Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Woman at the Well

Woman at the Well

dougfloyd – 5/2007

Thirsty and hungry he sits, waiting, baking in the billowing heat. Eyes burning from the salty sweat that baptizes his forehead in the noonday sun. As he waits, he watches, drifting in and out of a thin consciousness.

He watches as Abraham’s servant walks up to the well and asks a young lady for a drink. Soon they leave together, and a marriage between Izaak and Rachel begins unfolding. There’s something about wells and love.

Tamar comes every day when the blistering heat of the noonday sun is at its peak. This miserable heat is better company than the constant cackling of the village women who curse her as she passes by. So she walks alone in the heat of the day while other rest in the shade. She doesn’t care. She doesn’t need them. She doesn’t need anybody. She comes to the well to find water, but who knows what else she might?

Interrupting her musings, he looks up and asks, “Can you give me a drink?”

“What? A Jew asks a woman of Samaria for a drink?” Tamar is well aware of the cultural and religious taboos this stranger has just violated. He talked to a woman. Some rabbis suggest that if a man talks to a woman for over twenty minutes, you must assume they’ve been intimate. Plus a Samaritan woman at that!

Jews despised the Samaritans. She remembers as a child watching a Jewish family pass through her town. She waved. They scowled and turned away as though she were some kind of wild animal.

“What does he really want, she wonders mischievously.”

“If you had recognized who is asking you for water, you would have asked him for living water instead,” He says climbing to his feet.

“Wow he must think he is really special!”

Looking around for his things, she queries, “You don’t have a pot or anything to even hold the water. This well is deep, so I am not sure how you even begin to offer me living water. Do you have some well around here I don’t know about? Are you somehow better then Jacob, our Father? He drank water from this well. His sons drank from this well. And now we enjoy the gift of his well.”

“This well can satisfy your thirst for just a moment. And then you’re thirsty again. The water I offer keeps satisfying. It springs up inside a man as streams of living water flowing on and on and on.”

Not sure if he’s flirting with her, she blurts out, “That sounds like my kind of water. If it’s as good as you say, I’m ready to drink.”

“Then go get your husband, and come here.”

“I don’t have a husband.”

“That’s right. You’ve actually had five husbands and the one you’re with today is not even your husband.”

The game was over. His words cut to the heart.

Instantly, Tamar traveled back in her mind to a large family gathering. It was a cool fall night and all her relatives had gathered in harvest celebration. Music fell on her ears like rain from the sky. The world was a celebration.

Intoxicated by this night of dancing and singing and eating, she fell into the arms of young man. Before she knew what she was doing, she had given away her only possession. In the middle of their escapade, they were caught, exposed in front of the entire village.

She publicly shamed the family. Responding in the only way he knew, her father cried out and grieved as though a child had died. The crisp fall air turned stale and a sick, pit-in-your-stomach gloom swallowed all festivity.

Tamar died that night. She died to family and friends. She left her home and never saw her family again. Learning to survive on her own, she did what a woman had to do. Men came and went. Each one with promises of a better life. Each one more vile than the last.

Worthless and used up, she grew hard to the world. Nothing or no one had come close to penetrating her fortress of indifference in years. A chance meeting with a strange Jew, and the fortress walls began to tremble. His words pierced her soul like javelins.

Grappling to recuperate, she says, “You must be a prophet.”

She wonders, “Could he be the prophet that Moses spoke of?” If so, maybe he can finally affirm our worship.”

Not only was Tamar a marginalized woman. She came from a marginalized people. They were outsiders. Cursed by the Israelites even though they held to the law and worshipped at the Holy Mt of Gerizim.

She asks, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship."

Looking directly into her eyes, Jesus proclaims, “Woman, listen to me and believe. The time is at hand to worship the Father in heaven directly. No more will it be this mountain or that mountain. From now, the true children of God will worship the Father in spirit and truth. He is drawing all men to himself and the hour is at hand for the true worshippers of God to wake from their sleep.”

Jarred by his direct response she replies, “If only the Prophet were here. He would tell everything we need to know.”

“I who speak to you Am He.”

His words echoed through every fiber of her body from her head down to her toes. Suddenly she realized she was running. Running madly into the village as though she were racing for her life. She was crying.

Crying for the first time in fifteen years. Her cold, hard, calloused heart suddenly ached again. She could feel something. She was alive. Like the teenager that died so many years ago, she was alive again.

Alive! Alive! She shouted, she cried, she laughed. Surely the people will think I am insane but who cares because I’ve seen him, I’ve seen him, the One is here, He told me everything, everything about my life.

“Come and see. Come and see. He is here!”

When she opened eyes, she realized that she was surrounded by a crowd. They swayed on her every word. When she paused, everyone started talking at the same time, asking, “What happened to you? You look completely different?” “Where is He?” “Can we meet him?”

Everyone shouting and pushing to get near her. Excitement, like that fall night so many years ago, danced in the air. All she could say, all she could do, all she could sing out was, “Come and see! Come and see.”

Then she began running back to the well.

A bustling panoply of people flocked to the well with a singing, dancing little girl leading the pack. “Come and see!” “Come and see!”

The disciples who had finally returned with food for Jesus, looked up from the well in shock and surprise. Jesus was explaining to them about another food and another harvest when they saw it with their own eyes.

He smiled as the little girl returned. She had finally come home to her father’s house and she was bringing her friends to the feast. They all laughed and cried and rejoiced at the words and wonders of Jesus. These outsiders to the faith; these marginalized people found the prophet of God who welcomed them into the Father’s house. As He talked and stayed with them, they realized that this is not just a prophet, they were feasting with the Savior of the world.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Loving Freely

Loving Freely

I quit trying to be great. Once I had aspirations of making a name for myself, becoming a famous person. Now I just want to learn to be a person. I dreamed of speaking before thousands of people frozen under the spell of my voice. I was going to change the world. Now I realize: I cannot even change myself.

I am not even free to love as He loved.

As Jesus gathers with his disciples for a final meal, he looks around the room and sees people who will not be faithful, who will not love him to the end, who will abandon him in the hour of his greatest need.

He sees Judas and knows that in just a few moments, Judas will leave to meet with conspirators seeking to kill Jesus. And there’s Philip, Andrew and the others. When the hour of reckoning comes, they’ll abandon him, escaping into the night.

His three closest friends Peter, James and John will fail him. The one time he asks for prayer, they’ll fall asleep, leaving him alone in his greatest trial.

These three has shared a rare intimacy with Jesus. He took these three up the mountain and revealed glories beyond imagination. They saw him in a light no other living human would see, and they still failed him.

Peter wasn’t always Peter. He was Simon. Jesus named him “Peter,” the rock. This headstrong man was to play a special foundational role in Jesus’ purposes. Bursting ahead of pack in his passionate way, Peter experienced the power of Jesus in amazing, unique ways like walking on the water.

Yet Jesus knows that his darkest hour, Peter will deny him. Jesus said, “If you deny me before men, I will deny you before my Father in Heaven.” Peter not only denies him before men, he curses anyone suggested otherwise.

So as Jesus prepares to spend a final evening with his disciples, he sees a group of strangers. He is alone. These men will not be faithful. These men will betray, deny, abandon him. “Having love his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

Resting in the love of his Father alone, Jesus kneels down before each man. Humbling himself before them, he washes their feet. His life will soon be quenched. He pours that same life into these men.

He speaks words of comfort, encouragement, instruction. His love has no constraints. He freely embraces his betrayer. He freely serves and loves all those who will disappoint him, forget him and leave him.

As he demonstrates this free gift of love, he exhorts, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is not fickle, changing based on circumstances. It is a wellspring that never stops flowing. This love flows freely and continuously between the Father and the Son by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus comes to earth, revealing the express image of the Father. He reveals a love that is never restrained. Beaten, mocked, humiliated, spat upon, lied about, cursed and crucified: he continues loving: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

In his complete freedom to love, Jesus reveals what the Father looks like. He also reveals what humans were created to look like. Created in the image of God, humans were made for love. As I gaze upon a love that is freely flow, I realize that most of my dreams of grandeur cannot compare with the highest calling of simply becoming a human being, becoming free to love.

But I fear we are not free to love. We are nice instead.

We live in a nice country with nice people who drive nice cars, and live in nice houses. Take away the nice house, the nice car, the nice food, the nice family, and will we still be nice?

I wonder if we have any idea what it means to love freely. It is natural to hold our hurts closer than our love. I think we love the idea of love, but the act of love costs too much. It requires our life.

Paul suggests that where the Spirit of God is there is freedom. He suggests that Christ comes to frees us from the bondage to sin. Those in bondage are not free. While we speak of freedom and salvation and redemption, I wonder, are we really free to love?

I think about Jesus loving the disciples, loving the thief on the cross, and forgiving those who crucified him. In his act of unrestrained love, I am most amazed by the love expressed to Peter. As he looks down from the cross, he confesses that they don’t realize what they are doing.

The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, and the gaping crowds never shared the same quiet intimacy that Peter shared. They never walked on the water; they never climbed the mountain to behold a vision of transfiguration. They never saw what Peter saw, heard what Peter heard, and lived what Peter lived.

Peter acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ. And in a moment of terror, he denied that same Christ before all men. The breach of a friend wounds far deeper breach than the arrow of an enemy.

The Gospel writers brand Judas as an enemy from the beginning. So we are not surprised when he betrays Jesus. But Peter, he was an intimate friend. He knew the secrets of love. And he denied that love.

In Jesus’ darkest hour, Peter abandoned him.

We may find the courage to love our enemies, but can we love the friends and family who misunderstand us, disappoint us, and even abandon us?

Jesus loves freely for he knows a love that will not stop. He knows a love that continues even into death. He knows a love stronger than death. In his final moments, he tells the disciples that they can know that same love. In fact, he is preparing the way through the cross for them to enjoy a place in that love.

The wondrous promise of our faith is not about mansions and crowns and golden roads. The wondrous promise that Jesus offers is the love of the Father that will never be quenched. We are loved. And we will be loved. And we will be loved. And we will be loved. And we will be loved.

Nothing will stop this love. No angels, no demons, no hardship, no suffering. Not even death. We rest completely secure in His love. If we ever but catch a glimpse of the wondrous security of this love, we may discover a way of loving freely. We may actually forgive the hurts and failures and spears of friend and foe alike.

We may actually love like Jesus loved and lay down our lives for one another.

And then? Then world will know...