Friday, March 17, 2017

Finding What You Are Not Looking For

I do not enjoy telemarketers when they call.  I try to be polite and gracious, but it is an effort.  I do not want someone to make me aware of needs I did not know I had.  I pretty much know what I want and where to get it if need be.

The woman who came to the well in John 4 knew what she wanted and where to get.  She wanted water and knew she could find it at Jacob’s well.  She meets Jesus there, and he will talk with her about something she did not know she needed, something she was not looking for.

Jesus is on his way from Judea to Galilee and takes the shortcut through Samaria.  The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along well, and the woman is surprised to find a Jewish man at the well speaking to her.  The woman responds suspiciously, a bit like me when I answer the phone and the caller announces that he is doing a survey about home alarm systems.

Jesus replies to her suspicion by sharing that he can give to her “living water.”  At this point the story becomes like an Abbot and Costello routine: “Who’s on first?”  Jesus and the woman talk right past one another.  The woman asks how Jesus can give her water when he has no bucket.  Jesus explains what he means by living water, and the woman says she sure would like some of this living water.  Then she would not have to come to the well each day and haul water.  She, at this point, is not really buying what Jesus is selling. She sounds skeptical, a bit like me when the telemarketer says her windows will cut my heat bill by 25%.

Jesus realized this conversation is going in circles and asks the woman to call her husband.  The woman replies that she has no husband.  Jesus answers that she is right on that count.  She has been through six of them, and she is not married to the current guy.

Suddenly the conversation gets personal and perhaps a bit uncomfortable for the woman.  She attempts to change the subject by pulling Jesus into an ongoing theological debate over the proper address for the Temple.  For the woman to realize her need of something she did not know she was lacking, she must first take a clear-eyed look at her life.  The look within is the hardest view.

Six men and she still has not found what she is looking for.  It is like the country song looking for love in all the wrong places.  Jesus’ implied question is:  How long is it going to take you to realize you are looking in all the wrong places for what will finally satisfy you?  Lent is about realizing that we have been looking in the wrong places for what can give us life.

We associate Lent with giving up things, and this journey can entail leaving some things by the side of the road.  Lent, however, is less about giving things up than it is about enlarging our lives. Jesus seems to be suggesting that the woman give up these serial relationships, but more than that he is challenging to her to ask for more from life.  He is awakening in her a thirst she did not formerly have.  She has been settling for too little; God has more for her.

C. S. Lewis wrote that we do not ask too much from life, rather we ask too little.  We are "like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because they cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.  We are for too easily pleased."  Jesus wants this woman to demand more from her life.  Lent is about demanding more from our lives in Christ.

The woman got the message.  She leaves her water jug, rushes back to her village, and says she thinks she has found the Christ.  She never saw that coming as she made her way to the well that day. Lent is about enlarging our lives.

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister—American Baptist Churches of New York State

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