A Wrong Kind of Shortcut

A new consideration in the story of the woman at the well.  We have been engrossed in the homosexuality dialogue as a church and in being so, I revisited this story given the Lord’s compassion for this woman’s plight.  What struck me was the moment when she left Jesus.  Without looking, do you know when it was that she departed His presence?  To enhance the moment, one has to consider what has just transpired.  The moment is pregnant with wonderment, excitement, a potential break through for this troubled woman.  She wonders if Jesus might be the Messiah.  Imagine that!  Perhaps a tingle goes through her body at this thought because she now realizes that this conversation has been unlike any she has ever had, and with a man of all people! She has not felt despised or scorned or felt the depth of shame that generally overwhelmed her.  No, instead, she is amazed that it is compassion she sees in this man’s eyes. It is unfamiliar but hopeful.

Can you recall the last time you could sense another’s disdain without a word being spoken?  Think how often we feel things from others even though the words remain unverbalized.  God made our souls to connect.  We are often so use to toiling in disconnection that much of the time we aren’t aware that our souls feel things when we are in the company of others.  

With all that in mind, and having just heard Jesus affirm that He is indeed the Messiah, the disciples return from town, most likely having secured something for lunch.  And as they approach, they see Jesus talking to this woman, a Samaritan woman to boot.  And John recounts what they were thinking but didn’t say:  Why is he talking to this woman?  What does she want?  

There are no wasted words in the pages of Scripture.  These words have purpose and I suspect, if we are reading honestly and putting ourselves into the story, that they might hit their intended mark.  How often have we thought “death” words toward another, leaving them unspoken?  How often has our judgmental and critical spirits been felt by another’s soul?  The text tells us that at this precise moment, upon the disciples’ return and their subsequent unspoken thoughts, she left.  As I considered this detail, I felt pierced.  How often have a driven a person away from the Lord by my sense of being superior, looking down on a person, or feeling right at the expense of loving.  When we think about a topic like homosexuality, this can be particularly characteristic of us.  How sad it would be if we allowed our arrogance and "rightness" to drive a person from experiencing the saving compassion and mercy of our Lord.  Worth thinking about.

On a different topic.  I recently did a series on the 3 temptations of Jesus by Satan.  I wonder if these temptations capture in some form everything that we feel.  In other words, it is more than simply three ways Jesus was tempted but three ways in which all that we are tempted by is contained in some way in what Satan asked of Jesus in this temptation trilogy.  And one particular new thought to me happened while thinking about the second temptation, at least in Luke’s account, which differs from Matthew’s in terms of order.  Each temptation, by the way, uses the word “If”, which Eugene Peterson calls the “unholy if.”  I like that.  “If” can so often have a requirement attached to it and doesn’t flow out of freedom or grace.  Can’t you hear yourself as a parent saying, “If you do this, then….”

What struck me in the second temptation, however, was Satan’s enticement of Jesus to dismiss for a moment who He is in order to secure a shortcut to what he wants.  If you will for just a minute deny who you are as the Son of God and worship me, you can have the kingdoms when in reality the securing of the “kingdoms” would come instead through the crucifixion and resurrection.  And then I wondered about this:  isn’t there a recurring temptation in our lives to lay down who we are, who we are in Christ and how we are made, in order to make like more palatable?  I noticed a pattern:  it seems that each temptation seemed to prepare Jesus for what would lie ahead as he headed toward the cross.  This was tempting to Jesus (though on the surface we might think it was easily resisted with scripture verses) and I know it was tempting because in the garden, faced with death physically and spiritually with His Father, he cried out fervently (sweating blood, anyone?), Father, isn’t there another way?  Couldn’t there be a shortcut to what we want to accomplish here?

I think we are tempted by shortcuts all the time.  And I think such shortcuts often are at the expense of who I am.  I am not just thinking of the effect of sin on me when I seek an easier way at the expense of others, but I think of the times when I am unwilling to be who I am lest I experience aloneness, disagreement, rejection, or scorn.  I might not say what I really think.  I might go along with something I don’t really like or believe.  I might say yes when I really wanted to say no.  I might not offer an opinion out of fear.  The list could go on.  I am unwilling to own who I really am as Kent, as a unique image-bearer with unique gifts and perspectives that sometimes differ from others and thus, provoke fear.

Let me give you an example.  I was officiating basketball in the Indiana state tournament (at the sectional level lest you think too highly of me).  At halftime, a fellow official, and a highly respected one, said to our 3-man crew something to the effect that we were calling things a bit too tight.  Well, it was directed at me because I knew the other guy had hardly made a call. And the third guy seemed a bit put off for some reason, which I also now assumed was because of me.  Rather than allow the comment to be indirect, I asked on the way out to begin the second half the guy who made the comment if he was talking to me. He said he was, though with the caveat that his angles were different from mine.  I thought I had been calling a good game.  His comment threw me off. Anyway, I let that call affect me deeply.  The second half I was second guessing myself, not making calls I knew I should.  The next day, I was informed of a website that had recorded the previous night’s game so I watched it, recording every foul call.  Of the first 9 calls made,  3 were mine and 6 were his, including the first 4 of the game.  And on 2 of my 3 initial calls, he had blown his whistle as well.  I felt angry as I watched the video.  I felt angry in part because I think this gentleman had projected on to me his own uncertainty.  But as I continued to consider the situation I felt angry at myself that I had compromised who I was, shrunk back, even though I thought his feedback had been inaccurate.  I think I had denied who I was in order to create peace and did so at the expense of the kids and the game.

This happens so easily.  And it happens often.  And I think it might be wrong because we no longer are moving out of heart energized to love others but to protect oneself.  Jesus didn’t do this, even though Satan was offering him an easier path to what he would arrive at through an extremely painful path.  No shortcut.  He remained solid in the face of temptation.  I can only be glad that Jesus was able to do what I am,  what we are often unable to do.  And because he was able to do it, to not deny himself as the Son of God, we are now able to do the same because we possess the same Spirit as He had.  May God help us to discover this truth and His life in us so that we can freely move and offer life to others even when it is costly to us.

The best is yet to come.  Live under the grace and peace of our Lord.