Oh, It’s…uh…One of…Them – John 4:1-27
Gary was garbage with feet, trash in a tuxedo, pure scum. We all thought so. Jammed together in our freshman dorm, it didn’t take long to figure out that Gary was a thief. What was to figure out? He bragged about it. He would steal from the businesses in the small college town and then regale us with all the details. At least two guys caught him stealing something from them and beat the tar out of him. Everyone hated his guts. That’s why God put him in my face that morning.
The night before, I’d invited Jesus Christ into my life and was still befuddled as to what that would mean. Shouldn’t I be expecting something to be different? I felt nothing. That would change soon. I would speak to Gary only to swear at him if I said anything at all. Everyone else was the same way. Leaving the dorm for a morning class, I passed Gary on the steps coming up. As we passed each other, I simply turned my head and said, “Hey, Gary, how are you doing?” As I hit the bottom step, I stopped and turned to look up at Gary. He stood glued to the step he was on when I spoke. He stood shocked that someone had spoken decently to him. I stood amazed it was me. That was not me. Where did that come from? A small Voice spoke inside my head for the first time saying, “There’s Someone in here now besides you.” Jesus couldn’t have made His presence in my life more plain if He’d danced in front of me wearing a hoop skirt with fruit on His head.
John 4 finds Jesus and the boys going through Samaria. In the small town of Sychar, Jesus sat down by the well in the heat of the day while the twelve went to buy food. A woman approached and Jesus said to him, “Give me a drink.” Sounds innocent enough but mark this well. Jesus does not do innocuous chit-chat. When He starts the conversation, it’s going somewhere. It sure ambushed the woman. “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” John bleeds in the detail “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”
The Jews hated all Gentiles. They called them “dogs” in utter contempt. But the Jews reserved their blackest bile for the Samaritans. Samaritans were the left overs from the northern half of Israel which broke away from the southern half in a dispute between Solomon’s two sons. They built their own center of worship at Mt. Gerizim to compete with the temple in Jerusalem. When the Assyrians invaded and carried off many of the Jews, those remaining intermarried with the occupying Assyrians producing a mixed, and therefore impure, people in the eyes of the rest of the Jews. Gentiles were “dogs”: Samaritans were mongrel, half-breed, spiritually filthy traitors and imposters. The woman stood shocked, like Gary on the steps, that any Jew would speak anything decent to her.
Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” (v.9) Jesus starts talking about life and she replies talking religion, dead religion to be more exact, and her own convenience. Dead religion vaccinates us so we don’t catch real truth and real life from Christ. Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem? If the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, is that a sign that Jesus is coming soon? Or does Jesus need to return and set up His Kingdom before the Cubs can win it? Who cares (besides Cub fans)? Living water? Sounds great! How do I get it so I don’t have to haul from this well everyday? How can this work for me? (A big question in America where the real base line spirituality is self – even in the church.
“Go, call your husband and come here.” Now things get dicey as Jesus replies that she has had five husbands and the one she has now isn’t her husband. We can’t read the scorecard on those five marriages but the handwriting stood plain on the arm candy she had now. That’s why you draw water at noon. All people who draw water to live know that you draw your water for the day in the morning to avoid doing that heavy lifting in the heat of the day. But when you’d rather avoid those looks as only the other women in town can give, you come out at noon when everyone else has come and gone – everyone but Jesus. So the twelve come back and find Jesus talking to a woman (v.27); it was very much a man’s world. A woman who was also a Samaritan woman who was shacking up. A woman everyone thought was garbage with feet, trash wearing a tuxedo and pure scum stood floored by love wrapped in the simple dignity of civil conversation.
Don’t miss this girl. She’s an important part of our growth. The first time I saw her, her name was Gary and he was a thief. Love in the presence of people who repulse and disgust us stands as possibly the most powerful evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives. I don’t mean people who jangle our self-centeredness or whose personalities grate on ours. I mean people who evoke hatred we didn’t know we could feel, people who trigger our spiritual vomiting reflex. The thought of touching them makes us shudder. What’s this Samaritan woman’s name where we are?
I’ve had a string of Samaritan women pop up throughout my Christian life under different names and faces. They make up the classroom where Jesus says,”If you want to love like I do, you can’t cherry pick the attractive ones. You have to love the ones I do and, without me, you can’t do that. Are you still in on this thing of being Christian?” “Gary” has also been a woman I thought was doing the unspeakable with her son. “Gary” showed up a year after college in a Knoxville slum where I learned that you can’t love the poor from a distance. You have to get up close to smell that mix of fried food, cheap wine, urine, sweat and body odor, to feel the scuttle of the cockroaches on your arm.
Then there was Tim, a 450 pound mountain in bib overalls needing to be loved. He helped with offerings; anyone who saw Tim standing up front in the service knew that anyone was really welcome at our church. He hurt himself in a fall and we spent hundreds of hours taking him to agencies that wanted nothing to do with him. Just the sight of a 450 pound man who couldn’t keep his pants up or the saliva in his mouth made them move him to the door quickly. One day we went to a fast food place to fill out a form. While Tim downed an iced coffee and we both filled out the form, a woman stared at us with pure contempt as if to say, “What is someone like that doing in a place like this around decent people?” As we left, I went to open the van door and I heard Tim yell, “Oh, man!” As he stood six inches away from the window by this woman’s head, his pants dropped to his knees…and then he bent over to pick them up. Our church van became the getaway car for a 450 pound “mooner” as we sped out of Tim Horton’s with all the church information conveniently on the side for the police (who, praise God, never found us).
He could really draw, quite talented, in fact. When he died, I cleaned out his things and found two of his drawings, just things done in an odd moment with markers. They grace my office wall and the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art couldn’t pry them out of my hands. Tim made all of us who knew him six inches taller as Christians; Samaritans can do that when Jesus loves them through us. Got a “Gary”, a “Tim”, a Samaritan woman of some kind this summer? Stop dodging them and start-up a decent conversation even if it takes all the power of God we’ve ever known (and it might) to pull it off.
The living water gets to flowing really well then.
If you think this might help any student get through a dry summer, then share, twitter subscribe, and all that social media/Facebook stuff.
Please return your seat to the upright position and hand your infrared night vision goggles to the attendant at the rear as you leave. See you next post at geezeronthequad.com.