the world where God speaks and anyone can hear God there”; if I had gone there and seen and heard a poor pastor baptizing and preaching, and if I had been assured: “This is the place; here God is speaking through the voice of the preacher who brings God’s Word”—I would have said: “Well, I have been duped! I see only a pastor.” We should like to have God speak to us in His majesty. But I advise you not to run hither and yon for this. I suppose we could learn how people would run if God addressed them in His majesty. This is what happened on Mt. Sinai, where only the angels spoke and yet the mountain was wrapped in smoke and quaked. But you now have the Word of God in church, in books, in your home; and this is God’s Word as surely as if God Himself were speaking to you.
Christ says: “You do not know the gift.” We recognize neither the Word nor the Person of Christ, but we take offense at His humble and weak humanity. When God wants to speak and deal with us, He does not avail Himself of an angel but of parents, of the pastor, or of my neighbor. This puzzles and blinds me so that I fail to recognize God, who is conversing with me through the person of the pastor or father. This prompts the Lord Christ to say in the text: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ then I would not be obliged to run after you and beg for a drink. You would run after Me and ask Me for the living water. But since you do not know the gift and do not recognize Him who is speaking with you, you despise Me.” Even if Christ did no more than greet us, it would be a treasure above all treasures; it would be honor and treasure enough. He has another treasure in store for us, however, which He reveals when He brings us forgiveness of sin and redemption from death, devil, and hell, when He transforms us into heavenly people and illumines our hearts. We can never express the value of this treasure adequately. We shall always fall short of recognizing it fully and of esteeming it as we really and truly should.
We should mark well that this is spoken to us too. If we recognized this gift, we would receive water in which the Holy Spirit is given to us. By God’s grace we have at least begun to recognize God’s gift and the Teacher. If we had not, I would not be able to teach you. Then you would fare as you did in the papacy, where you were told: “Run hither and yon!” However, thus far we have received only the first fruits and not the tithe. It is just beginning to dawn on us that God’s speaking to us is an inexpressibly precious gift and that we are honored to be God’s pupils and disciples. This is what is meant by knowing the nature of the gift and the person of the Doctor and Teacher. We and our hearers are just beginning to recognize that it is not a man we are listening to, but that it is God who is telling us things that contain an everlasting treasure. Therefore we are told again and again that we cannot speak about this subject enough; we must be like a stammering child. We cannot fathom what an incomprehensibly great treasure we possess in the divine Word. Nor do we really understand who this Person addressing us is or how excellent and exalted this Person is. If we did, it would impel us to boast of being followers, not of a king or of an emperor but of God. People in the world are proud if they have a gracious lord, or if they are privileged to see a prince; it means much to them to stand in his presence and hear him speak. Now it is true that it is a treasure to have a gracious lord or to be a prince’s counselor. But look at the glory of the man who can say: “I am God’s pupil; I hear Him speak—not an angel, not a pastor or a prince, but God Himself. I am His counselor.” For God says: “My message is an excellent gift, and by comparison the world’s riches and glory are nothing but filth.”
My dear friend, regard it as a real treasure that God speaks into your physical ear. The only thing that detracts from this gift is our deficient knowledge of it. To be sure, I do hear the sermon; however, I am wont to ask: “Who is speaking?” The pastor? By no means! You do not hear the pastor. Of course, the voice is his, but the words he employs are really spoken by my God. Therefore I must hold the Word of God in high esteem that I may become an apt pupil of the Word. If we looked upon it as the Word of God, we would be glad to go to church, to listen to the sermon, and to pay attention to the precious Word. There we would hear Christ say: “Give Me a drink!” But since we do not honor the Word of God or show any interest in our own salvation, we do not hear the Word. In fact, we do not enjoy listening to any preacher unless he is gifted with a good and clear voice. If you look more at the pastor than at God; if you do not see God’s person but merely gape to see whether the pastor is learned and skilled, whether he has good diction and articulates distinctly—then you have already become half a Jacob. For a poor speaker may speak the Word of God just as well as he who is endowed with eloquence. A father speaks the Word of God as well as God does, and your neighbor speaks it as well as the angel Gabriel. There is no difference between the Word when uttered by a schoolboy and when uttered by the angel Gabriel; they vary only in rhetorical ability. It matters not that dishes are made of different material—some of silver, others of tin—or whether they are enameled earthen dishes. The same food may be prepared in silver as in dishes of tin. Venison, properly seasoned and prepared, tastes just as good in a wooden dish as in one of silver. We must also make this application to Baptism and absolution. This ought to be a comfort to us. People, however, do not recognize the person of God but only stare at the person of man. This is like a tired and hungry man who would refuse to eat unless the food is served on a silver platter. Such is the attitude that motivates the choice of many preachers today. Many, on the other hand, are forced to quit their office, are driven out and expelled. That is done by those who do not know this gift, who assume that it is a mere man speaking to them, although, as a matter of fact, it is even more than an angel, namely, your dear God, who creates body and soul. This does not imply that we should despise and reject the gifts which God has distributed according to His own measure, more to the one and fewer to the other; for gifts are manifold. However, there is but one God who works through this multiplicity of gifts (1 Cor. 12:6). One dare not despise the treasure because of the person. Our God wishes to impress this on us all, not only on this young woman. Christ wishes to say: “I am not so much concerned that you give Me a drink as that I supply you with living water.” It is a disgrace that Christ must go begging on earth, even among His own followers. It is a shame that He must cry: “For the sake of God, give Me bread!” He wants to rouse us to give gladly to those who serve in the ministry. But although Christ pleads and cries: “For the sake of God, give Me bread!” His plea is not fulfilled; for people assume that it is a poor pastor speaking. Verily, Christ does not stand in need of heaven and earth; He could eat and also satisfy His own with food. But He wants to say: “I am begging that you may obtain food and drink. I use your help to feed Me and My own. In this way you might recognize Him who dispenses the true, eternal drink of water and learn what sort of Word He possesses. After you know that it is I and that the Word is Mine, you will say: ‘After all, everything belongs to Thee; we will gladly return all to Thee. Dear Lord, give us who are truly hungry the real bread and drink.’ This is the reason why I beg and say: ‘For the sake of God, give Me bread!’—that you may recognize Him who is speaking to the young woman.” (If He were to ask her for a drink, then she, in turn, would ask Him; and He would give her the water of everlasting life, and she would never die.) This is also what Christ wishes to do to us. But first we must learn to know the gift and the Teacher. Then we should be ready not only to give all but also to say: “Oh, dear Lord, give me some of the eternal water too! Without it I must die of eternal thirst and hunger!” Christ says: “I am asking you to give Me bread for the sake of God because I want to give you the everlasting bread.”
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 22, pp. 525–530). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.