Saturday, March 1, 2008

Reflection on John 4:5-42

Clay jars were a common sight in the ancient world. In a way, they were one of the most important items in the house because they were not only big enough to carry the water for the day, but also store it. Everyday someone (often a wife or a daughter) would go to the well and fill the clay jar for the rest of the family. The clay jar was an essential item.

“Well, duh, Pastor Jira. That's what I needed for the week you know, a blatantly obvious and completely irrelevant piece of information. Thanks, that was just amazing.”

Now, wait a second or two before you take off and go shopping in your mind leaving me to speak to no one. The reason I gave you this blatantly obvious and rather mundane information about clay water jars is because the Samaritan woman in this story from John runs off and leaves hers behind. Why would you do that? You need water to survive. And these large jars, which everybody had to have, couldn’t have been the cheapest item either. Clay pot makers must have had it made. But, the Samaritan woman runs off and leaves this essential item of daily living behind.

This woman has obviously discovered in Jesus something wonderful enough and freeing enough to cause her to leave her precious jar. Tell me, what might God do for you that would cause you to leave your car sitting in a parking lot? Now, I'm assuming here that you have a car worth something. (My family only owned cars that people would have paid to have moved from their sight.) So, assuming you have a nice car, what might God do for you that would cause you to leave behind your car while you run and tell your neighbors what God has done? What have you been lugging around in your clay jar that needs to be lifted from your life?

The Samaritan woman had a few things in her jar bogging her down as she walked through life. The first was her own self-perception…her own concept of who she was. It wasn't very good. How do I know? For starts, the woman was at a well with a handsome young man. In the ancient world, “young woman” plus “young man” plus “well” equals “romance.” Jesus appears to start off the scene correctly, "Give me a drink." Just for your information, that line in the ancient world was often the equivalent of; "Do you come here often?" And she opens this romantic scene with a stellar thought that effectively says, "You want me to give you water, Jewish man? Are you blind? Can't you see I’m only a Samaritan?" Her self-identity as “only a Samaritan” is weighing her down. Have the words, "I'm only…" ever come out of your mouth? Did you know of anyone who stared at the dance floor as a teen, hoping that someone would come over, but somehow knew it would never happen? Feeling worthless makes the jar heavy. Being alone in the world is a heavy thing to carry.

“I'll give you better water than that,” Jesus promises in essence. “Worthlessness is an unhealthy drink. I'll give you better water.”

Delving deeper into the murky waters of her jar, Jesus says to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." Looking down into her jar she saw swirling there her uncertain and chaotic life. Widowed, she has been bounced around to live with many men, many husbands, none of which has kept her around. "I'll have another good squirt of worthlessness and could you mix in a little chaos too, thanks!"

"I have no husband," she says.

Jesus responds, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true?"

Do you know who a prophet is? A prophet is not a fortuneteller who can see events of the distant future. A prophet is someone who is somehow able to look into your closely held jar and describe the murky water inside. That is who a prophet is.

Because he can see her life so clearly, the woman sees that Jesus is a prophet. We need prophets. You can't fill your jar with clean water until you can tell that you have murky water in there. It's amazing how people will put up with bad water for years and think that it is normal. It's amazing how little we can see of ourselves. In a world where we say, "Leave me alone, it's none of your business!" we need prophets more than ever. Through other believers around us, Jesus is present, pointing out the obvious discoloration floating in our jars that we cannot see ourselves. Are we willing to let others look? Are we willing to look into our jars ourselves? Or, is stagnant, murky water good enough?

Naming the murkiness in the water is powerful stuff. It's hard stuff. It's hard to admit that we've been lugging it around all this time. But, you can't throw out the bad water until you can see that it is bad water. It’s hard stuff to throw out though. What will take its place once I throw it out? Will my jar just be empty then? Nothing is worse than emptiness. That's why it is hard to keep people with mental illnesses on their medications, because strange and horrible feelings are preferable to no feelings at all (the effect of some medications). Those of us without mental illnesses aren't any different. Anything is better than emptiness. And, emptiness is a real fear.

But, the woman was willing to take the chance. She wasn't alone after-all, Jesus was right there as she took this chance. None of us should be alone. Christ is right here; in the presence of fellow believers Christ is here. We can take the chance and throw out the bad water of our lives. And whenever we do it, we are filled with fresh, living water; water that refreshes us in a way that allows us to leave our heavy jars behind. Jars are a trap. You can stare into jars for too long and never realize that there is a world out there. But, once you are helped to look up from your jar you see a wonderful new world of opportunity and love and happiness.

You see that other people are walking around, carrying heavy jars, staring into their jars, and you just want to go and tell them, “Look up! Don't you see that your staring down at your own feeling of worthlessness, or at the chaos of their life, or at some doctrine that's unimportant to real life, or at the destructive desire for success?” “Look up,” you say. “Look up and experience the gift of freedom that Christ has given to me. It's good, it's refreshing. Look up!”

And they do. And, one by one people are freed from their heavy jars as Christ motivates more people to be prophets to each other. And, it is a beautiful sight when you look in front of you and see a huge pile of jars that have been left behind. They weren't that important after-all.

All Scripture quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyrighted, 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and is used by permission. All rights reserved.

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