You'll know where to find me at the party. I'm the guy in the corner, sitting on the stairway, outside on the deck or, maybe, talking with one other kindred soul. I'm the early-leaver, the one who engages sincerely with others but, on the inside, is dying to get away to a safe and quiet place, exhausted from the effort of being "outgoing." Shyness, introversion, anxiety--whatever it is, the truth is that I love people, truly enjoy sharing stories and hearing the ideas and the plans and the tales that others may tell, but always feel something tugging me toward the door. It seems that, when I share this about myself, about one-third of those I tell look at me as though I am crazy, another one-third have a spouse or a close friend like me, and the rest relate to me as a brother-in-arms.
Still, for all of us, there is a temptation to move on when we find ourselves in situations that call for us to stay a little longer. We encounter someone who needs to tell a story, but this necessary truth is just too slow in emerging; we find an acquaintance in emotional pain and the suffering is just so great that we cannot bear to witness it any longer. We lose patience with someone who tells of events long past and we cannot understand why he or she still allows those events to have such impact on life today. We walk into a situation we cannot comprehend and, even though we sense it may be significant, we lack the energy to try to unravel its mysteries.
Jesus met a woman of Samaria at a well as He and His disciples were traveling from Judea back to Galilee. The route He had chosen took them through Samaria and naturally put them in contact with the despised people of that region. The woman was shocked that Jesus would speak to her and even more surprised that Jesus asked her for a drink from the well. But Jesus was not dissuaded; He spoke to the woman of living water and her curiosity was piqued.
"How," she wondered aloud, "does one bring up this living water without even a bucket to dip?" And the conversation--the lesson--was on.
Jesus knew more about this woman than she could explain; she'd had five husbands and there was a man in her life now--relationship undefined--who was not her husband. How did Jesus know? And why did Jesus bring up to a total stranger the uncomfortable and inconvenient truths of her life?
This is the point at which preachers and Sunday School teachers and study leaders have jumped off for years and years. They have labeled the woman a "prostitute" and inferred that Jesus was rebuking her to repentance and a sinless future. But, in doing so, they have given in to the temptation to leave the story too soon. For the passage is richer and deeper and, perhaps,
more vague than their quick and dirty interpretations of it allow for. Nothing in the text even suggests that the woman is a prostitute or that she is living in a sinful relationship. Instead, she is a person who has suffered loss--whether those five marriages ended in divorce or by a series of tragic deaths. She is a person living with a man--a man who could be her father or her brother or, even, the brother of one of her husbands who has taken seriously the Biblical injunction that a man is to care for the widow of his dead brother. By jumping off too soon--by taking the easy route and labeling the woman instead of hearing her voice--so many have missed the essence of this passage--Jesus knew to stay when others were ready to go.
What do we miss when we leave too soon, whether we leave a party (as I do) at the first socially-acceptable moment, or we leave the text of a story of Jesus, or we leave before a friend has finished telling us of the pain of a breakup or a loss or, perhaps, abuse suffered years before? Too often, we miss the richness, the fullness, the underlying truth-in-common that we all--all of
humankind--share. In a rush to get home, a rush to judgment, a rush to escape boredom, a rush away from that which we do not understand, we reject the truth that we are so much more alike than we are different.
The woman at the well--female, Samaritan, "experienced"--could not have been more different from Jesus and His disciples on the surface. So the disciples were eager for Jesus to move on; they urged Him to get something to eat as they sought to break this engagement He was sharing with the woman at the well; they could not comprehend His desire to know--and to share His mercy--with this woman. Perhaps they, like so many who have followed, had also reached a false conclusion and passed an unwarranted judgment, on this woman. The temptation was too great for them, as it often is for us. But not for Jesus; Jesus resisted the temptation to leave too soon. May we learn from His patience, and from His desire to truly know the one who is different.
We Can Hope (even in the darkest of times),