Today’s Scripture focus: John 4:5-42
I really don’t want to admit it, but I am a self-described “conflict coward.” I really don’t enjoy conflicts at all. There are some people in the world that just seem to go around looking for an argument. They will intentionally poke and prod people to get them to disagree and start some kind of conflict over an issue. There are others that will get into a fist fight if you just look at them the wrong way. Others enjoy posting nasty comments on social networking websites and blogs just to stir up trouble. I am not one of those people.
Most of the time, I would just rather avoid conflict altogether. When I get into one of these uncomfortable situations, I usually have one of two reactions – (1) I will shut down or (2) use humor to try to defuse the situation. I’m sure you know the feeling of watching a conversation when you see the “train wreck” coming. You can follow the path that this conversation is heading and it isn’t going to be pretty. Sometimes, you see it in the conversation of others – you know that tempers are starting to flare and one person is about to set off something that can only get ugly. It’s usually about this time that I start inspecting the density of carpet fibers in the room or become intrigued by the design of ceiling tiles. I just can’t bring myself to watch the wreck. I avoid eye contact, realize that “nature is calling,” or find something to distract the parties from the inevitable collision ahead. Either that, or I make some goofy, off-handed remark about something that has nothing to do with the impending disaster about to take place. I will try to get attention focus elsewhere or on me rather than on the mounting tension.
I think that the woman in today’s passage had a similar tactic. Jesus has come into town and found a seat by the well in the middle of the square. It is noon, one of the hottest parts of the day, and most of the people are inside, seeking shelter from the blazing sun. As Jesus rests his weary feet, a woman comes out to draw water from the well. Why did she wait till now? Why not come early in the morning, when all the rest of the women in town come to draw water, so that it’s not so hot?
Aahh . . . there it is.
She comes when no one else is around. Maybe she’s avoiding the inevitable conflict that would take place if she showed up when all the “respectable” women were there. Maybe she was avoiding the dirty looks, snide comments, the finger-wagging, and the condemnation. You see, this woman has a past. But that doesn’t seem to bother Jesus all that much. Jesus asks her for water and, after she gets over the initial shock, she protests that he shouldn’t be talking to a woman like her. Jesus then does something really amazing, he offers her an invaluable gift – himself. He offers her the living water that will quench every thirst and never go dry.When Jesus encourages the woman to go call her husband, she quickly realizes that the jig is up. She’s about to be outed. The thing she had wanted to avoid was becoming the central topic of conversation.
“I . . . I . . . I don’t . . . have a husband,” she stammers.
“You’re right,” Jesus replies. “You’ve had five husbands and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband.”
What do you now? Your secret is out. You’re standing there emotionally naked before this man that you don’t even know, but he sure seems to know you. She does what comes naturally to conflict cowards – change the subject.
“I see that you are a prophet. I want to talk to you about worship.”
This is one of the great temptations of the Lenten season. As we spend forty days meditating on the cross – on what Jesus did, on what it means, on what it is calling us to do and be – we have to take a long, hard look in the mirror. We have the chance during Lent to dig deep into our own soul and face our own demons. We have the chance to slow down and confront the struggles that we usually rush by in the daily busyness we call life. The temptation is to want to change the subject and change it fast.
Sure, God will let us do that. God’s not going to force us to do anything we don’t want to do. We can white-knuckle our way through Lent. We can go through the motions and still completely miss the point. This is a time to go deep with Jesus – to open up all the doors to all the rooms in our heart and let Jesus bring in his magnifying glass, pointing out things that we’ve become so accustomed to that we’ve overlooked it. It’s time to let Jesus pull the mask off our hidden lives and allow his healing water to flow over them, to wash them, to expose them to the painful (yet healing) light of his truth.Yes, this is a holy season. An uncomfortable season. A needed season of our life. Don’t change the subject.
Prayer: God, being exposed can be painful. When I truly let you in, the shame, guilt, and ugliness of my heart gets brought to light. I realize that there are places in me that are dead with sin. Help me to be courageous and to place those in your hands. Bring me healing. Bring me life. Help me to keep from running away or changing the subject. Amen.
* Note: This blog post is part of a series of reflections for Lent. The passages are based on a booklet Steven wrote for Ecclesia, the church he pastors in Fairview, NC.