he walked right in
In my eldest son’s confirmation class, a motley crew of early teens and parents discussed the woman at the well. You may be familiar with this story of Jesus’ conversation with a Samaritan woman. I’ve studied it many times, but this time something struck a nerve.
Samaritans had been despised by the Jews for centuries. On their travels, they would usually walk an extra three days to avoid Samaritan territory. Jesus, however, walked right into Samaria.
“What places do you avoid going?” our leader Beth asked, “physicially, emotionally, or spiritually?”
A concrete example immediately came to mind. I had recently googled directions to a tutoring assignment, and the route took me straight through downtown Detroit. Without hesitation, I clicked the little red line and shifted it to the northern suburbs, adding 20 minutes or so to my commute. I didn’t want to take unnecessary risks by driving through a crime-ridden area, but serious danger was unlikely. Truth is, I didn’t want to face the poverty, consider the decline of that once grand city, or notice its dramatic contrast with the neighboring wealthy (and mostly white) suburbs. It makes me uncomfortable, so I avoid it.
It’s just one example of many other places, people, or subjects I avoid because they’re inconvenient or uncomfortable. But He walks right in.
We also talked about this woman, often portrayed as loose and immoral since she lived with an unmarried man after five prior husbands. But there is another theory. In ancient times, women could not divorce their husbands. They had no rights; they were mere property with a job to perform. Chances are, this woman was dismissed because she could not bear children.
It sheds a whole different light, doesn’t it? Perhaps she is not the buxom, conniving sinner we imagine, but someone dismissed for something she could not control, again and again. Barren, in so many ways. Devoid of life.
I wonder what wrong assumptions I make through my own filters? Do I too quickly assume others brought troubles on themselves? How often am I completely mistaken because I rush to judge?
Jesus walks right in. He calls it straight, revealing full knowledge of her past. He doesn’t lecture or pass judgement. Instead, he offers the woman living water, the source of spiritual life for eternity.
On this day, amidst a bunch of middle schoolers, I was struck by the story’s remarkable symbolism. Jesus walks right into the uncomfortable place, connects with this barren woman, and offers her life.
How many of us–here and out there–feel isolated or rejected for one reason or another? How many are barren, broken, devoid of spirit? How many crave someone who knows and understands our whole story? And how often does someone offer a connection–a grain of hope–a drop of life–to keep us going?
While Christians point to Jesus as the answer to this barrenness, sometimes we need people with skin to make the connection and begin to meet those needs. I am human, so sometimes I must avoid the difficult places. I just pray that once in awhile, I find a way to follow His lead.
Thanks to Beth and Melanie for inspiring my thoughts on this story.