Saturday, December 6, 2008

We listen to stories, because we find ourselves in them.

Everyone walks or rides a road. And sometimes you have to pull over and somebody you ask directions from says, you can’t get there from here. You need to know…they’re lying.

He goes through a farm road in Samaria. Another place Jesus isn’t supposed to be. But Jesus is often where he isn’t supposed to be; doing what he isn’t supposed to be doing; spending time with people he just isn’t supposed to be with. But this is one of the 1st times he does this.

Even the disciples wonder about this as the come up to Jacobs well. A famous place, infamous now. And as Jesus sits down to rest he sends his followers off to get supplies. Amongst those…they despise. Jesus is sneaky like that, teaching them early something they will understand much later.

And so he sits. Exhausted from so many miles through waves upon waves of undulating and scorching heat. He is weary, both from what is behind him as well as from what he knows is unfolding in front of him. His mind is tired of strategy, his heart is tired from the battle yet ahead, and his body aches from the footprints he has left in the sand. He wipes the sweat from his brow, and his hand comes down on the smooth stones of the well. He is alone, more alone than anyone who has ever lived. And he looks down into the well, and feels the cool breeze that comes up from it splash across his face. 100 feet down is an underground river, an unseen river much like his kingdom, rushing with power and life just beneath the desert that surrounds us. But for now in his human form, the river is inaccessible and the God of the universe cannot reach the very water he created. He smiles at the irony. Perhaps this longing in him, will help him understand the great longing in us.

And his irony looks out into the wind tearing desert, and off at a distance he sees a small black dot on the horizon. It bobs back and forth trudging forward resolutely against the driving winds, against the sun, and against exhaustion. And as it comes near him, he knows his Father is brining him someone. And so prays for them, and himself, as the sands of time fall all around him and the stage is set for the sacred to gush forth in the desert of the secular.

She is exhausted. She has come so far, and has so far to go. The rope on her shoulder and the bucket at her waist rub her skin raw; they are usually not just carried by an individual but a group. But she doesn’t have that option; she lost that option years ago. She is coming to the well at noon, the hottest hour of the day. The other women come at dusk, a cooling, and comfortable time. But she comes as a displaced daughter of Sychar with a scarlet letter upon her veil. She can take the sun starring at her, but the withering looks and blazing glares of accusation of the other women coupled with the whispering winds of their gossip about her…these she can no longer bear. 5 husbands, 5 weighty stones have come and gone as she has come her alone. And so her shoulder is torn and bloodied by the rope, and the bucket digs into her side. But she has learned to live with pain; it has become her 1 true companion…her bitter BFF. On her other shoulder is the water jar, and as hard as it is to carry it now, it will be worse when it is full. But she trudges on, as we all do from time to time. A survivor, an outcast, forsaken, broken and bruised…but still moving. Relentlessly moving. Running on empty.

And then she sees him at a great distance and her steps stumble and become heavier and harder somehow. Nobody is supposed to be there. She grits her teeth, trying to gather strength for another challenge she isn’t up for. She asks God for help, expecting none.

The bucket jostles when she takes a bad step, and it cuts into her ribs. And she thinks about the empty bucket. How alike she is to it. Once she was a bucket full of potential and options…now she is a bucket of emptiness and alleys. And as she walks forward she thinks about all that has gone wrong. She thinks about the wild liquids she has drunk and then drowned in, the great laughter and joy that they first seemed to offer and the hangover and regret they eventually-inevitably brought. She thinks of the empty relationship she is now trapped in. She has gone been passed around the boys. Each looks like an oasis, but in the end she finds herself drinking burning sand. Love has become a mirage to her, and even the man she lives with now offers nothing but a shot-glass of satisfaction. But for one such as her she knows that is all that is left. One there was laughter, then their were tears, and now there is just deadness and a great numbness that has scarred and calloused her heart into stone itself.

And then suddenly she is jostled back awake to her surroundings. The well is right in front of her, just a few yards away. She checks her veil, making sure it is adjusted for a modesty she no longer owns. But the man in front of her shouldn’t be here, and after all she knows she needs to be careful around men. So she averts his eyes while studying him from the edges of her view. He too is alone, but he is far more than that…he is hopelessly out of place. He is alone yes; but he is also a Jew [is he lost, they don’t come here amongst us “dirty” folk]; he has no bucket or rope for the well which is odd and amusing; and so her fear and weariness slowly drains out and is instead filled with humor and curiosity as he silently sits there watching her as she puts down her water jar…uncoils the rope…and carefully stands on the other side of the well. A safe distance from him, a length she believes no bridge will ever span. He is already unsettlingly close, best to maintain it as best she can.

She throws the bucket into the well, and as she does so he startles her with his words:

Will u give me a drink?

She can only be surprised, while we are shocked and chagrined as the God of the universe approaches one of us and asks for of all things…help.

But she isn’t some na├»ve seeker…she is a battle tested cynic and skeptic. And the sands of sarcasm scorch out with her words in return.

You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?

And her words are full of warnings, condemnations, and perhaps a slight edge of curiosity. Because Jesus in his simple words of asking for a drink is breaking a lot of taboos. Taboos that dam the distance between them.

1. Jews aren’t supposed to be here
2. Jews don’t talk to Samaritans anywhere
3. A man does not speak directly to a woman that is a stranger

And she wonders, doesn’t he know!!! But he does know, and as is so common for Jesus he uses the taboos of the world to build a bridge between himself and others. To rescue those trapped in a well, Jesus knows he will have to take risks and get dirty.

And so he smiles at the sarcasm and the banter…he retorts

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.

So many things are dripping tantalizingly in these words.

1. What is the gift of God of which he speaks, and is it really available to me? Aren’t I disqualified…an outsider…a cast-aside
2. And who is this man that is talking to me, is there perhaps far more to him than has initially been perceived
3. And what is the living water? What is the water that makes life…life again?

Now they finally lock eyes. And as he looks at her he sees the cavernous cistern of brackish misery and parched emptiness that has made her heart and soul hollow and empty. And he knows he alone can fill it.

And as she looks she finds herself unwilling to stop believing that she can throw her bucket into him and finally pull up the water of life that has escaped her for thousands of desert noon’s.

Sir…she says respectfully…you have nothing to draw with and the water is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons, his flocks, and his herds?

And he smiles again. She takes the literal path, cautiously sliding around risking her heart and the growing hope that is bubbling up within her. And so she challenges him on several levels.

1. You don’t have anything to give, nor the means to give it. At least not to the observations of the naked eye.
2. And who are you…are you greater than our patriarch Jacob? Who do you think you are…who are you…to me?
3. We all so easily Jesus

Jesus uses his arms in a sweeping way as if to an unseen crowd of thousands who are listening…and indeed as the years stretch on billions will come to this story, this well, this Jesus. And he says everyone who drinks of this well will thirst again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

And as she stands there a refugee of failure and burnout, he offers her an internal everlasting oasis of refreshment and regeneration. And he uses big words like NEVER and ETERNAL. Her eyes are now wide open, even as she is overwhelmed with this staggering offer from a man who just a moment ago seemed to have nothing to offer her.

So she rushes headlong into the moment, diving like a bucket into this well of promises and opportunities. Sir! Give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water…she is almost giddy now.

But Jesus is about to stop this conversation on a dime, and turn it far deeper than she has expected. He tells her go call your husband and come back.

she says I have none

Jesus presses in, not to wound her, but to pull up the wound so he can lance it…bleed its poison, dress it, and heal it. And so he says You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had 5 husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have said is quite true.

The bucket stops on a ledge ½ ways down and lingers almost in mid air.

She speaks back slowly…looking at the ground, ashamed.

She retreats. Sir…she says coolly…I can see you are a prophet. Our fathers worship on this mountain but you Jews claim that the place to worship is Jerusalem.

This dodge Jesus understands. She feels shamed…exposed. But she takes her own situation and tries to duck around it by asking a religious question. A question that she hopes will distance him from her again, because she is mad she allowed herself to be tricked into a moment of intimacy and hope.

So he declares, in the plural to an audience of one. Believe me woman a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you don’t know; we Jews worship what we know, for rescue is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming, and has arrived right now when true worshipers will worship the Father is Spirit and in Truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father is seeking. God is Spirit and he must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.

While she struggles to take in the enormity of this theological statement, she asks dumbfoundedly a question. A question all the Jews and Samaritans have been asking. A question that is all the more poetic and ironic given she doesn’t know who this stranger is.

She says I know that Messiah is coming and that when he comes he will reveal everything to us.

And the smile on Jesus face is now a full grin. His eyes open with wonder, awe, and love for this woman who has waited so long to be filled.

And a hush of silence fills the desert, the winds die down, and a fresh breeze of coolness comes up from the well to splash upon her face.

And he says I who speak to you am he!

The bucket breaks loose and falls to the bottom of the well, and for the 1st time she can remember in several decades…she cries.

This forgotten lonely woman. On the backside of nowhere. Trapped in a loveless survival. This is for whom the God of the universe has come this day. And perhaps for you.

And we, who watch the story, may find ourselves in it from time to time. He states her past, but doesn’t crucify her on her sin. He gives no call to repentance but to refreshment. There is no structured plan of salvation, no prayer…ultimately he offers only himself-and what he alone can give her from inside himself to inside of her.

He shows her a true reflection of herself, and she is repulsed…but he is not. He who knows her even deeper than she knows herself is here. Here to be her Lord. Here to be her true love. A love far more secure…and infinitely more satisfying than the mere love of a lover.

So wherever you are at, and if you think you can’t get home to God from where you’re at. This story reminds you…you can. Or more importantly HE can.


Mallorie said...

This is great. Really. Much room for the Spirit to move.

"100 feet down is an underground river... an unseen river much like his kingdom, rushing with power and life just beneath the desert that surrounds us..."

"He shows her a true reflection of herself, and she is repulsed…but he is not. He who knows her even deeper than she knows herself is here. Here to be her Lord. Here to be her true love. A love far more secure…and infinitely more satisfying than the mere love of a lover."

Great stuff.


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