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~ Social Scandles and Living Water ~
One of the most remarkable encounters between Jesus and another person,
I believe, is when He rested at the well in Sychar. “When a Samaritan woman
came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’…The Samaritan
woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you
ask me for a drink?’” (John 4:7, 9). The woman was startled at the social
violation of Jesus. Asking her for a drink, however, was a clever conversation
starter, since Jesus wanted to tell her about the Living Water.
Jesus, however, wanted to put aside another intrusive issue. So when she asked about the source of this Living Water, Jesus told her to go get her husband and come back. The woman replied she had no husband, and Jesus confirmed her answer, pointing out she had five husbands, now divorced, and a live-in boyfriend, who does not qualify as a “husband.”
No doubt the woman must have been startled, but her thinking Jesus was a prophet probably excused His strange behavior in her mind. After all, prophets did and said strange things. She must have also felt transparent in Jesus’ presence. I would have, and I do today in His spiritual presence as I write this.
Jesus settled that anxiety of vulnerability for the woman. Yes, He knew all about her but did not explore her sinfulness. Instead, Jesus directed the conversation back to the gift of the Living Water. She responded with these words: “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us” (John 4:25). Jesus was blunt: “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26). Wow! A jolt to the heart! The woman left her water jar behind, rushed back to her town and yelled on the streets, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (John 4:29).
How excited would you be to publicly announce you met someone who knew all about your faults and deficits? How eager would you be to have your friends meet the person who knows all about you?
That woman’s transparency to another was not the source of excitement, no doubt. What I believe was so exciting is the realization that her transparency, her shame, her self-consciousness, did not matter to this “prophet.” What is exciting is that we do not have to make ourselves worthy in order to drink the Living Water. Our bodies drink water not because they are worthy but because they are thirsty and in need to drink or die. Our souls are thirsty, however unworthy, and need to drink the Living Water to live.
I am so unworthy of the plethora of gifts to which I awake every morning. If I believe I can make myself worthy somehow, I would ruin that effort with self-righteousness. Whatever does not come from God destroys me. That includes my own thoughts drawn from the well of self, self-righteousness and pride.
St. John ended his gospel account with these words: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Obviously, the gospel writers had to pick from among the multitudes of stories those to record in writing. Those unrecorded remain part of the oral tradition and are subject to embellishment throughout the centuries. John chose this encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman for a good reason. All parables are true. This one actually happened. And it continues to actually happen every day and every time someone puts him or her self in the place of the Samaritan woman and goes running to his or her friends exclaiming, “Come on, you have to meet this person!”
What a delight to Jesus when those friends say, “Come, stay with us, teach us, let us drink from your well”! “So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers…’we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man is the Savior of the world'” (John 4:40-41, 42b, NIV). What tears it must bring to Christ when the friends say, “Umm, that’s ok. I have other business to tend.”
In expectation of a guest of status, perhaps your pastor, priest, mayor or municipal judge, you would most likely arrange the appearances to a level above the ordinary. Shelves would be dusted, floors vacuumed, the best dishware placed on the table, and the kids warned to be on their best behavior. Everyone is polite, socially correct, and pleasantly engaging. You are secretly happy the guest is not a prophet who can see through you and your presentations. If you discovered he could, you probably would not call the neighbors to tell them to come over right away, no matter how they are dressed, to meet someone who already knows all about your inner secrets, but it did not matter. I doubt the neighbors would be thrilled at such an invitation.
But let us get a bit more outrageous in our imagination. Suppose we had Christ for a guest in whatever form He chose to assume and asked Him if He would like to have a dish of fried chicken wings at a local tavern. Naturally, we would not even entertain such a social faux pas with our guest of status. But let us suppose we would. Our pastor, priest, mayor or judge guest may well be insulted or, at best, politely decline. After all, that is not a place in which he would want to be seen. Jesus, however, would say, “Yes, let’s go!” How do I know? Because He did so while on earth. And He was severely criticized for it, labeled a drunk and glutton who would dare to accept the invitations to the parties of sinners.
Another interesting thought that came to mind as I write this is the possible reaction of the tavern manager. If I called the local tavern and asked for a table for a company of, say five, one of whom is the pope himself, I’m certain, if he did believe me (let’s assume that for argument’s sake), the manager would say, “Fine, your table is ready.” Unlike those of us self-conscious people who are so attentive to appearances, I am certain the tavern manager would not throw out inebriated people and make his staff dress up in tuxedos. I think Christ liked the unpretentiousness of sinners. Our guest of status would be treated with the same courtesy and unpretentiousness as others. Jesus would appreciate that, since there were some parties He attended where the host would not even give Him the customary courtesy of having the dirt washed off His sandaled feet. Jesus had many venomous things to say about self-righteousness and those who present appearances.
Christ’s palpable and powerful presence in that tavern that did not upgrade its appearance to impress Him would have a transforming effect on most. Like with the Samaritan woman, Jesus would not preach hell-fire and damnation, but invite everyone to drink the Living Water. They would feel loved, not condemned. And that is the Gospel, the Good News.
This is the Jesus I know. How I wish to be like Him! Sorrowfully, I am not like Him. However, He knows my wish is my prayer, and He is attentive to my prayers, that I know. Meanwhile, I am so grateful that He is the God I serve, who joined in my humanity and loves me anyway. How can I not love Him in return? Only the self-righteous will claim to have no taverns lurking in the depths of their souls. Thank God He loves us enough to visit us even there!
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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© February 18, 2005