John 4:5-10 (NRSV)
(Jesus) came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
When I was serving as a youth director in an urban church years ago, there was a gentleman who walked across the church parking lot almost daily. It seemed this was a shortcut for his walk to the liquor store. Each day I would see him make the return trip home, a brown bag concealing his bottle. Eventually I began to chat with him and I learned his name was James.
One day, James shared that his wife was quite ill, and the medical expenses were making life very difficult for them. So I offered him a grocery store gift card to help pay for some necessities. My offering seemed to release a flood of pain and guilt, and his story began pouring out.
“You know, I drink quite a bit.”
I simply nodded my awareness, reassuring him that I still wanted to help.
“I really do believe in God, I just don’t go to church.”
I sincerely told him that I believed he did have faith, and I could also understand his reluctance about going to church.
“You know, I always thought this was a white-people’s church.”
Laughing, I replied that I understood why he thought this. The church I served was home to over 300 white people… and two black women.
We talked a bit longer about God and faith before he went on his way.
A few weeks later the snow had begun to fall quite heavily. I was heading to my van after work when I came upon James and his two young grandsons. He offered to clear the snow from my van windows. I wanted to decline his offer, to convey that my gift had been given with no strings attached. But I felt the spirit whispering to me, “Let him bless YOU now.” And so I did- and he and the two boys carefully and thoroughly cleaned all of my windows.
As they stepped back with smiles, admiring their work, I thanked them with my whole heart. I thanked God, too. I thought of Jesus, who revealed his true self for the first time to the Samaritan woman drawing water. First he asked her for something he needed, a drink of water from the well. His request helped her understand that she was of value to him, that he needed her help- before he would tell her who he was and what he had to offer her!
My times with James provided lessons on love for me. I came away with a deeper awareness that everyone needs to be loved, accepted and heard- as is. Each of us needs that genuine love in which we are able to tell our story with no qualifiers, and to be heard with no judgment. To care and share in mutual respect. Not to be looked down on, nor even looked up to, but to be greeted as equal partners in the world. We need one another. We all have something to give… and we all have something to receive.
In her book, Wisdom Jesus, Cynthia Bourgeault says,
One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But we almost always hear that wrong. We hear, “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” If you listen closely to Jesus’ teaching, however, there is no “as much as” in there. It’s just “Love your neighbor as yourself”- as a continuation of your very own being.
It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you.¹
¹Bourgeault, Cynthia. Wisdom Jesus. Massachusetts: Shambala Publications, Inc, 2008.
Photo by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash (Thank you!)