You Fit The Description

Jesus talks to women . . . touches lepers . . . invites children forward . . . makes a Samaritan the hero . . . and an older brother a chump.

While a kid in Sunday school, then scheming to become Roy Rogers or Dan’l Boone, I learned about Jesus’ “unless you become like a child, you won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” I didn’t have a clue about Heaven’s Kingdom, but I thought it swell others should be like me. Of course we’d bellow out, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so . . .

Much later, though never achieving my Roy-ness or Dan’l-ness, I learned almost everything Jesus did was radical (even inviting kids onto his lap), contrary to the expectations of his society. And yet, as a faithful adult, I often take the radical nature of Jesus for granted. Ho-hum, he touched a leper; such a sweet tale about that nice Samaritan; chatted up a woman at the well . . . pleasant way to pass the afternoon, eh?

The 3rd Sunday of Lent – for March 27, 2011

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:28-29)

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. What an innocent sentence. What a mundane event (John 4:5-42).

Not. At. All.

In Jesus’ time, a man conversing with a woman not his wife, nor in the extended family, was at least unsettling and possibly dangerous. And she wasn’t merely a woman. A Samaritan, she would’ve been despised, avoided because good Jews shunned her and her ilk. However, Jesus talked with her. Radical!

I paid attention to her recollections about Jesus, what she claimed to others about those by-the-well moments. “Come and see,” she implored her neighbors, “a man who told me everything I have ever done.” He knows me! That’s her claim, over and over.

Really? Read the entire, lengthy account and answer this for me: what did Jesus know about her? Based on the Gospel’s bare-bones bullet points, Jesus knew:

  • She had five husbands
  • The dude she’s currently shacked up with isn’t her husband

What else did Jesus know? Not much.

*     *     *

In the year I turned thirty I broke my leg during a summer backpack. The surgeon who put me back together called it a tib-fib spiral fracture and I staggered from the hospital with a hip-to-toe cast. Months of healing. Months of pain. Months of boredom. All things considered, my recovery went well. Alleluia for physical therapists! Instead of hobbling about for a year, I returned to scampering within six months. I rewarded myself with a trip to Yosemite. Thrilled to have mobility, I ran everywhere, whether along the Merced River or to the Curry Village cafeteria.

Once, while jogging to my cabin, two men ordered me to stop. They were aggressive, grim-faced, and confrontational. They flashed badges. Undercover park rangers. Yikes! They barraged me with questions . . . Why was I running? Where did I live? Where was I staying? Where was I going? Who was I with? Did I have ID? What were my contact numbers? I felt like cheese between bread. Grilled.

Finally I ventured a question: “Why’d you stop me?”

“We’re looking for a drug dealer. You fit the description.”

I risked another question. “What’s the description?”

The rangers exchanged glances. One nodded. The other talked. “A guy’s dealing drugs in the park who has a beard, wears jeans, boots and a flannel shirt, and is between twenty and forty years old.”

Were they kidding? Based on that, they thought they “knew” me! And I thought, even while quaking in my suspicious boots and sweating through my problematic flannel shirt (and perhaps even looking a bit like Dan’l Boone), their suspect’s description likely fit 50% of the male population currently visiting Yosemite.

After the better (or worst) part of an hour, they let me go. During the remainder of my Yosemite “reward,” I continuously peered over my shoulder, wondering which undercover ranger shadowed me.

*     *     *

Did Jesus “know” the woman at the well? Perhaps the Gospel of John left out dialog and they conversed about more than her husbands. Or she tried to impress her neighbors and exaggerated.

But I believe this. And I believe this to be radical, first or twenty-first century: Jesus respected her. Jesus treated her as an equal and as a woman worth knowing. Even without badges, or worries about drug runners spoiling the national parks, we come to quick, unfair, sometimes dismissive, sometimes arrogant, conclusions about others.

Do we really “know” other people? No. But the radical gesture is to resist our inevitable bias. In this season of Lent, we’ll metaphorically and faithfully jog over to the well. Using John’s language, will we share in the “living water” or drown another with our arrogance or accusations or assumptions?

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