Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." -- John 4:13-15
Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. He is talking about how to live well. That means, first of all, facing the truth of her life as it is. When he offers the woman the water of life, and she asks for this water eagerly, he brings up the subject of her "husband" -- well really, the man she is simply living with. Ouch. Jesus knows everything this woman has ever done. He knows that the well that she is drinking from contains water that does not satisfy, water that will not sustain her spirit or her soul for long. She will always be thirsty, always moving from one "husband" to another, if she continues drawing from this same old well. But if she learns to draw from Jesus' well, she will never thirst again. That means changing her way of doing things.
This living parable resonates strongly with me today. While the man I live with is definitely my husband, I do transgress in many other ways. The transgression that is apparent at the moment is anger. Oh, I'm pretty calm and collected most of the time. And I don't normally get upset at people who unknowingly do irritating things. But, I have a seriously difficult time controlling my temper around people who deliberately do hurtful or provoking things.
(Warning: I am about to confess to things of which I am not proud.)
Like the time a friend of my thirteen-year-old son repeatedly picked on him. I was calm the first time because my son saw this boy as his friend and didn't want him to get into trouble. So, I spoke directly to the boy about his behavior and he apologized to my son. Problem solved, I thought. But then he did it again. The second time, less calm, I convinced my son to let me speak to the principal and I asked her to discipline this boy. The third time it happened, I was irate. My son, too, had finally had enough, and no longer wanted anything to do with this boy. I spoke to the principal and insisted she talk to his parents, and then I went up to the boy and told him in a very angry, threatening tone, "Stay away from my son." I was a growling Momma Bear in that moment, but I regretted it immediately afterward. How could this boy stay away from my son? They had every class together. Thankfully, that happened at the end of the school year, and I could forget about it. But now, at the beginning of this school year, the boy is being nice again, and my son has forgiven him again. I should forgive him as well. But because of what I last said to this boy, there is a wall between us that is going to be difficult to overcome.
Then, recently, I again did not control my anger. Driving home after a very long and tiring day, I needed to move into the left lane to make a turn. I had plenty of room when I started moving over, but the driver of the truck in the left lane behind me sped up, deliberately blocking my way, and he honked his horn at me. I looked and saw that he and the other young people in the truck were laughing at what he had done. "What jerks," I thought. Since I still needed to get into that lane, I slowed down to get behind them. As they passed, I saw them all looking out their windows at me, laughing, as if to say, "Ha Ha, wasn't that a funny joke?!" So, I flipped them off . And I saw their jaws drop along with their smiles. As they passed ahead of me, they flipped me off.
"Great," I thought. "That was not a very Christian response, Pam." I had just responded to evil (albeit, a mild kind of evil) with more evil, and in the process, I had created more evil. And here I was, wearing a cross and a shirt with a Christian message on it, for goodness sakes! I hoped that no one I knew had seen me. I hoped that I did not know any of the teenagers in that truck. It was not my finest hour. As I drove the rest of the way home, I thought that it would have been better if I had flashed them the Peace Sign. That would have been a more Christian thing to do. At least then, I would have been responding to evil with love. That response may have surprised those teenagers just as much as the other one did. And it might also have been the only response that could have caused them to regret their "joke." But I only thought of this after the fact.
I tried to forget about the whole thing. When I did think about it, I tried to defend my behavior, saying "Well, nobody's perfect." And, "They deserved it." Thankfully, God truly knows everything about me, and loves me enough to correct me, and show me a better way. In the lectionary the next day, I read: "For you say, 'My conduct is pure, and I am clean in God's sight.' But O that God would speak, and open his lips to you, and that he would tell you the secrets of wisdom! For wisdom is many sided. Know then that God exacts of you less than your guilt deserves. ...If you direct your heart rightly, you will stretch out your hands towards him. If iniquity is in your hand, put it far away, and do not let wickedness reside in your tents," (Job 11:4-6, 13-14) I laughed without humor at the precision of those words: "If iniquity is in your hand." Yes. That's pretty much what it was. The more I thought about the situation, the more ashamed I felt.
It is quite painful to face your transgressions with complete honesty. But it's a necessary pain. Only by facing myself with honesty, and feeling ashamed of my behavior, can I even begin to make a change. If I don't ever face the truth, then I will be like the Samaritan woman, continually drinking from the same unsatisfying well. Only if I can learn to drink from Jesus' well, will I be truly satisfied.
There is a reason that Jesus taught us to control our anger, and to love our enemies. For when we hate our enemies, they in turn hate us, and so on, and so forth, ad infinitum. Drinking from that well does not satisfy. Only by drinking from Jesus' well, can we even hope to turn around the evil and turmoil currently in place. Only by responding to war with a clear signal of peace can we hope to end war.
And there is a reason that Jesus taught us to forgive one another as we would like to be forgiven -- and as God forgives us. We need forgiveness. When we do not forgive others, how can we expect to be forgiven? When we do not forgive, then we are continually drinking from a well that does not satisfy. Only by forgiving those who hurt us, can we even hope to heal the wounds that are there, in us and them.
You know, I tell my kids all the time to forgive one another, and to not escalate their troubles by responding negatively, one to the other. My kids are sometimes better at this than I am. I think I need to practice more what I preach. Don't you? And I think that I need to apologize to my son's friend for my angry outburst, and ask for his forgiveness in turn. I think that that is what Jesus would want me to do.
Dear Lord, you know everything I have ever done. And yet I still feel your steadfast love for me. I know that you want only what is best for me. And I am grateful for your guidance. Love always, Pam