Saturday, January 1, 2011

Don’t Flinch – Part 1

There is a story I love about Jesus, maybe it is because I identify with the woman he is talking to, all too well. As I read his words to her, and listen to her responses I can hear my voice forming the words, the sense of desperation and the sheer lack of hope.

The story is found in John 4:1-42. Jesus is traveling with his disciples but he sends them away for awhile, maybe so he could spend a little time alone with a woman they just wouldn’t get. Maybe it was so they wouldn’t have the chance to scare her off, or make another one of their blunders in defense of their Lord. Whatever the reason, he found her there alone at the well in the middle of the afternoon, and what he requires of her is astounding. "Give me a drink." (John 4:7)

I can see the disdain in her face as she responds, hear the unspoken accusations in her words. What are you going to say to me? What could you possible say that a hundred others haven’t already accused me of? You have no right to say one word to a woman such as I. Instead, she merely points out the obvious, you are a Jew and I am a Samaritan, why are you even speaking to me?

Jesus doesn’t flinch. I can almost see him smile as he tells her that if she had a clue, she would ask him to give her living water. It’s a set up, she can see it but can’t resist the chance to put this great man in his place. She tells him, you don’t even have a bucket or a rope, and yet you have the audacity to offer me something greater than the water in this well. I can almost hear the snort.

Living water, a precious commodity in those days. Water that had not been allowed to set or stagnate. It was required that one wash in living water before entering into worship, and not always available in that arid land. Even the water in the well was not living water, the well was a seep. Water from the surrounding land filtered through the rock and slowly collected there, stagnating and stinking because it had no fresh source. Water unfit for use in purification or cleansing, but all that could be had at this place.

Jesus continues, redirecting her vision back to the well, showing her something she has not seen or considered before. With gentle authority, he affirms what she has said and then challenges her to hope, but her heart has been broken. She has been kicked around by society, judged by the harshest critics. Why else would she avoid the other women who came to the well in the cool of the morning? The part of her that knows how to dream, how to hope, has been broken and Jesus is doing something amazing – He is calling it back to life.

“Go and get your husband.” He commands, and she laughs, with bitterness I am sure. “I have no husband.” You can almost hear the thought, once more I am disqualified, not good enough to receive a blessing. Her anger and wounded pride, justified yet again.

But Jesus still doesn’t flinch. “I know,” he says. “And I know all about who you are, what you have done, but I have still made the offer. I still want to share this drink with you!”

I can almost hear the mental scurrying as she seeks a place to hide within herself. She has to deflect, avoid the intimacy of the moment, kindness is too much. So she asks an inane theological question, something safe, but Jesus refuses to be distracted. He answers but his answer is far more pointed than she could have anticipated, "God is seeking those who will worship in Spirit and in Truth." He is looking for people who can acknowledge that there is sin, some sins they have chosen and some to which they have been a victim. But, God still desire to know them.

Listen close, I can almost hear the hope creeping into her voice, “When the Messiah comes, he will explain everything.” I will know why my life has been what it has, the thought pierces through her words. I will understand why I have had to endure what I have endured. It will all be worth it when he comes.

And Jesus, once again smiles, "I am he!" What a revelation! What a reason to grasp the hope he has offered! It is not an abstract idea. It is not something locked in the great, unknown future. It is now, and she has witnessed it.

Tune in next time – when I tell the story of when I went to the well.


Alice C. Linsley said...

The Samaritan woman at the well is Photini. She represents the bride of Christ, the Church. In the early church (as in Eastern Orthodoxy today) she was regarded as equal to the Apostles. In the tradition of Jesus' Horite priest ancestors, brides were the daughters of priests who maintained sheep at river shrines or wells to sustain their flocks. This is why so many Old Testament heroes met their brides as wells: Abraham met Keturah at the well of Sheba (beer-sheva); Moses met Zipporah at the well of Jethro, the priest of Midian and Joseph married the daughter of the priest of On (Heliopolis) on the Nile.

Emily said...

Alice, I am ashamed to admit I know little of this tradition. I am looking forward to researching it further. Thanks for giving me a new lead.

I am, however, acquainted with the Rabbinic story of Joseph and his bride. What a great cautionary tale it offers us.

For those of you who don't know it allow me to explain, no wait that take to long, let me sum up-

Potiphar's wife went to a fortune teller to find out if the child she carried would be son. The fortune teller told her no, but she would have sons with Joseph. Being an resourceful gal, she took matters into her own hands and tried to seduce Joseph. Her plot failed and Joseph landed in prison.

When Joseph saves the day, and all of Egypt, his given the priest's daughter as his bride. The priest's name was Potiphera, (Genesis 41:45), and was traditionally believed to be the same man as Potiphar.

It was believed that the fortune teller was telling the fortune of the child that Potiphar's wife carried.

The moral of the story - obey and honor only God, for only his word can be trusted and without error. The enemy may have glimpses of the future but only God sees it as it will be, without lies or distortion.